Washing Up – after the Bread and Wine

IMG_2937My sense of vocation to priesthood is so bound up with the Sacrament of Holy Communion that to say I love presiding seems as daft as saying I love breathing. It is a necessary part of who I am. But different parts of the service continue to delight and surprise me – whether that most holy of connections of handing someone bread at the altar, the joy of praising God with outstretched arms, or the ablutions. Yes, the washing up afterwards.

Today, I was thinking as I went through my own Post Communion routine of pouring the water on to the patten (plate where bread was) and tipping it from patten to chalice, drinking it and wiping up afterwards.  I wondered who washed up after the Lord’s Supper on Maundy Thursday, after that eventful Passover meal where Judas had slipped away, after Jesus had broken bread, and passed the cup.  Jesus and the disciples went to Gethsemane, where Peter, Andrew, James and John couldn’t keep their eyes open as Jesus prayed his anguished prayer “Your will, not mine, be done”.

And somewhere, in that house with the upstairs room, someone had gathered up the remains of the food, the drink, the plates and cups. Someone was working, and perhaps wondering what tomorrow would bring….

There is a beautiful precision in clearing up at the end of Holy Communion. There is a satisfaction of leaving everything clean and tidy. I wonder if the original washer-upper felt the same, or whether they too spent an anguished night, hearing of Jesus’ arrest. We may share the same task of clearing up, but like so many things, we’ll never know.

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2 responses to “Washing Up – after the Bread and Wine

  1. It’s interesting how the sacramental nature of Holy Communion for Anglicans is similar to that of Roman Catholics, particularly the actions of the Priest before, during and after Holy Communion. And until the recent changes to the Catholic Mass, any Catholic straying into a Common Worship service of Holy Communion would have found it quite hard to distinguish it between the Mass they attended at their own church and the Anglican service. Perhaps the absence of incense for high Mass might have marked some difference, but for low mass, the services were essentially the same.

    Having been a Catholic, I still think of the Eucharist as something uniquely special, which can’t be replicated. But I wonder if we’ve downgraded Morning and Evening Prayer or Matins, Evensong and Compline and relegated them to the BCP services, only used occasionally and with a small group attending. Anglican liturgy, particularly the BCP has a beauty of it’s own, that is unique and worth preserving, but how do we convince modern, younger clergy, who consider the BCP services to be out of date, I remember one commenting to me that they’d never attend one and would never lead one? Which I thought was incredibly sad, I also wondered how they’d do in a Benefice, where one or more of the congregations might expect BCP on a regular basis? Perhaps they’d limit the options for their ministry by not even considering applying for such a post.

    I wonder if the move to Fresh Expressions or emerging church do the Eucharist in a way that protects the sacramental nature and actions involved, or is it reduced to sitting around a coffee table with glasses of wine and a bread role in a much more informal mode – I’m not denigrating the validity of the sacrament in these situations, but somehow the mystery (and romance perhaps) and reverence that I see as part of the Eucharist might be reduced to the mundane and just something that you do. A sacrament reduced to a remembrance or commemoration that you might afford to any anniversary? I do hope not.

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