Holy Asides
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January 16, 2017, 12:00 AM

Experiencing the Body of Christ

On a recent weekday, I was showing a visitor around the church and they noticed the monstrance set up on the altar for Eucharistic Adoration. She expressed some surprise, because it is not a common practice in many Episcopal churches. I recounted the way in which it has helped me in personal devotion, being still before the Lord, by providing a focal point when I am in the presence of Jesus. Sometimes, it seems the only time I am completely quiet is before the Blessed Sacrament. But, sharing that testimony also brought back a memory of an encounter that I had a while back at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.

Every Sunday afternoon, before their Evening Prayer Service, there is Eucharistic Adoration, which concludes with Benediction (the priest making the sign of the cross over the congregation with the Sacrament). I had been several times before, and I was often one of a handful in attendance. However, on this particular occasion, there were at least thirty or forty people seated in the back pews. For those who have not been to the Monastery, there is a section of seating in the back or in the balcony for the public, and other seating near the front of the church in large choir stalls for the monks and retreat guests. Soon the monks handed us a small bulletin and invited all of us to join them in the choir stalls. It was then that I found out the reason that there were so many people was because Brother Luke, one of the monks, had died. Instead of the normal liturgy, there would be a vigil service for his burial. 

This was a simple service of psalms and prayers as Brother Luke’s body was brought into the church and placed before the altar. There he would remain, while the other monks prayed and kept watch through the night, until his burial the following morning. Before the conclusion of the service, each of us, too, were able to pass by and say prayers before the body of Brother Luke. As I departed, I was struck by the holiness of the service—and what a blessing it was for me to take part in this liturgy. I had come to sit peacefully and reflectively in silence before the presence of the Lord, but found myself immersed in his presence through the loving witness of those who came to bear witness to the life of Brother Luke. 

It was only much later that God helped me draw the connection of being before the Blessed Sacrament (the body of Christ), and this unexpected joy of finding myself worshiping in a new way, with people I had never encountered, as the Body of Christ. The Church is Christ’s bodynot just our parish, our congregation, our denomination—but all who have answered the call to follow Jesus. Likewise, the body of Christ through receiving the Eucharist is a clear way that reflects that Jesus Christ abides in us, as we abide in him. So, while I may have gone out to worship the Body of Christ through Eucharistic Adoration, instead, I was richly blessed to be drawn into worship within Christ’s body.

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