I met Victor Bolle when he was 95 years old. We were seated at the same table at a fundraising dinner. He didn't say anything. By that point, he was suffering from advanced dementia. You wouldn't have known he was anything but a quiet old man. But twenty years earlier, he was a legend.
Victor Bolle became a priest during World War II. He served churches in the Midwest for 25 years, then Jamaica for ten more years before moving to Miami. He ended up working as chaplain of St. Stephen's Episcopal Day School, a little preschool and elementary school in a neighborhood called Coconut Grove. The kids adored him. He was funny, energetic, engaging – all the things you need to be if you're going to work with little kids. There are amazing stories about him, like the time he celebrated his 75th birthday by jumping over the altar rail in his vestments, or the day the kids celebrated Father Bolle Day, and all 200 showed up to school wearing little white collars in his honor.
It was great for me to meet Father Bolle at that church party, even though he didn't know me or really know what was going on, because at the time I was chaplain of the same little school. I had done my share of jumping over the altar, and it was an honor to meet the man who did it first.
Not long after that, Victor Bolle died at the age of 96. And even though I'd only met him once, I went to his funeral. I went out of respect for the work he did at the school, and out of solidarity with another St. Stephen's chaplain.
I preached about him twice in the next two days. On Sunday morning I preached about the Eucharist – about how the bread and wine we share in Communion are more than just a way or remembering Jesus. They unite us to one another. What's more, they look forward to the banquet of heaven, when all people will feast at God's table. And even more than that, the bread and wine of the Eucharist are actually a form of participation in that heavenly banquet. Somehow when we share that meal we are also sharing it with everyone who came before us and everyone who will come after us. I had only met Victor Bolle once, I said, but I had stood next to him a thousand times, sharing bread and wine. He was an old friend.
That's how I preached about it on Sunday, to a bunch of mostly middle-aged adults. The next day I preached at the elementary school. I just held up a big wafer and said, "This is a time machine!" The bread carries us into the future – when we eat it, we're eating with everyone ever forever. The bread is a time machine.
Five years later, my wife and I moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I didn't have a church at the time, so I was filling in wherever I was needed. I got invited to help with a high school church event called Happening, which was being held at Christ Church, in Whitefish Bay. I was there with a group of about twenty people, gathered around the altar for Communion, when I looked down and saw a plaque that said "Victor Bolle, 1909-2005; Rector of Christ Church, 1955-1969." It was a grave marker. His ashes were literally right underneath me. Cross my heart, this really happened. It was a big fat exclamation point on the idea that we really are all connected. That night, I literally stood next to Victor to receive Communion.
Ever since, I've tried to remember that experience of connection. I've held on to the idea that in worship, and especially Communion, we are connected to everyone. All people are united. We are truly one.
Another way to put it is this: churches are haunted. Because of that time machine bread, this room is packed with people who came before us and people who will come after us. I've said this before, but when I look around this chapel, I see them. I see all of you, of course, but I also see boys who went to St. Andrew's School, and students from St. Mary's and the Sewanee Academy, going back 150 years. I see the doctors and writers and teachers from my class 25 years ago. I see the ones who died too young: Baker Staub, Josh Colmore, Anne Roth, Chance Stamps, and Tom Bunting. I see former faculty and staff: Lucinda Hawkes, Bob Simpson, and Tim Hillman. I see the students of the next 150 years. I see one great community, united.
Take a moment to look around you. The people you see? They are your family. Just like with your family at home, there are probably some you would do anything for and some you would rather not know. But just like family, we're stuck with one another. We're connected, part of something bigger than ourselves. We're connected to the people we don't see: 150 years ago and 150 years from now; Victor Bolle and little Baby Short.
And we are connected to others whom we don't see: people on the street in Atlanta; children being trafficked in Murfreesboro; refugees caught between nations in Bangladesh, Somalia, Colombia, and Texas. They are family.
It's easy to forget that. We need to be reminded, and that's why we're here right now. I don't mean why you are here: I know some of you are here right now because you'd rather spend one hour in chapel than two in detention. But the reason we are here is to remember that we are connected to one another, connected to a great big family around the world and across time. Just being here together is a reminder; but an even stronger reminder is the bread and wine of Communion.
About a third of us take Communion on any given Monday. Some of us do it every time; others never do; and a lot of us do it sometimes. You've told me about it; some days it feels right to you, some days it doesn't. You follow your heart, and I respect that. Today is our last Eucharist of the year as an entire community – we'll have one at Commencement, but many of you will not be there – so I invite you to think about what your heart is saying today. I know it can be awkward; not everyone does it, you might have to scoot in front of the person next to you – but I invite you to take courage and come up for some bread and wine; to share with everyone before, everyone now, everyone still to come, in a time machine forever feast with God.
And whether you take Communion or not, I ask you to think of ways to remind yourself that you are connected to others. Volunteer somewhere. Make friends with someone different from you. Take action to leave this world better than you found, for the sake of those who come after us.
Last, I'll tell you one way that I remind myself. Every time I celebrate the Eucharist I hold up a big Communion wafer, designed to be big enough for the folks in back to see it. That big wafer has a cross stamped into it, and every time I lift it up as part of the Communion prayer, I rotate it 45 degrees. I turn it from the traditional cross to the x-shaped cross of St. Andrew – the one on our buildings, t-shirts, and logo. I've done it since I was ordained a priest in 2003, and I do it because this place, the Chapel of St. Andrew, is where I have felt the strongest connection to God's great family. That feeling has only grown stronger in the last four years.
But that's me. Wherever you feel that connection, however you feel it, I hope you'll remind yourself of it. Because we live in a world that needs to know we're all connected. It needs us to treat one another like family, to stand next to the ghosts around us, the sisters across the world, and the brothers who haven't been born yet, and say "You are my family." Whether it's with bread and wine or something else, I hope you will remember it: We are family. Keep in touch.