I’m a control freak. I know I am. I own that entirely. Goes right along with the fight against perfectionism that I’ve been dealing with the past couple years. So when I was challenged by my Life Coach to give up the things I’d been holding onto for so long – the control, fear, anger, anxiety, self-loathing – and give God empty hands instead, it was freeing.
Throughout the past year and a half since that lesson, I’ve thought often about the empty hands. The silent prayer of “empty hands” has been my way of asking God to fill me up… take the anxiety or the problem or the stress away and give me a supernatural fill of peace and His strength.
As we search for a new church home, a brand new layer to this concept of Empty Hands has emerged. And it’s found in the liturgy of the Anglican Church.
As my worldview has changed, as my faith has grown, as I’ve been exploring “Why do I believe what I believe,” I’ve found myself hungry for the richness of church tradition. Something bigger than myself, something uniting to all believers. And I’ve found that in the many Anglican and Episcopal churches we’ve visited in the past few months.
The first time I experienced the liturgy – well, let’s say I felt like a parched person finding an oasis in the desert. And this was a more contemporary service in an Anglican fellowship, not the most formal of high church liturgies. Yet in this simpler of Anglican services, I saw the beauty of other’s wishing God’s peace to me. I listened and took part in the corporate moment of confession – where we implore the Father to forgive us for our own sins and failings; I stood during the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer – a beautiful reminder of the essence of prayer and the Kingdom being built here daily; I was deeply touched by the prayers offered up for the world, our leaders, the church, the poor, the least of these around us, as prayers of this sort are not a common occurrence in many evangelical churches; And I was blessed by the readings and the Rector’s message. All that tradition and liturgy prepares the participant (active, not passive) for the Eucharist – the Lord’s Supper.
Growing up Baptist, the Lord’s Supper was something that happened periodically, maybe a few times a year. And there was fear surrounding it. Eat and drink unworthily, and you’re asking for damnation. So in a way, I would find myself panicked that I might forget about some wrong in my life. Was I truly right enough with God to take the bread and juice (Baptist, ya know) in remembrance of Him?
Yet, in these Anglican services, the Eucharist is celebrated weekly. The Lord’s Table is right there for all believers. The entire service is pointing to one thing – taking of the bread and the wine to remember and celebrate what Christ has done for us. There is no fear, but instead reverence and thanksgiving. We confess, we offer petition, we hear God’s word, and we worship. All in celebration of the Lord who died and rose again.
As I sit through these services weekly, regardless of the actual church, there is unity. There is like-mindedness. A unity in our celebration. A unity is our remembrance. A unity in asking Jesus to come and be there with us in body and spirit. An incarnational worship.
And each week, I find tears in my eyes as I take the bread – his body broken for me – and the wine – his blood he shed for us. It’s powerful, and I’m overcome each week by emotion. And I think i understand why this tradition, this approach to the Lord’s Supper is so meaningful to me.
I was listening to Rachel Held Evans’ talk Keep the Church Weird. And I got it… it hit me like a ton of bricks. She says this about a time she was asked to help serve the Lord’s Supper at a Methodist teen Bible camp:
It was a really powerful experience… as the 600 students, parents… came by I put this little piece of bread in their hands and said, “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”
And isn’t that a vulnerable position to be in, hands cupped together, ready to receive. “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”
I said it over and over and over again… to athletes, class clowns, the ones who probably got picked on in school… This is Christ’s body, broken for you.
I saw… shyness, anxiety, boredom, and hope, broken families, conflict with friends, insecurities…
This is Christ’s body, broken for you.
After I said it about 600 times, I finally got it.
Oh, this is enough. This body and this blood is enough… it’s not about me impressing these kids or doing right by these kids. It’s about Christ having already done right by them and being present with them at this table.
And in fact, my insufficiency is kinda the point, right? Our insufficiencies are kinda the point. Because God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness.
It’s not a table, this is not a table for the worthy, it’s a table for the hungry, and we’re all hungry. It’s not about being up to the task, it’s about getting out of the way and letting Jesus do Jesus’s thing.
It hit me… if anything is an Empty Hands moment in our spiritual lives, it’s found in the Eucharist. It’s found when you hold your empty hands out to the pastor, rector, or lay minister serving the bread – the Body of Christ.
I’m holding out my empty hands. And in those empty hands is placed a symbol of the sacrifice made for me. The spiritual food my soul so deeply craves is symbolized in that moment. And a wafer or a piece of bread is placed in my empty hands with the personal admonition of “This is Christ’s body, broken for you.”
I can’t go up there holding my purse, and my phone, and the crayons the kids have just been using and expect to have room in my hands to take a piece of bread to be fed and be full. Likewise, I can’t expect to spiritually hold on to hurts and worries and problems in my life and find room to take my fill of spiritual food.
I must approach the table with empty hands. I empty my physical hands as a sign of my empty spiritual hands. I’m asking God to satiate my hunger with His grace, His mercy, and His nourishment. Nothing I can do can fill my soul quite like God can.
As this thought coalesced in my mind listening to Rachel Held Evans, my eyes filled with tears. I felt those same feelings I had that day driving home after my life coach had me pray holding out empty hands. And I got it. I finally understood how God has been using the past few years of my life to gently mold and shape my soul and prepare me for this new season I’m finding myself in as we search for a new church. The Lord’s Supper became more real to me than it has in the 30+ years I’ve been taking Communion.
And in this uncertain time – this time of growth and discovery, which is both scary and exciting – I just know this: God’s table is bountiful and full of blessings. And it’s not about me and my need for control. It’s not about being perfect and what I’ve done. It’s about what God has done and is doing. And each week, I’ll worship, singing praises, saying ageless prayers, following a beautiful tradition to prepare my heart and soul to approach a simple table with my empty hands.
Inspirations along the way regarding this topic of liturgy:
Jonathan Martin’s On Going to An Episcopal Church
Ben Irwin’s 11 Things I Love About the Episcopal Church
Rachel Held Evans on New Songs
And if you have about an hour, I thought Rachel Held Evans talk Keep the Church Weird was fabulous. Her portion I quoted from regarding the Lord’s Supper is from 7:28 – 10:15 in the video. But overall, the entire speech was compelling and thought-provoking on ways the Church can thrive going forward in this Post-Modern age.