I was in a hurry, sweeping up items left unrestored by the children who had left the atrium. I was in such a hurry I nearly missed, nearly swept away the simple statement left behind at the gestures of the Eucharist table. There, in an act of mystagogy made visible, was the paper bread left over from a child’s enactment of the fraction. Was it an accident that it was left as a heart on the paten?
What goes on in the heart of a child as he or she works with the materials in the atrium? Just as we can only approach the great Eucharistic mystery itself through the signs of the liturgy – the epiclesis and offering, the fraction, the peace, the sharing of the one bread — so too we can only approach the great mystery of the child through the signs left behind for us to find: a drawing of a sheep, an echo of a child’s song at the altar work, a small paper heart left on the paten of the prepared gestures table.
Kneeling in front of this tiny, this momentous offering, I realized for the first time the overwhelming nature of the gift of the Eucharist: not a body, not a sacrifice, not just a gift, but an outpouring of love which flows to us like the river of life. This love I saw was not static, not simply waiting upon a plate. It was a movement of love from Christ towards the Father and towards me.
The discovery sent me, a library mouse, back to my books. Was this understanding of the Eucharist as a movement of love already there, and I had simply never noticed it before? And of course it was.
“Thus the presence that is appropriate and intelligible in the Eucharist is neither the presence of an idea in our minds . . . nor the presence of a uniquely sacred object on a table. It is the presence of an active Christ, moving in love not only toward the Father but towards us. The more we try to ‘immobilse’ Christ, either in heaven (so that all that happens in the Eucharist is in our minds) or in substantial presence on the altar (so that his action is virtually completed in simply being there under the sacramental forms), the less we understand of the dynamism of the sacrament, and of the transfiguring liberty of the risen Christ. For if we look first to Christ in the Eucharist as active, we can see how sacrifice and presence together make sense. The offering of the love of the Son in his incarnate life and bloody death is woven into the eternal life of the Trinity; when the crucified Son is raised from the dead, we understand that the cross is an abiding reality, an indestructible life and an inexhaustible gift. And the great mark of discipleship to the risen Christ is, as the New Testament has it, that we eat and drink with him after his resurrection: the love given to the Father is given to us who receive his hospitality.
(Rowan Williams, “Foreward”, The Mystery of the Eucharist in the Anglican Tradition)
But was I reading too much into this tiny paper heart left behind on the paten? I returned to my atrium notes, and of course, the pattern emerged.
“January 30, second grade, I found one of the coins from the Found Coin work left in the center of the sheepfold. Accident? It stands at the foot of the shepherd and the sheep are facing it in a circle.”
“February 7, second grade, A small paper heart left behind in the center of the sheepfold. It reminds me of the coin from last week. The shepherd is not present. It seems the sheep are positioned around it, facing it.”
“February 23, second grade. The table from the Eucharistic presence work was left on the gestures table. No other part of the materials from that work. It sat upon the lace cloth for the gestures work.”
Clearly, a single child had been cogitating each week upon the meaning of Christ’s presence in the Eucharist, moving from the concrete representation of the Good Shepherd who calls his sheep to be fed to the mystagogy of the Eucharistic gestures. No, the heart, I think, is not an accident, but another sign of the kingdom of God, a sign I nearly missed. Like the leaven in the parable, it is hard to see, growing, transforming, rising within the heart of the child.
Food for thought, indeed, this heart shaped bread.