The Revd Margaret Legg
How do we say goodbye?
So how do we dismiss ourselves, bring to a close something as profound as the Eucharist?
Perhaps our Gospel can give us a clue?
Did you notice today’s Gospel resonates with what happens during the Eucharist? True there was no transcendent music and singing at the well, but the woman was certainly lifted to the heavenly spheres during her encounter with Jesus. He knew all the secrets of her heart and uncovered that which was hidden in her, he enlarged her understanding of life and eternity through his words, quenched her thirst with spiritual sustenance and all the while peace flowed between them: Jew and Samaritan, traditional enemies. She became a holy person. As we do. Our souls too are drawn into union with God during the Eucharist. But we don’t actually know how the Samaritan woman bade farewell. She was clearly desperate to go – she even left her water jar behind – yet somehow, ‘So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu’ (as the well known song from The Sound of Music puts it) are inadequate. How can we say goodbye appropriately, formally, together and publicly, to something as intimate as the union of our souls with God? Very simply. First with a blessing, draws a line under all that has been done in this time with God. Then with a sentence of dismissal, expressing all that remains to be done.
3 things about Blessings
Often a pronouncement of God’s favour. The first example in the Bible is at creation, on the 5th day, when God, seeing that it was good, blessed all the creatures of the sea and the air. The first on a person is on Abram. The Blessing at the end of the Eucharist has a further dimension. It’s less about asking God to make our future prosperous, whether that might be dry sunny weather for a barbecue, or a burgeoning property portfolio (particularly in a prime location like W2) or a quiverful of loving children who will care for me in my old age. More a confirmation of what has already been given to us in the Eucharist. We have experienced God’s blessing throughout the service: in the forgiveness after our confession, at the sharing of the peace, in hearing of God at work in the world through scripture and in experiencing his spiritual care for us in the communion of bread and wine. It equips us to be a blessing for others, when we re-turn to the world. Like Abraham, to whom God said , ‘in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Genesis 18.18)
We go out to be a blessing to the world, to make the whole world a Eucharist. It’s what Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. (Matt.5 13-16) called being the salt and light of the world. We cannot stay forever in church (though my children used to think that was to be their fate.
How do we do this?
We go In Peace
Underpinning everything is that we leave carrying God’s peace with us. One of the most important parts of the Eucharist for me, said a member of the congregation recently, is when I return to my seat after receiving communion. It is a precious moment of quiet and rest. We carry that peace out into the world of work and family and responsibility. We carry it with us under all the upsets, stresses and tensions of our everyday lives. We need that peace within us if our souls are to remain unperturbed when our peace of mind is disturbed, if we are to love and serve he who is the Prince of peace. We go out to work/home/family/neighbours, out to those who are part of our congregation but cannot physically be present. The Sacrament is reserved in a chalice there inside the Aumbry (marked by a lighted candle).
The most fearful aspect of ordination training was the presentation each student had to make in the final year to a panel comprising , among others, external examiners and our personal tutors. It was terrifying – one or two students failed each year. The topic for my year was ‘work’ and we had to imagine we were presentingto a meeting of a PCC Parochial Church Council). As part of my research I canvassed members of my own congregation on how church could support us in our daily work. One new graduate responded: What’s church got to do with work? How can it possibly help? I come to church for a rest, it’s time out. Christianity is not part of the leisure industry. An event on the ‘Things to do on my day off when I want a bit of peace and quiet’ list.
We go to love and serve the Lord, like the Samaritan woman, transformed by her time with Jesus, who raced off back to the city, bursting to tell others of the great news that she had encountered the Messiah, the Saviour, so we go out to live as a presence for peace and harmony, in a spirit of thanksgiving and thankfulness; to encouragetruth and repentance, especially in the grey areas we encounter, discovering within us the strength to confront evil with confidence, to give a helping hand where we can - hosting a coffee morning or supper for our Reckless Giving Charities(forjust £11.70 the charity ‘Mary’s Meals’ will feed a child for a year), tobeing careful how we use the world’s resources, all thisbecause we have been at one with God, who is goodness and truth and peace.
A life without work would be a bore
A life without rest would be a torture
A life without play would be a grind
A life without reflection would be empty
A life without God would be pointless.