Sunday, 22 June 2014

Sermon on the Eucharist

Sermon on the Eucharist

Readings:  John 6: 35-58
                  1 cor 11: 23-32

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

This morning we are starting a series of sermons on the sacraments. Following on from corpus christi on Thursday, this mornings topic is the Eucharist. The sharing of bread and wine in church is one of the two sacraments whose roots can be traced back to the actions of Christ himself, the other being baptism.  As such, you would expect it to be something that can be a point of unity across all Christian denominations, yet we can't even agree on what to call it: the Lords Supper, Holy Communion, Eucharist or Mass.  None of these names are necessarily wrong, and in fact they all reflect something important about what goes on each time we celebrate the sacrament. So, I want to have a look at each in turn.

The name the Lords Supper refers to the fact that the key part of the Eucharistic prayer directly quotes Christ words at the last supper my body broken for you, my blood shed for you. These words are called the words of institution. They have traditionally been seen as the words which do "the magic"and make Christ present in the bread and wine. In our worship here, this is reflected in the ringing of the bell and the genuflecting of the ministers at that point. Of course it isn't really magic, but God acting through the person who has been chosen and consecrated to that role.

However our service goes beyond the last supper and includes the events of the passion and resurrection that followed. We are not just repeating what Jesus did at the last supper rather it is a re presentation of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. In making that re presentation afresh each week we are again spiritually making the sacrifice of the cross and receiving the grace that flowed from it. The issue of what exactly happens to the bread and wine at the consecration has been a source of much debate over the centuries.  We know that early Christians talked about consuming the body and blood, they were accused of being cannibals. Now the early Christians weren't cannibals and neither, I hope, are we.

 So what do we mean when we say we consume the body and blood? In our gospel reading this morning Jesus is already referring to himself as the bread of life, and that to eat his body is the way to eternal life. The disciples were very confused by this, and what precisely is meant when we say the bread and wine become the body and blood has continued to cause debate and confusion to this day. I would love to be able to stand here and give you a nice neat explanation, but I am not sure that one exists. What I do know is that when I hold the consecrated bread or wine I feel as if I am holding something infinitely precious, and that receiving it makes me feel strengthed and upheld in a way that nothing else does.

We come together to share in holy communion, and we should be a holy communion but at times we may not seem like a very holy communion of people. We can all at times upset others by what we say or don't say, by what we do or don't do. In our reading this morning Paul is giving the Corinthians advice on how to prepare to receive communion. We should not come to the Lords table in an unworthy state. We start the service with confession, a chance to examine ourselves, to recognise the times we might have done wrong or not taken the chance to do something we should have done. It is a time to put ourselves right with God, think about what we might need to change and then receive through the sacrament the strength to make those changes.

Communion is about more than just those of us that are physically present in this building.  Some of the bread and wine that is consecrated on a Sunday morning may be reserved and taken to those members of our community who are not able through ill health to be here with us this morning, in this way they can still share in one sacrament with us. The idea of communion doesn't end with us in the here and now. Later we will be asked to join with angels and archangels and all the glorious company of heaven. We are part of a great communion that stretches beyond the space and time we are currently living in.  In our daily lives when we hit hard times, we can often draw strength from our friends and family. In receiving the sacrament we can draw on the strength of the church and its saints and most importantly of all by receiving the body and blood  be strengthened by God himself.  The sum is greater than it's parts and what a great sum are we able to be part of with God, the angels and faithful Christians throughout the ages.

The name Eucharist comes from the Greek word meaning thanksgiving. In the Eucharist we start by giving thanks to God.  Watching the news over the past few weeks has made me realise what a great deal we have to be thankful for, for the fact that we can gather here this morning without risking our lives, for the fact that we have safe water to drink and food to eat. In the Eucharist we offer thanks to God for all that He has done in the salvation history of the world.

