I was raised in the era when the Flag touching the ground was an unforgivable sin. My time in the Army reinforced this. When I flew the Flag from the flagpole outside our church the Sunday after 9/11, I was careful not to let it touch the ground.
Among the Greeks and Romans, one of their idols falling over and touching the ground was a big deal, a bad omen, something to be avoided at all costs. Centuries before them, the Philistine’s god, Dagon, was disgraced when the Lord caused that idol to fall “downward on the ground before the ark of the Lord” (I Samuel 5:3). My favorite apocryphal story about Baby Jesus’ flight to Egypt is that as soon as He crossed into Egypt all the idols crashed to the ground at once. How cool!
But I write not about the Flag touching the ground or false gods touching the ground, I write about the Eucharist, the Holy Communion, touching the ground. We Lutherans are familiar with the story of the aged Luther kneeling down and licking up the Blood of Christ that he had spilled on the chancel floor while celebrating the Sacrament, so I am no advocate of carelessly handling the Body or the Blood of Christ. I am writing about those who think that by saying it is not the Body or the Blood until the Bread or Wine passes into the mouth of the communicant they are protecting Christ.
The argument usually runs like this. If the pastor drops the Bread on the way to your mouth and it hits the ground, he drops plain bread and no Body. Well, I have news for you; the ground is a lot cleaner place than the mouth of any communicant. Not only are we made from dust, i.e. ground, for the sake of our sin the ground was cursed, not the other way around. If you want to protect the purity of Jesus, don’t place His Body in my mouth.
Epiphany is all about Jesus touching the ground. The angel Gabriel stands on the ground and tells Mary she will conceive; the angels stand on the ground as they sing their Gloria in Excelsis because God has not only touched the ground, He has became incarnate in the same ground (dust) man came from. Chemnitz in his The Two Natures in Christ quotes St. Bernard of Clairvaux, “These are wondrous unions…for nothing is higher than God, nothing lower than the dust, and yet God descended into the dust with such dignity and the dust ascended to God with such dignity that whatever God accomplished in the dust, the dust is believed to have accomplished, and whatever the dust endured, God is said to have endured in it” (p. 138).
The Flag touching the ground is not comforting neither is the Eucharist touching the ground, but Christ touching the ground, incarnated in the same ground we’re from, is. In the words of Simon and Garfunkle, “A man gets tied up to the ground/ He gives the world its saddest sound/ Its saddest sound.” Or if you’re younger and perhaps country-er in the words of Rodney Crowell: “Earthbound….where there’s fathers and daughters in pain/ Earthbound….mama’s boy walking home in the rain/ Earthbound….like a ship run aground I think I might stick around/ Earthbound.”
Tied up to this ground, earthbound, sometimes it looks, smells, and tastes like nothing but dirt is ahead for us. But then it’s brought to remembrance in that Sacrament that is so much more than a mere remembering that God descended into our dirt to redeem it. Using a Body and Blood that came from dirt just as ours do, He keeps the Law that crushes sinners into dust to blow in the wind, and He suffers the mud, blood, and death we deserve for all our dirty sins and sinfulness. And then what? Then having ascended far above all rule and might, He descends with His Body and Blood to our ground to give us earthbound creatures His Body for Bread and His Blood for Wine so that we might be no longer tied up to the ground. And this world, my world, your world, looks a whole lot different from above the ground than it does on the ground.