a week ago today, I celebrated Eucharist at a nursing home in Bloomington, Minnesota. My grandpa was there, healing his body, and I’d come to spend the weekend with him. Realizing that he hadn’t been to church since 2014 (as he’d spent most of the month in the hospital), I volunteered to put my (literally) blessed hands to work and come to “say mass” (as Catholics put it) for him and grandma on Sunday morning.
When Grandma got wind of the suggestion, she wondered aloud if aunts and uncles and grandkids might come, which quickly resulted in a call to the front desk to see if the chapel could be opened for an extra service on Sunday. Not 15 minutes later, on that spontaneous Friday afternoon, I’d been tasked with leading my extended family in worship two days hence.
Aunt Cathy said she’d bring pita and wine, we rustled up a silver plate and a wine glass, I searched fruitlessly in the nursing home’s sacristy for some kind of vestment to wear. Reasoning to myself that the stole had its roots in the Jewish prayer shawl, my pink-printed scarf (it has a fringe!) would do. I did wear all black with my collar, and secretly delighted in the paradox of the sacred irregularity of the plan.
On Sunday morning, Grandpa didn’t feel well, and so stayed in his room while his wife and progeny trooped to the chapel to pray. In retrospect, it seemed both ironic and perfectly appropriate that the original impetus for the plan dropped out at the last moment.
And so, a female Episcopal priest said mass for a dozen Roman Catholics in a Masonic nursing home chapel at 11:15 am on a snowy Sunday morning in January. I had my Book of Common Prayer, and my relatives had their well-trained Catholic memories–our responses danced together as we traveled through the familiar prayers.
At the sermon, I narrated our actions over the last few days in preparation for this moment–one family brought the bread and wine, another brought items to set the table, and we all traveled from our various little homes to be together at the Lord’s table, and to be with Grandpa. We were living “church” in our very footsteps, bringing food to share, all providing something for the use and building up of the whole body. And we were a certain special kind of body–we weren’t joined only in Christ’s blood (which is plenty, of course! and, truly, the only kind of blood that really matters), but also in Grandpa’s blood. His blood flows through all our veins–our bodies exist and breathe and thrive and grow because his body first existed and grew and gave of himself. One of his has his laugh, another has his sense of humor, another carries his name. We are one body first because of Jesus, but also because of Chuck.
We cried together and prayed hard for him. When the time came for the Eucharistic Prayer, I asked my cousins and aunts and uncles to gather around the wooden altar with me. My grandma stood directly across from me, and I told them how we’d all gathered at each other’s tables like this dozens of times before, sharing bread and wine. This was a particular iteration of The Meal, of course, but the relationships around the Lord’s Table made that Eucharist all the more significant.
I prayed over the gifts, pink prayer shawl on my shoulders, and I broke the bread, and I offered the cup of salvation to my blood-relations.
We pray the same prayers over the bread and wine every week because we are forgetful people. We pray to be reminded, and we pray to remember. We remembered that we are one body–even when members are lying sick in nursing home beds just a few yards away–because we all share one bread and one cup, throughout space and throughout time.
After the closing prayers, benediction, and dismissal, some of us crept back to Grandpa’s room to find him much improved. He even came down to the cafe to visit everyone at once. He was frustrated with his body for making him miss the service, so we prayed over him, and I anointed him with my healing oil. His children, grandchildren, and wife all placed a hand on him–hands which had come from him in the first place–to call out on his behalf to God. Grandpa led us in the Lord’s Prayer as we all left our hands on his tired, blessed body. Our our (grand) father, in his illness, used the hands of his heart to continue to lift his beloved children up to the Father of All, knowing that only in God’s hands will we all find healing and rest.