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Sermons about Holy Communion

Fr. Ian preached a series of 3 sermons around the subject of Holy Communion. They have been pulled together into a single item for ease of reference, with the Earth Charter, as follows:

Be Careful When You Touch Bread

We have come so far from bread. Rarely do we hear the clatter of the mill wheel; see the flour in every cranny, the shaking down of the sack, the chalk on the door, the rats, the race, the pool, baking day, and the old loaves: cob, cottage, plaited, brick.

We have come so far from bread. Once the crock said ‘BREAD’ and the bread was what was there, and the family’s arm went deeper down each day to find it, and the crust was favoured.

 

We have come so far from bread. Terrifying is the breach between wheat and table, wheat and bread, bread and what goes for bread. Loaves now come in regiments, so that loaf is not the word. Hlaf is one of the oldest words we have.

 

I go on about bread because it was to bread that Jesus trusted the meaning he had of himself. It was an honour for the bread to be the knot in the Lord’s handkerchief reminding him about himself. So, O bread, breakable; O bread, given; O bread, a blessing; count yourself lucky bread.

 

Not that I am against wafers, especially the ones produced under steam from some hidden nunnery with our lord crucified into them. They are at least unleavened, and fit the hand, without remainder, but it is still a long way from bread. better for each household to have its own bread, daily, enough and to spare, dough the size of a rolled towel, for feeding angels unawares.

 

Then if the bread is holy, All that has to do with bread is holy; Board, knife, cupboard, So that the gap between all things is closed In our attention to the bread of the day.’

 

I know that “man cannot live on bread alone.”

 

I say, let us get the bread right.

 

Those are David Scott’s words, but, I wonder, could they be ours?

 

If Jacob wrestled with meaning, so must we, day by day.

 

If Jesus shared bread and fishes, and the miracle of sharing multiplied into wider and unexpected sharing of what was needed to sustain life, then could those miracles of sharing happen in our lives, and between the nations of our world?

 

And could they start here?

 

If Jesus shared bread and wine, and bid us share them, and by faith find Him in them, can we share his self-sacrificing love with others? (not just those whom we like, or ‘people like us’ ~ for there can’t have been much discriminating possible in that great mele of sharing, whether it was four or five thousand!)

 

And what does this mean for us in practice? ~ you know, where the wheels touch the ground, in our own daily lives ~ what difference does this make?

 

In our church life ~ what difference does this make?

 

When we remember that Mother Teresa of Calcutta had written over the beds of the dying: “The body of Christ”, ~ what difference does this make?

 

******************

 

Be gentle, when you touch bread,

 

Let it not be uncared for, unwanted.

 

So often bread is taken for granted.

 

There is so much beauty in bread,

 

Beauty of sun and soil,

 

Beauty of patient toil.

 

Winds and rain have caressed it,

 

Christ often blessed it;

 

Be gentle when you touch bread.

 

 

 

Be loving when you drink wine,

 

So freely received and joyfully shared

 

in the spirit of him who cared;

 

Warm as a flowing river,

 

Shining as clear as the sun,

 

Deep as the soil

 

Of human toil,

 

The winds and air caressed it,

 

Christ often blessed it,

 

Be loving when you drink wine.

 

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The Vatican Rag

The song ‘The Vatican Rag’ sends-up religion big-time, particularly anything a bit ‘high church’, and the Eucharist doesn’t escape:

“Get in line in that processional,

 

Kneel right down in that confessional!

 

There’s a man who’s got religion’ll tell you if your sin’s original!

 

If it is, best play it safer, drink the wine, and eat the wafer.

 

2, 4, 6, 8 ~ time to transubstantiate!”

There is, in truth, a lot of nonsense talked about the church and God,  ~ so, my aim this morning is to help you understand more of the meaning of the communion service ~ what’s essential, and what isn’t. And I’m going to go a bit deeper in two weeks’ time.

To start with, let’s turn in our green service books to the very heart of the service, 5 pages in, on the right hand page, about two-thirds of the way through the Eucharistic prayer, where we read that “on the night before he died, Jesus came to supper with his friends”. Then, you’ll see, he took bread, blessed God for the gift of bread, broke it, and shared it around his friends, saying, ‘Take, eat; this is my body, which is given for you.’ Then he took the wine, shared it round, and said, ‘Drink this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for you and for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”

We heard read just now the very earliest account we have, from Paul’s letter first letter to the Corinthians, of that most unusual moment.  Jesus said, “When you do this remember me”, and he knew very well that they would continue to ‘do it’ because this is what people do with their friends and families. They enjoy a meal together, and Jews, particularly, give thanks to God for the gifts of bread and wine.  That’s what Jesus would have done.

