Thursday, 20 June 2019

What are we celebrating on Corpus Christi?

Sermon preached on 20/6/2019 at St. Mary Magdalene, Coventry

Genesis 14. 18-20
Psalm 116 10-end
1 Corinthians 11: 23-26
John 6. 51-58

So, here we are again on the feast of Corpus Christi, otherwise known as the one with the strange Latin name.  It is also referred to as the day of thanksgiving for the institution of holy communion. When looking that up on the internet I found that Corpus Christi is also a town in Texas. So what is Corpus Christi about? Well, what we are doing here tonight has nothing to do with a town in Texas.
It is more about what happens every time we gather around the altar and share in bread and wine, body and blood. It's roots obviously go back to the last supper, but it is so much more than that.

The first question to ask is probably what do we call it? In different churches it is called The Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, The Eucharist or The Mass. What you call it can depend on your theology or personal preference. I prefer the term the mass, mainly because I find it the easiest to say! However, I think each name can teach us something about what it is we are doing.

The Lord's supper – This is where it all starts really. That night over two thousand years ago in Jerusalem when Jesus had his last meal with the disciples and uttered those key phrases “This is my body given for you do this in remembrance of me. This is my blood shed for you do this in remembrance of me.” and theologians have been arguing about what he meant ever since. In our gospel reading we heard how Jesus describes himself as the living bread. The Jews who heard him at the time were confused by what he meant. We have the advantage of the rest of the story and another two thousand years of theology, and it can still seem like it doesn’t make sense. I mean how can Jesus be bread and bread be his body and wine his blood? Sometimes we have to accept that what we believe may be based on spiritual experience not scientific fact.

Holy Communion – We gather at the altar as a community, that is at least trying to be holy, even if we, the people here and now, don't always manage it. Yet we are part of a church community that reaches across time and space. Here, in this act of receiving bread and wine we are linked with those that have carried out this same ritual over the hundreds of years of the Christian church, and indeed we do join with the angels and archangels and all God's church to proclaim his glory. We are not just celebrating Holy Communion, we are a Holy Communion, a communion of people and angels of saints and sinners but also a communion of souls that can find their redemption in broken bread and wine out poured, in the body and blood.

Eucharist- The word eucharist comes from the Greek word eucharistia, meaning to give thanks. Sometimes looking at the world around us, at the pollution, at the state of modern politics, the pain and suffering it can seem as if there is nothing to be thankful for. Yet, on the night that he was to be betrayed, knowing what was to come, Jesus took bread and giving thanks, broke it. At the start of the Eucharistic prayer we give thanks, as we recall not just the last supper but all the events of the days that followed, we are reminded again of the fact that God loves us and that as Julian of Norwich said "all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well." We have a God that loves us, that will redeem the world, that is indeed something to be thankful for.

Mass - We move from Greek to Latin, the name mass comes from the final part of the service, the dismissal which traditionally in Latin was Ite, missa est, apologies to any Latin experts if I said that wrong.  It translates as "go, it is the sending". The modern version is go in peace to love and serve the lord. We are sent out from the table strengthened by what we have received. We are sent to go in peace, to try and live in peace with our fellow man. Something that we seem to be losing the ability to do. We need to think about what we say and type when on social media, to engage in honest and open debate, not just trade insults. This may seem hard when someone else's view seems the worst thing on earth to you. Yet we are also sent to love the Lord, and it's not unrequited love. As we love him so his love pours down on us and we in turn can pass that love on to others. Loving God and loving others helps us also to do the third part of the dismissal, serve the lord. We can serve the Lord by living in peace, loving and helping others. However, doing this is not as simple as it seems and we are fallible human beings. In receiving the sacrament of the mass, we are fed and strengthened by the body and blood of Christ to go out into the world to do the difficult task of living in peace, loving and serving the Lord.

So, I started with the question what are we doing here tonight? We are doing the same as every Sunday morning, but with the chance to think a bit more deeply about what we are doing and why. We are remembering and re presenting the reality of the last supper, the cross and the resurrection. We are being formed into a holy communion, not just here in this time and place but with all the glorious company of heaven. We are giving thanks for God and his saving grace and his reassurance that all will be well. We are being fed and strengthened to go out into the big, bad wide world and spread God's love and peace so that in the words of the lords prayer thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.