Still Full of Sap, Still Green – Pastor’s Reflection (January 21, 2018)
Yesterday morning (Saturday, January 13) I made my customary crosstown journey on 67th Street, westbound. What struck me on this particular trek was that the debris of our blizzard, and the human debris marooned in it, had all vanished leaving piles of Christmas trees alone on the curb. As I trotted briskly by in the chill these prostrate veterans of Yule gave me a next-to-last gift.
Before they become the mulch beneath this spring’s luxuriance, they offered me a wonderful whiff of evergreen. The scent took me back to when I first meet them bundled up and full of potential in the stall on First Avenue. They were there looking tall and smart on the day after Thanksgiving. They told me it was time and I had better get busy about holiday things. I encountered them again socially in a number of locations. They were wearing their holiday best and beckoned me to join them for a tall eggnog. They bid me relax and wonder about the contents of the packages nestled in the folds of their skirts. Later in the season they elicited my sympathy because they had gotten tired of standing in the corner for so long. Their sad verdict was that it was all over and we both needed to move on, me to winter and they back to the soil from which they emerged. Without a word, but with fading scent they offered the tough love of the elderly.
Now they lay stoically, pooling meager resources to scent the air. They shared the blessings of their calling to the end. I will hold on to their perfume until the hyacinths give me a new one in a few months.
In nature, the cycle of life and death speaks volumes to us about ourselves; it gives essential shape to our life in the body. Much of our reflection upon people, things, and situations involves the ways in which they are passing away from us. Constantly we surrender the familiar into the hands of time.
But God has planted a true perennial in the garden of life, and no cycle of nature holds it in check. Its scent does not grow tired or week, but is fresh with ever new complexities. With the Resurrection the Son of Man broke free from the turning of nature’s wheel and His sacramental presence among us endures without fatigue, “Still full of sap, still green.”
Each time I receive Holy Communion, it comes as a fresh encounter with the one whose love for me is constant but never static, always finding new ways to disclose itself to me. I might be tired, or distracted, or burdened, but the love that reaches me in the Bread and Wine of Life flows ever free and clear. The Eucharist comes to me as a “pledge of future glory” precisely because it is life-giving beyond the constraints of mortality. So many people have been life-givers to me and then they leave me. I connect to them by memory which gives a real gift, but they cannot share my present with me, and so much of my moment is about missing people.
But in the heart of my present is now this mystery of the Body and Blood which nourishes and refreshes with the intimacy of a fully shared moment. The Liturgy has the task of showing you and me this truth of its amazing elixir. It does this in many ways, but one to discover, and hold on to, is the communion antiphon. In our parish this text is sung or said just as the priest finishes receiving from the Precious Blood and as you are about to rise from your place and present yourself for communion.
The antiphon changes each Sunday during the Season of the Year (Ordinary Time) and each day during the four great seasons, of Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter. It also changes for the Feasts of Saints that punctate the calendar (you already used the word ‘year’). The text is designed to accompany the movement in which we all receive the Lord in Communion, and you, on this day, receive Him. We might take the communion antiphon as a commentary on Holy Communion, and as a fresh perception of the mystery of the Eucharist.
Consider that today as you receive Communion you will hear this text,
“All marveled at these things that came from the mouth of God.” (Luke 4:22) The text hearkens back to the marvel of the Epiphany, and reminds us that what amazed people about Jesus in the flesh has passed inside us and helps us navigate the complexity of our lives so that each facet becomes ordered toward the practice of unqualified love. The words of Jesus are not advice; they have authority, and when we receive that Communion that authority becomes live inside unless we block it by our choice. So if unqualified love feels as far from your self-perception as next December’s fresh Christmas trees, consider again who is a guest under your roof.
In future bulletins I would like to return to these antiphons and see what they can teach us and what avenues of prayer they can open up.