Thanksgiving can involve more than just saying thank you, if someone does something for us, we want to offer something back. God has given us the ultimate gift and in receiving the Eucharist we can offer something of ourselves back to him for use in his service. In the eucharist we are also given an example of the ultimate in thanksgiving, when we recall Jesus' action in giving thanks over bread and wine at the last supper. Knowing what was about to happen, he was still able to give thanks. How many of us when facing a hard situation can still manage to give thanks? In the Eucharist we can receive the gift of grace that allows us to face our fears and find the light of God that shines in even the darkest of places, and that is something to be thankful for.

The name mass comes from the Latin word missa, meaning sent out. What we do here this morning isn't just something that happens in a moment and is done, rather like a pebble dropped in a pool of water, it should send waves through our lives and by our actions through the world. There is a hymn based on the words of a fourth century Syrian deacon that begins "strengthen Lord for service, the hands that holy things have taken ". This is reflected in the post communion prayers. As food nourishes the body, the body and blood of Christ nourishes and strengthens our souls to go out and take the light and love of God to those that are outside this building and this community. To me this is one of the most important aspects of receiving the body and blood. Don't get me wrong I love what we do here on a Sunday morning, the candles,the robes and the ritual, but all that means nothing if it changes nothing outside this building.  If I am honest the thought of trying to change even one small part of the world makes me want to run and hide. Some days just trying to cope with my own life seems hard enough, yet when I kneel at the altar and receive the bread and wine, somehow I feel stronger and the world and trying to change it doesn't seem quite such a daunting prospect.

As we consume the body and blood of Christ we open ourselves to be transformed and in turn we can then become transforming. As the light from one candle passed to another can eventually over come the darkness, so we can be strengthened to pass the light of Christ onto others and overcome the darkness of the world.

What exactly happens to the bread and wine by God through the actions of the priest consecrating it,  remains a holy mystery. What we can know is the effect it has on us as we receive it, as we join with the holy communion of the church, are strengthened to go out into the world bearing the light and life of God inside us to pass onto others and in so doing making ourselves and the world more God like.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Messy Church - A Reflection

Last week I had my first experience of messy church. Messy church is a fresh expression of church aimed at families with young children.  Not having any young children myself it was something I had avoided till now, however part of being on the vocation journey is that you are expected to experience other types of church. So I arrived feeling somewhat apprehensive, various craft activities were being set out on tables and a BBQ was taking shape outside. People arrived as and when and did which ever craft activities they wanted.  After about an hour everyone went into church for a short talk finished by asking what people wanted to pray for and Stella Bailey doing a very good job on prayers for topics including ladybirds and teddy bears. We then all headed out to the BBQ.

So, what did I think to messy church? Well I had fun,  I think it's a great environment for building relationships and having conversations, probably more so then a Sunday morning. However having spent a week thinking about it a bit more I also have some criticisms and questions. Most of my criticisms will not apply to everyone, this is just my thoughts and feelings.

I had fun, it was a pleasant way to spend a few hours but I don't feel as if I worshipped or even felt much of God there. I am not saying  God wasn't there, just for me this didn't seem like activity that helped deepen my faith or relationship with God.

The activites were all very craft based, which is to a certain extent fine for me because I enjoy crafty stuff, but what about people and kids that don't like craft? I said to a certain extent that craft based was fine for me, as an adult I am aware of my limitations and I am generally ok with the idea that there are things I an not good at. Art happens to be one of those things. There was an activity to make stained glass windows, this involved cutting paper shapes and drawing over lines in pen. I avoided this as most of the kids efforts would look better than mine. As an adult I am fine with this, a younger me might have felt embarrassed and stupid at being so obviously bad at craft stuff. Adding in some non craft based activities might be good.

My final question about messy church is how do we develop the faith and understanding of the people that go to a deeper level? Is there such a thing as a messy Eucharist? Can we provide something more for adults / older kids that might like to explore in more depth alongside messy church?

Messy church does provide some thing useful especially for families with young children, but it isn't going to be for everyone and I have noticed a tendency for people who say they won't go or be involved to be criticised for that. My husband has been criticised for saying he wouldn't go near it, yet he doesn't like young children or craft stuff so what would he get from messy church?

Overall it felt to me like an extended version of Sunday school rather than a new way of doing church.