One of my favorite hymns to sing at communion is "Ubi Caritas." The English translation of the Latin words goes, loosely: "Where there is charity and love, there God is." It feels good to sing at that moment when we share the sacrament of the Body and Blood. It marks a sense of unity between us as the people of God, even as we celebrate unity with God in a holy meal.
It can also be a trip wire for us when we fall into an expectation that somehow we are supposed to create an environment of charity and love in order for God to be in our midst. If that is the case, then what the Church is doing in those moments is somehow an act of conjuring the presence of the Divine. We act like good little folk, and then God consents to be in our midst, sort of a "quid pro quo" of prayer.
I don't think we can conjure God, or rather, I don't think God can be conjured. For one thing, Jesus has said that when two or three are simply gathered in God's name, then God will be in their midst. For another, God, through Christ, has promised to be with us to the end of the age. Why conjure a presence when the Presence is already, and always, present! In the readings of the past two weeks, we see God continually arriving in the Book of Genesis to remind generations of humanity that out of all things, God chooses us and promises to be with us, no matter where we go, what we do or with whom we associate.
Perhaps the better interpretation of the words of that hymn are that when we are willing to admit God's continuing presence is in our midst, then by that grace we are able to recognize the charity and love that is our true hope in community.
We need that charity and love. Too often we wind up in situations in our communities of faith where conflict and strife abound instead of charity and love. It becomes harder to recognize God in the midst of those moments, but it is in those moments that we most need to remember that charity and love are within reach, again, by God's grace.
Jacob, having escaped Esau's anger, has fallen from that fire into the frying pan of Laban's trickery. He wants to marry Rachel, bu winds up with Leah first. He marries Rachel as well, but then his commitment to serve Laban is doubled from 7 to 14 years. He has eleven sons by four women, but the push and pull of the conflicts between his wives and their maids is more worthy of an epic Russian novel than anything else I have read in years...yet, God is with him and his family. God continues to shepherd that family forward toward a deeper life in the light and love and God's abiding presence.
Even Jesus himself acknowledges that in fulfilling the mission to proclaim the Good News to the world, his disciples will be experiencing conflict, even persecution. He tells us, through them, that he brings a sword instead of peace to the earth. A sword instead of peace? Is this the same Jesus who tells us to love one another as we love ourselves? Yes...because if we are going to be able to sing the hymn above with integrity, then we have to be willing to continue to put the good news out there for the world to hear (and for us to remind ourselves of), again and again. That call to live a new life, committed to the work of the kingdom of God, will continue to rub up against the injustice and sin of the world out there (and our own in our midst). The good news is to celebrate that God is with us throughout the challenges of striving to be THAT good, and in falling short of being THAT perfect to find in God's mercy and forgiveness that charity and love we yearn for in communion....