Friday, 3 April 2015

Defined by the Eucharist - a Maundy Thursday Sermon

Last year I began the sermon for Maundy Thursday (yes, I check these things, just to make sure don’t repeat myself too much) with the words “At the blessing of the oils service this morning in the Cathedral, Bishop Logan reminded us….”

And though I don’t like to repeat myself, I want to start my thoughts this evening with these words “At the blessing of the oils service this morning in our Cathedral, Bishop Logan reminded us… “ that this most Holy meal that we share this evening defines who we are.  I seem to get a lot of food for thought from our Bishop's Maundy sermons!  

Bishop Logan spoke very personally of his experience of being a part of the ceremonies around the demolition of St Michael's residential school in Alert bay and talked of healing, he pointed to the Eucharist as a place of healing and reconciliation and how we are called to be people of healing.  There is so much more I could share with you on that theme - but it was that one phrase 'It is the Eucharist that defines us' that really stuck with me as I prepared these thoughts.  So I have gone in a slightly different direction - and here goes:

It is the Eucharist that forms us, our sharing in bread and wine that nourishes us, our Holy Communion that sustains us and builds us up in community.  That is why, on this most Holy Night, we remember the institution of Holy Communion.  We remember that before his death Jesus gathered his closest friends around him to share at table in the marking of the Passover and during that meal left a reminder of his self-offering that we call the Eucharist – a word from the Greek that means ‘Thanksgiving’.  Not only  that, but in doing so left us with the command “do this in remembrance of me”.  We are to continually offer thanksgiving and to share in this Holy Meal as we recall the death and resurrection of our loving, living Christ.

The Eucharist defines us – but how…? We will all have reasons why we find this sharing significant, and I am not trying to tell you what you have to believe about this sacred feast, but here are some ways in which we might recognise who we are called to be in the sharing of this sacrament.

Firstly, it reminds us to be people of gratitude.  It is in its very naming, as I said, a thanksgiving.  It calls us to remember the goodness we enjoy – to use an old-fashioned phrase – to ‘count our blessings’.  It calls us to be people whose attitude is turned not to seeing all that is bad and wrong with the world (though we should not ignore those things) but to seek the beauty and life of the God who is in all things, who is all in all.  To have hearts tuned to life and hope and truth and wonder. 

Next, it reminds us of our calling to be in community.  The name ‘Holy Communion’ which is still the name many refer to this service by, reminds us that we are in communion not only with the God who meets us here – but with the others who meet us here too.  One of the sadnesses, in my opinion, of our post enlightenment, individualistic culture – and of those religious expressions that focus on ‘me and my relationship with Jesus’ and major on personal salvation is that we have lost that sense of being the body of Christ, of being so intimately connected to one another that we are like parts of the body connected by ligament and muscle and flesh.

One of our sentences at the breaking of the bread – technically called ‘the Fraction’ for those who like to know these things – goes like this “Creator of all,
you gave us golden fields of wheat,
whose many grains we have gathered
and made into this one bread.
All So may your Church be gathered
from the ends of the earth
into your kingdom.
Says it all, really. It’s all about the together, folks!

This holy meal reminds us too of God’s offer of sustenance in our journey.  And of how God meets us where we are.  I love the fact that the Eucharist isn’t some kind of abstract celebration all about words and theory, but is earthy – the everyday things of food and drink, though ritualised, are offered to us as a reminder that God offers the sustenance our hearts and souls needs.  We are reminded also that God is not disembodied or disinterested but grounded in the reality of everyday life.   Another of the Fraction sentences says ““I am the bread of life,” says the Lord.
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry;
whoever believes in me will never thirst.” “

Of course this isn’t just a fanciful idea, but one which we, as the people of God, are called to make a reality – that we point others to the reality of a God who slakes our spiritual thirst and feeds our spiritual hunger, but that we also work for a world where none hunger and thirst as we are reminded that this is the calling of the body of Christ, to meet the needs of the world around us as well as our own.

Next, I believe the Eucharist defines us as broken people.  By which I mean that the brokenness we often experience personally, or the broken relationships in our lives, or the brokenness of the world is echoed in the breaking of bread that we have in the heart of our Eucharistic observance.  Those wonderful words from the resurrection appearance of Christ to two followers at Emmaus (and though it is holy week, we can’t really consider the Eucharist without considering the resurrection life it points towards) are in our Emmaus chapel window and, for me, define the core of our Communion. “They knew him in the breaking of the bread.”  Christ, body broken and yet somehow brought back to life, breaks bread again.  In that symbol of brokenness is so much to do with sharing, healing, and being connected to Christ – but also, for me, a recognition of the brokenness of the world in which somehow Christ is always present.  Christ is alive even in the darkest and most broken places, and meets us there.  Another Fraction sentence – this one which we have been using throughout Lent and Holy Week.

We break this bread,
Communion in Christ’s body once broken.

Let your Church be the wheat
which bears its fruit in dying.
If we have died with him,
we shall live with him;
if we hold firm,
we shall reign with him.

And that links to my next to last thought – that a number of people have expressed their distaste at the last part of that sentence, that reigning with Christ has echoes of dominance and royalty with which many of us – including myself – are uncomfortable with.  In every Eucharist we are reminded of a servant king whose role is not to dominate, but to unite – to bring people together in love and service.  When we talk of reigning with Christ we talk of being alongside Christ in that place and time when love, grace, peace, justice, mercy and wholeness are made manifest.

In this particular Eucharist we see this of course in the symbolic act of the washing of feet which Jane will be taking part in on behalf of all of us in ministry, indeed on behalf of all of us in the people of God for we are all ministers one to another.  This is the reign of Christ – offering to wash the feet of one another.

And lastly for my thoughts – though there is so much more that I could say but won’t – the Eucharist defines us as sent people.  Though we have been gathered and united at this feast, we are not called to stay huddled together for spiritual warmth in this comfortable place.  The Eucharist demands that we go forth – or as they say in the Catholic liturgy ‘The Mass is ended, go in peace’.  Our own prayer books offer a variety of sentences that finish our service with the dismissal, but my own favourite is – Go in love and peace to serve the Lord. 

Thanks be to God.