Monday, February 24, 2014

Staying Connected with Matthias

Today is St. Matthias day. It’s a feast when we remember someone about whom we know almost nothing. We know about Judas. We know that the early church had to figure out what to make of the one whom Jesus welcomed into his inner circle yet who betrayed Jesus into the hands of his enemies. Peter makes a speech in Acts 1:15-26 that explains (sort of) that Judas’ treachery was foretold in scripture and that one of the men (his word) who had been with them since the beginning (defined as the baptism of John) needed to replace him. Prayers are said and lots are cast, and Matthias is chosen to be enrolled with the other eleven. And that’s about all we know about Matthias.

The gospel lesson set for this day (John 15:1, 6-16) seems to be more appropriate for acknowledging Judas’ betrayal than celebrating Matthias’ accession. Jesus said, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned…If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love.” Abiding. Remaining. Staying attached to the vine. Keeping his commandments. Staying plugged in.

I most often hear these words when I am taking Communion to someone who cannot come to church because of illness or surgery or age or mobility problems. The rite for “Communion under Special Circumstances” provides four different readings from John’s gospel account, one of which is taken from John 15. Most often I read two or three of the selections. Occasionally I’ll only read one. Sometimes I bring Sunday’s gospel lesson with me and read it instead. But I almost always read the passage from John 15.

Why do I bother to take Communion to shut-ins? I’m less interested in sacramentalism than Christian community. Receiving the species of the Eucharist is important to me, but I’d rather have a connection with the congregation I’m from than chew on a stale-ish wafer and sip a tiny amount of cheap port. But sharing that bread and wine—the body and blood of our savior—isn’t just a solitary (or in the case of the priest or Lay Eucharistic Visitor bringing it a binary) experience. When we take Communion we are a part of the Christian community. We have our place in the vine reemphasized to us. We are following Christ’s commandments to “do this in remembrance of [him].”

How do we stay plugged into the body of Christ? What does it mean to be connected with the vine? How do we avoid being pruned back and thrown into the fire (a la Judas)? Part of that is remembering that we belong to something—to someone. We have a place. We are a branch. We are connected. Wandering off by ourselves too far from the body can lead to trouble. We stay connected so that we might flourish. 

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