At church this morning, I found out that one of the monthly articles I write for the parish newsletter had been chosen for an award in a competition for the whole diocese-- and we have a big diocese! It's the Red Ribbon Award for Excellence in Religious Journalism, in the category of Theological Reflection. So I had to get my picture taken, and the article and picture will be printed in December's issue of the diocesan newspaper. Not bad for a layperson! Here is the article. It was in January's newsletter.
Grace, Faith, and “Worthiness”
Someone asked me recently how we can presume to participate in the Eucharist week after week. She couldn’t deal with it, she said. She didn’t feel she could approach the altar at all, because she was not worthy. It really threw me off trying to come up with an answer for her. Worthiness and unworthiness don’t really seem to be issues for us in the Episcopal Church, so a person’s suitability to receive the Eucharist wasn’t something I had thought much about. “Everyone is invited to receive Holy Communion,” it says in our bulletin, and that was good enough for me.
To me, that’s part of the nature of God’s grace. None of us are worthy on our own. The Eucharistic Feast is freely given by God to all who are willing to accept it. It’s a gift, not a loan or something we can “earn.” Nothing we can do could possibly be enough to make ourselves worthy of that incredible gift God gave us through the sacrifice of Jesus, that gift of salvation that allows us to make the spiritual journey to reunite with God.
The Eucharist is a sacrament given to us to remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. Its physical presence reminds us of the body which died and the blood which was shed, and its spiritual presence becomes the spirit of that body and blood, touching our own souls to strengthen our union with Jesus.
It is also a way of strengthening our union with each other. It is a meal we share together, an outward way of acknowledging that we have all accepted this wondrous gift of grace God has given to us, as unworthy as we are, to transform us into something better than what we had been.
I have been blessed enough to occasionally serve as a Eucharistic Minister. I was surprised to realize, as I carried the chalice to those who waited at the rail, that serving as EM is a ministry of hospitality. Offering the chalice is a welcoming act, an act of inviting others to share in this union. Through the sharing of bread and wine, body and blood, we are together given the chance to reaffirm our acceptance of God’s great love. The realization that my hands were among the ones helping to distribute this gift was a vastly humbling experience. Am I worthy to do this? Absolutely not. But I am grateful beyond measure that God has chosen to sometimes use me in this way.
Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” It is not our works which make us worthy of receiving God’s grace, but God’s grace which makes us worthy and willing to do good works.
May we never forget to be thankful for God’s grace and love, as we pray that one day all of the world will be able to accept it and shelter in its warmth.