A couple of weeks ago a member of the parish sent me a great story about an experiment that took place in Washington, DC at the L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station. At some point you may have seen this story, but I found it fascinating.
On a cold January morning a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about forty-five minutes. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the Metro station, most of them on their way to work.
After three minutes, a middle-aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule. Four minutes later: the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. Six minutes: A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again. Ten minutes: A three year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly. Forty-five minutes: The musician played continuously. Only six people stopped and listened for a short while. About twenty gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32. One hour: He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded.
No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the world’s great musicians. He played some of the most intricate pieces music with a Stradivarius violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before, Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each.
Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities. The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?
One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?
How many others things are we missing? That’s a great question. Every Sunday around this place, at one service or another, we celebrate the Eucharist. As the church has done for 2,000 years – we gather together bread and wine, offer our prayers to God, remember what Jesus said and did at the last supper, and then share the bread and pass the cup. It is the oldest most important Christian act of worship in the world. But how many of us for the most part – miss it? How many of us are thinking about other things? How many of us think more about how long the service will take more than about what this sacrament might mean for our lives? How many of us eat the bread and drink the wine almost every Sunday but because we have done it so often in the past we miss almost everything about it? How many of just go along with the service and don’t open ourselves to this sacrament, this gift from God, to have any deeper affect on our lives?
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
It’s easy to have our perceptions dulled, to see without really seeing, to live on the service and miss the beauty, the wonder, the mystery that resides at a deeper level. Make no mistake about it, the Church is quite serious when it teaches that whenever we come together as a community, whenever two or three are gathered together in His name to celebrate the Eucharist, Christ is really and truly present in our midst, in our actions, in that flat piece of unleavened bread and small sip of inexpensive port. Sure, we eat the bread and drink the wine but that’s just a shallow perception of a much greater occurrence. On one level Joshua Bell was just another street musician playing in the subway. But from another level – for those who really took the time to look, listen, and take in that experience – there was a whole lot more going on. In the same way Holy Communion (just like the sacrament of baptism we celebrate this morning) isn’t simply an old tradition repeated down the generations just to give us something to do because our forbearers have always done it. No, these sacraments are potent and powerful ways to deepen our relationship with God. But, do with miss it?
I want to invite you to take a look at your mindset on Sunday morning. Are you open and receptive? Do you come to church seeking to encounter God? Do you seek to be fed by God, to literally abide in Christ and have Christ abide in you? When you come to the rail and take the bread and the wine are you conscious of the fact that a greater mystery has taken place than just the ingestion of a little bit of food? Do you realize how much you are loved by God? Do you realize that when you take part in Communion our Lord desires that you should take a little of that love with you, to bolster you, to empower you as you go about your daily life? The Eucharist is a powerful mystery – but only if you want it to be, only if you are open to receive it.
I’m reminded of a story about a badly wounded soldier. Rushed into surgery, the doctors said that there was a good chance he would recover. However, as the days went by the soldier wouldn’t eat anything. His wounds were healing but he had no appetite. The nurses tried everything, but he refused all food. He would only drink water and a little juice.
One of his buddies thought the soldier wouldn’t eat because he was homesick. His family was very poor and they lived on the other side of the country. So, his friend offered to bring the young man’s parents to visit him. The commanding officer approved and the friend drove for three days to the parents’ home. This wounded soldier was the oldest of five. His mother had to stay with the younger children but the father agreed to make the journey. As the father was about to leave for the hospital, the mother wrapped up a loaf of fresh bread for her son.
When he arrived several days later, the soldier was very happy to see his father but he still wouldn’t eat – that is, until the father said; “Son, this bread was made by your mother, especially for you.” Thinking of his mother’s cooking brightened the boy and slowly, very slowly, he began to eat.
The fact of the matter is – you and I are that boy. We are the ones who have been wounded in the battle of life. We are the ones who’ve been wounded by sin, by trials and pains, by loss and by our forgetfulness of God. In the process we lose our taste for the food that will strengthen our souls. We forget that the Eucharist is a gift of love that gives us life, spiritual life, God’s life. It gives us spiritual healing and spiritual strength.
There was nothing ‘magic’ about the mother’s bread unless, that is, one believes that ‘love’ is magic – which, of course, it is. Amen.