This is a long weekend for most people in (at least my part of) Germany. Thursday was a public holiday, and many people take the Friday off, to enjoy four days of family time and good weather. The supermarkets are all advertising grilling season, and the neighbours’ cherry tree is growing ripe and heavy.
Fifty days after Easter (two weeks ago), we celebrated Pentecost (when the Holy Spirit envelopes the followers of Jesus). In Germany (or this part, at least), it signals the beginning of spring festivals and outdoor activities. The weather is getting warmer, and there are a lot of public and school holidays soon.
From now until Advent, we count our Sabbaths from Pentecost. The First Sunday After Pentecost is also called Trinity Sunday, which is a pretty complicated concept within Mormondom, with more than one view or approach to the Godhead being supported by our texts and liturgy, but the Thursday following is Corpus Christi, which celebrates what much of Christendom calls the eucharist and we refer to as the sacrament.
For twenty years, Juliana of Liège kept her visions hidden – Christ instructing her to plead for a feast day for the eucharist, symbolised by the church under a full moon with one dark spot – until she told her Confessor, who told the Bishop, and then she began petitioning the Bishop of Liège. It was 38 years after her first vision, in 1246, that the feast of Corpus Christi was locally implemented. Many branches of Christianity have removed this feast from their calendars – Luther, for example, said it was play-acting and vain idolatry to have a parade celebrating the Blessed Sacrament.
We too are unlikely to feel comfortable with processions including incense and banners and choirs, because our tradition is much more simple and practical. Rather than have congregants line up to receive the eucharist, we generally send young teenagers to carry trays to specific seating areas – the strategy mostly prioritising efficiency, speed and silence. Any person sitting in the pews, member or visitor, can take the tray and pass it to their neighbour. We are all the body of Christ, and we all participate in sharing His blood and body with each other.
And I can understand, though I have holy envy fn1 for those who get to celebrate in a more dramatic way, that there would probably be years that joining a procession wouldn’t feel genuine or uncompelled, and it might lose some of its power by becoming rote. I’m not going to start a parade, but I do want to use the opportunity to consider the role of the sacrament more deeply in my life. As much of my relationship with the church remains complicated, and I’m not sure about priesthood authority, my connection to the Saviour gives me a safe place to ask questions.
I have only been to church once in Germany so far – we found the branch in the nearest big city right as the meeting began, and I noticed too late that the young American Elders were translating the German into English through a microphone, to some people wearing earpieces. I could follow enough German to understand that the talks were about being joyful in this life, but I didn’t understand the nuances, and I couldn’t laugh at any of the jokes.
I’ll go again tomorrow, and perhaps be able to understand more of the content, but the sacrament – 29 years into hearing the prayers recited almost every week – doesn’t need translating. The meditative waiting for the bread and water to reach me, the awareness of my brothers and sisters nearby, the contemplation about what I need to focus on to either change or celebrate: these are all the same in every language, because this experience is personal and private, even in the communal space.
I’m still trying to figure out how much I fit in this church, in this branch. I’m not sure what I’m looking for exactly, but I know I want it to feel like home, and thinking about the persistent seeking of Juliana of Liege, and about how much I want to (and can) partake of the body and blood of Christ, I think (I hope) I’ll be able to feel some of that.