catholic worker

Arrests and Re-member-ing: Maundy Thursday

Posted by Autumn Dennis 

I have been to several Maundy Thursday services over the years, but tonight’s service struck a very different chord for me than in the past. For the past few nights, homeless advocates in Nashville have gathered alongside homeless friends in camps around the city. Metro Police have threatened to raid the camps, and there have been recent instances where camps have been set ablaze by police. All day, I have waited to hear word or any sort of report on the state and condition of my friends in the camps. I have followed their posts and updates of staying awake in shifts to keep watch–to keep each other safe.

It is no coincidence that these night watches and raids fall on Holy Week. On this Maundy Thursday, these night watches are incredibly reminiscent of the disciples keeping watch with Jesus through the night as he waits for arrest–our homeless friend Jesus, who had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Just as Jesus is unjustly arrested, our friends on the streets are unjustly arrested for the crime of existing.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Tonight, as I sat in a Maundy Thursday service at Edgehill United Methodist Church, I meditated heavily on what it means to remember and see Jesus. Maundy Thursday is not only when we recall Jesus’s arrest, but also the institution of the Holy Eucharist as the central liturgy for Jesus’s friends and followers. When Jesus broke the bread and blessed the cup, he said to “do this as often as you can in remembrance of me.” My Latin is a little bit rusty, but the word “remember” always stirs up images of body limbs being stitched back together. To re-member. In the United Methodist tradition, we understand communion elements to not be the literal body and blood of Christ, but that Christ is present in the elements and in the act of communion. In our liturgy before we partake of the sacrament, we declare the mystery of faith:

In remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.

Tonight, I got chills when we proclaimed the mystery of faith. In that very room, by the gathering of people of faith for the purpose of re-membering the body of Christ, Christ rose in that room. Every time we gather to partake of the holy meal, Christ comes again and again. The body of Christ is stitched back together as we share the bread and wine. The disciples saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As Dorothy Day wrote:

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. (The Long Loneliness)

Whether people of faith are gathered around an altar or a fire in an “illegal” encampment, we re-member Jesus in each other. Even when the powers and principalities continue to arrest Jesus through our friends over and over again, Jesus is risen again and again through the most beautiful act of resistance– community. We are not alone anymore. We are all walking the road to the cross, to the tomb, to the road to Emmaus, together. Jesus needs our company on this long night, to keep watch and pray. Pray and care for your friends on the streets and in camps this night. Amen.

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Photo by Lauren Plummer

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The Voice of Angels

An essay by Autumn Dennis

I volunteer at a soup kitchen in a Catholic Worker house, and I see a large volume of people experiencing homelessness come in and out each week. There’s one man who comes through our soup kitchen frequently, and I always recognize him. I don’t know his name, but we’ll call him Steve. He’s distinct with his long dreads, big bright eyes, and a face that shows a lot of emotion. From my encounters with Steve, I believe he experiences severe mental health problems, most likely schizophrenia. Because mental health problems like schizophrenia seem so prevalent on the streets, I have tried to learn about them to make sure I can recognize them, speak about them, interpret people well, and interact sensitively with those diagnosed with mental health problems. Among other behaviors that he exhibits, Steve’s speech fits the textbook definition for impoverished, disorganized speech and thought patterns characteristic of schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders.

Most of the time, his eyes are wide open and he carries on constant conversation with himself, or possibly with beings he can see that I cannot see. He has enough engagement with the world around him to be led into our dining room and to accept a bowl of warm soup, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look another person in the eyes. He’s isolated from most people in his own realm of reality.

Artwork by S. Lawton

Artwork by S. Lawton

Sometimes when there’s a slow moment in the soup kitchen, I like to go stand a little bit near Steve and just hear him talk. He is usually at a table alone, glancing around the table a little nervously, and talking to himself fervently in a low tone.

I’m a strong believer in God’s preferential option for the poor, which claims that Jesus strongly identifies with all the addicted, homeless, mentally ill souls of this world, and that we find God when we are also near those people. And honestly, honestly…

As much as I know that schizophrenia is a painful disorder and is not appropriate to romanticize, I feel I hear the voice of God every time I hear Steve speak. I hear the language of angels. I hear a mysterious realm of reality that I cannot encounter but through Steve. Steve’s level of disorientation from our piece of reality is so great that I cannot have a relationship with him. From what I can gather, Steve probably does not know I exist in the way that others know I exist. His voice and speech make sense to nobody except Steve and God. I feel that God is truly near him, and even when Steve eyes his soup suspiciously as if it will start dancing and singing, I feel that I can sense a indomitable spirit inside of Steve’s sick, damaged body that is itself dancing and singing.

I have cast my lot with Steve’s, with all those who suffer from schizophrenia, with all those who call the streets their dwelling place, and with all those who are being murdered by our system.

John Wesley wrote a “Covenant Prayer” that I recite several times a week to center myself, and I would like to quote the ending of the prayer with the intention that I have covenanted myself not only to God, but with all the “least of these” brothers and sisters.

“Thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And let this covenant which I have made on Earth be ratified in heaven. Amen.”