Growing up in the Southern Baptist tradition, times of read and response were probably the most awkward moments of church services. People could never quite get the hang of who speaks the normal print and who speaks the bold print. Communion was once every other month to once a quarter, and it never seemed to be done the same way twice, or even with the same intent. And on those random occasions where we would say the Lord's Prayer, we never quite seemed to get the trespasses, the debts, and the sins to line up. Since I came back to church in the United Methodist community, I've had to get used to more frequent, repetitive responses. We say the Lord's Prayer every week. The scripture passage from the lectionary is read every service. And the Eucharist is much more frequent - every week at some services. At first, it was awkard for me. Getting used to the rhythm and syntax of the phrases, speaking in unison with numerous voices, and sharing a common loaf and cup with the rest of the attendees. But there is one phrase that's spoken nearly every Sunday, and that I find myself uttering after partaking in the body and the blood, the bread and the cup: Thanks be to God.
These four little words have become something I cherish, and even find myself saying throughout a service or even in unexpected parts of my everyday life. They are almost the connective tissue between myself and the Creator, the Redeemer, and the Sustainer. It's in these four words that I find a level of spiritual substance and nourishment that I can honestly say I'd never experienced before. They're almost a form of Lectio Divina - repetition of scripture as a meditative practice.
When I'm serving communion (which I would never have been able to do in the Southern Baptist Church as I was not an ordained Deacon), I speak them in my head after giving whatever element I am serving to a parishioner. When I am on the other end, simply receiving the meal, I whisper them softly after being given the bread and then dipping it in the chalice but before I eat, letting the words be my nourishment and the meal being a kind of chaser. In these words, I am brought into a long-standing community of believers, a fellowship with others who have found the love and message of Christ compelling and intoxicating.
When I speak them in unison with other church-goers, I am reminded that I am not alone in this faith-walk, but rather, I am surrounded with agape, with encouragement, with affirmation, and with a pool of unspoken strength and support. I am reminded of all the blessings present in my life, both material and relational. Mostly though, I am reminded of the relationship which has kept me alive these past (nearly) twenty-seven years - the relationship between myself and the Divine, the Three-in-One who have left their indelible mark on my person, and who constantly fill me with a love I know is not my own. A love for them, a love for self, and a love for those around me. I'm given a gratitude for the graces, the gifts, and the fruits around me and eminating from me because of them. After such an experience, all I can do is repond with them yet again...
Thanks be to God. Amen