It was Jesus identifying with the bread and wine – in a sense, making himself a sign of brokenness and suffering, that was unusual, and unexpected at that meal. What was also unusual was that, immediately afterwards, Jesus was arrested and killed. And it didn’t take his friends very long to make the connection between the suffering and brokenness of which he had made himself a living sign and the death that was inflicted upon him within 24 hours. They were one and the same – except no mere sign, for this was real blood and a particularly horrible and public death. Some took the symbolism a stage further, and associated Jesus’ death with the killing of the sacrificial lamb, spoken of in our reading from Exodus, whose blood was daubed over the door-posts of the people of Israel, when they were slaves to the Egyptians, as a sign of ‘life’ for the angel of death to pass-over, so that they could escape from slavery. By associating Jesus with ‘the lamb of God’ it was being suggested that his death was of greater significance, for all humanity, than simply the death of one good man. God was, as it were, positioning Jesus like a human sign-post for all of us. The sign-post points to the way of fullness of life as being through self-sacrifice for the sake of others.

What questions does this raise for us about the aims, objectives and motivations behind our plans, our actions, our words?

The words we use matter, don’t they?

Words mattered to Jesus. In those,  ‘remember me’ words of Jesus, from the Last Supper, there is the heart of the service! – and that’s what you abbreviate it down to, if you’re taking communion to someone unwell. From this central core, we quickly see that if we choose to take into our bodies the bread and wine, which are called the body and blood of Jesus, we are taking within us the very self-sacrificial nature of the man , who was also God, who gave up his life for us. As God was in Jesus, so he can be in us – that’s pretty- much the message!

It raises the question, ‘Do we inhabit our bodies with an awareness that God is in us? ~ and that God is in others?’

Is that how we live?

These words, and the challenge of those questions, are at the heart of Communion. Wherever Christians come together to share food with each other, and to give thanks that God keeps on leading us out of slavery, of various kinds, then they are ‘in communion’ with God, with each other, and, potentially, with all humanity and, indeed, with all life on earth. It is cosmic in scope!

Rowan Williams writes: “In reflecting on the Eucharist we begin to see what a Christian attitude to the environment might be.  Do we live in the world as if God the Giver were within and behind and in the depths of every moment and every material thing? … Reverence for the bread and wine of the Eucharist is the beginning of reverence for the whole world, in which the giving of God’s glory is pulsating beneath the surface of every moment.”

But it goes still further; because communion signifies to us our sharing with all life on earth, it has moral and ethical implications for our behaviour; and that’s why I have distributed today copies of the Earth Charter, which raises questions about what this means for our daily lives, individually and corporately. Please take this with you to read; and it will help me if a few people would stay for a few minutes afterwards and complete a short questionnaire. All this is because we hope that our church-going will make a difference.

But you might be thinking, ‘What about the rest of the service?’

Well, churches have got into habits of adding-in different things to help us. For example, it’s a good thing when we gather together to pause, reflectively, for remembering our continual reliance upon being forgiven and starting over again. It’s good to reflect upon the scriptures; those Jesus would have known, as a Jew, and also the Gospel stories of Jesus’ life. The Gospel story is essential, and some churches, like us, listen to three readings – and it is the job of the preacher to try to make sense of them for you! ~ asking: How can our lives, and our world, be changed for the better?

We are here because we hurt, and so does our world. Therefore, it’s good to hold those who hurt before God in prayers of intercession.

We sing hymns because they bond us together,& because(when we get ‘lift off’ in participation) they help, powerfully, to lift our hearts and minds to praise God.

The peace greeting is a sign of how we want to be. We want peace in our hearts, our relationships, and to live in justice and peace.  The peace greeting leads to the offering of bread and wine, to be transformed by God, through our thanksgiving, into signs of new life. Thanksgiving takes a further five minutes before we reach the ‘remembering’ of those central words with which I began. Then we share. Then we give thanks for sharing. Then, we go off to put into practice in our relationships with others the sacrificial love we have internalised. Now, there’s the core of the Communion service, and the helpful bits that different traditions have added, and they can be varied throughout the year.

In two weeks’ time I want to say more about the sharing of communion, and you will find on our website a meditative sermon about bread and wine that I preached at St Stephen’s two weeks ago.  Please take home the Bible readings and the Earth Charter, and think and pray about what you read.  May God bless you richly as you discover more about the communion which is his will for everyone, and as you open your heart and your life to be changed by it.

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SERMON St Peter’s,  31st August, 2014

Tim Vine won the ‘funniest joke’ award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with a one-liner about a vacuum cleaner:

“I’ve decided to sell my Hoover  … well, it was just collecting dust.”

It must have felt as though Jesus was joking, with all those hungry people beside the Sea of Galilee, when he took five loaves and two fishes and told his friends they could feed everybody 5,000 men, & loads of women & children, all with hearty appetites!  5 loaves & 2 fishes?!?   One of his friends might have said, “Well, thank you, Jesus, that’s very funny  … now, do you have some practical ideas?”

Jesus did.  It was all about sharing.  Many people probably had secret provisions stashed away, just in case Jesus’ stories went on a bit (we all know what preachers are like …), but they weren’t intending to share them; until Jesus set an example of sharing, ~ and then it just spread, like wildfire, so that there were twelve baskets of leftovers. Amazing!

