(Chalice and purificator courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)
(Originally written for Speaking to the Soul, Sunday, March 11, 2012)
Daily Office readings for Sunday, March 11, 2012:
Psalm 93, 96 (morning)
Psalm 34 (evening)
Our Genesis reading today centers on Joseph's ruse to detain Benjamin and thereby reveal Joseph's identity to his brothers for the purpose of reconciliation. Joseph tells his steward to fill the men's sacks with food but to put his silver cup used for divination, in Benjamin's sack--then to let them get a little ways out of town, catch up to them, and expose that the cup is in the youngest brother's sack, in order to detain them.
I couldn't help but make the connection between this cup and the Eucharistic chalice--because in my own life it was probably the single most important thread that held me to God in the two decades or so that I was among the great unchurched. I felt perfectly happy in my young adult period to be shed of so many parts of "church life" as a young adult--a theology that constantly beat me over the head about my sinful nature, people judging me for my appearance/clothing/haircut/etc., and a lot of varieties of "church people" in general. I could think about God as I chose with no interference, no tension, no judgment.
Yet, even in those days, I found myself still yearning to participate in the Eucharist now and then. Once or twice a year I'd sneak into someone's Christmas Eve services, or if I was visiting a cathedral while a Mass was taking place, I'd just march up with the faceless crowd and receive the Sacraments. If I went to someone's wedding or funeral that included a Eucharist, I marched right up and helped myself, when most people not from that particular faith tradition hugged their pews. I didn't want a thing to do with church--but I still craved the Sacraments. I found ways to get myself fed without totally starving to death.
When I think back, I was probably doing a variant of Joseph's ruse--I suppose I was subconsciously hoping someone would stop me on my way out the door and say, "Hey, isn't that our chalice you have in your sack?" But almost no one ever did.
Maybe it wouldn't have been over 20 years for me to find my way back if someone had.
Our story in Genesis--and my own story, linked to it--are reminders to me of just another reason why we need to engage visitors with a little more than a nod and the Peace of Christ. It's not that hard to engage without being annoying--Simply a "Hi, my name's whatever, and you are...?" and an invitation to coffee hour is a good start. I have learned more things about visitors in the line to get food in the undercroft than I ever have in the back of the nave. Seems like even shy people can get chattier when the conversation turns to food.
Joseph used his ruse with the silver cup to create the milleu for reconciliation with his family. It's a good reminder that, perhaps, that unfamiliar people in the back row might be thinking about walking out with the chalice representing their participation in the Sacraments, in the hope someone notices and detains them. What opportunities for reconciliation are we missing by letting them quietly go out the door?