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A humility shared

 

By Pastor Tom Hoffmann On November 28 this year, for the first time since March 2020, the congregation of St Johns Southgate knelt before the altar to receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. With density limits and venue caps no longer being required, our COVID-safe practices could be relaxed sufficiently to allow a return to that ritual gesture of humbling oneself before God. It may sound like an insignificant thing, but back in June 2020, I offered the following reflections in my column: “Holy Communion is, like it sounds, about communing with one another. It’s about community and intimacy, with God and with each other. In times gone by, we would kneel together, shoulder to shoulder before the altar, as the pastor would (with his bare hands!) give us a morsel of bread to eat, followed by each of us drinking a sip of wine (from the same cup!), all the while being close enough for sacred words to be uttered at a whisper’s volume. In a very real sense, participating in Holy Communion forms us into the community that we at St Johns hope for, pray for, and strive to be.” COVID safety remains important, so we have not reinstituted some of those customs that now seem positively icky, but kneeling together, almost shoulder to shoulder again, has been profoundly moving. In an era during which keeping our distance from one another has been an everyday preoccupation, the act of stopping, getting down on your knees, and willingly being in close proximity to another person, perhaps a stranger, is an act of radical surrender. Being humbled, willingly, in a very real and physical way, is a significant element of our sacramental practice, and this is only the case because true physical humility is at the heart of what Christmas is about. Yes, we are in the festive season now, the time when the Christian faithful turn their minds to the incarnation – God being born in human flesh, as a helpless, hungry and very humble, baby. It is a beautifully brutal article of faith because it points to a perfectly innocent being emptying himself of honour and glory and power, so much so that he was willing to kneel shoulder to shoulder with the people who would kill him. God-in-Christ, in being born on Christmas day, breathed in our disease so that he could heal us and bring us all, finally, even closer together than shoulder to shoulder, he would make human reconciliation and unity possible because he lowered his perfect love to the meet our imperfect love. This Christmas, whether or not the story of the Christ-child means anything to you, I hope that you are able to actualise the giving of the giving season by humbling yourself in ways that bring you closer to other people. I hope that you are able to close the gap of that muscle-memorised social distance and experience the kind of togetherness only possible through acts of humility •

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