The miracle was, of course, primarily, about sharing. It was a positive turning around of the human heart, on an unexpectedly large scale ~ & that’s certainly a miracle by any standards, not least, when we hear about the opposite turning, a frighteningly large scale of abuse in Rotherham.  But, if we were in that massive crowd, would we have shared, if Jesus hadn’t started it off? ~ Would we?

Too easily, we hold back, because we look for perfect people with whom to share not only our lunches but our lives.

For instance:  Have you heard that a young lady visited a well-known agony-aunt, who advised people about relationships and marriage, and she made a request:

“I’m looking for a husband. Can you please help me find a suitable one?”

The marriage-fixer said, “Your requirements, please?”

“Well, let me see. Needs to be good looking, polite, humorous, sporty, knowledgeable, good at singing and dancing.  Willing to accompany me the whole day at home, if I don’t go out; telling me interesting stories when I need a companion for conversation and being silent when I want to rest.”

The marriage-fixer listened carefully and replied,” Now, I understand completely. What you need is a television.”

There’s even a remote control for a television ~ they’re still working on remote controls for husbands!

But we do like to have that ‘control’, don’t we?  And we would really like to be able to control who our neighbours are, locally, and worldwide.  But, in the real world, God has given us neighbours we might not have chosen, and God has given us the task of learning to live in harmony and mutual respect with them.  Are we about to be at war, again, with Iraq?  Please, God, no!  I can not see how violence and warfare can be the answer to settling human differences, and, like most of us, I am horrified by the continuing and escalating violence between Palestinians and Israelis.  And, much closer to home, there are sharp edges, aren’t there, about how we try to be ‘good neighbours’ to the many homeless people who come to Bournemouth?

A lot of it comes down to mutual respect ~ and that’s easy for preachers to talk about, but much more difficult to ‘do’, particularly if it’s not reciprocal.  We hide behind polite ‘fronts’ sometimes, instead of telling the truth in love.  For example, I heard a husband and wife at a party chatting with some friends and then the subject of marriage counselling came up.

“Oh, we’ll never need that. My husband and I have a great relationship,” the wife explained. “He did a degree in Communications at college and I studied acting. He communicates non-stop and I  act as though I’m listening!”

Well, that can apply in our international relationships too!  How much are we committed even to local sharing? ~ let alone on an international level.  It’s certainly a challenge!

Jesus has challenged us by leaving us a meal to be shared with anyone who chooses to turn up.  This party is never for ‘members only’, it is always completely open.  This openness to all not only symbolises how God is, but it is potentially formative, in that it speaks of how God wants us, and the whole world, to be. Just occasionally, elsewhere, of course, I have felt that we have ‘tamed’ the Eucharist, and made it a bit like a tea party for us and our friends, with an overly personal focus on spiritual communion between ‘me and God’.  Yet, the parables that Jesus told showed that he was very down to earth in his spirituality.  Jesus demonstrated his spirituality by the way he lived, so we must be aware that it was often ‘a dodgy crowd’ he mixed with.  The company he kept upset the religious people who watched to see what this young upstart preacher was about, and whose company he kept.  Following Jesus has never been an easy option, certainly not if you take the universal ‘sharing’ character of the Eucharist seriously.  It has implications for the degree of mutual respect in our international relations, and with the homeless, and the clubbers, as well as disturbing the comfort of any inward-looking groups, on the local scene, ~ even if they call themselves churches.

Indeed, the local scene takes on a whole new significance if we are trying to follow Jesus, because, now, we see that our lives have meaning and purpose ~ given by God.  No longer can we be mere observers. Instead, we have a role to play, and an obligation to God to play it.  There is no get-out!

C.S. Lewis speaks about the burden that this meaning and purpose place on us:  “The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back.   … There are no ordinary people.  You have never talked to a mere mortal.  Nations, cultures, arts, civilisations ~ these are mortal.  But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit  ~ immortal horrors or immortal splendours  … Our charity must be real and costly love …. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses.” (repeat sentence)

Indeed, I would go further, and say that if we are treating the sacramental bread and wine with great respect, but not our neighbour, then we make a mockery of He whose presence is in both.  Sacraments are outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual truths; and the spiritual truth of receiving God in bread and wine is that all life is holy, and all life is to be cherished, and celebrated, abundantly!

Seen this way, the Eucharist should have an atmosphere of celebration  ~ like a party!  Jesus, like all Jews, was brought-up with the expectation that when the promised Messiah came he would assert God’s reign with a great banquet ~ a massive and glorious party!  So it is that the Gospel writers record Jesus party-ing ~ sharing food and good fun!  Jesus is acting out the Messianic banquet, and demonstrating how God wants us all to be, with each other, all the time.  Too often, we are like parts of a body that have been dis-membered.  Jesus wants to see us ‘re-membered’, with each other, as we remember him. There’s a great vision!

Could it be yours?  +

The Earth Charter – please click on this link to view the document.

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