Sermon preached at St Augustine’s Church, Rumney for the feast of Corpus Christi 2015
May I speak and may we listen, in the name of God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Jesus teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum: ‘said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you’
It may seem a very bizarre thing, to have a Methodist Minister preaching this evening – we may be making local history tonight having a lowly Methodist preach for the High and Solemn Feast of Corpus Christi…but actually I think it’s rather pertinent – given that we are here to celebrate the institution of the Holy Eucharist and Christ’s presence in this Sacrament.
The Body of Christ, Corpus Christi, is today made a little more united by our sharing together in this Mass in the presence of God, in the presence of Our Lord, and in the presence of all the company of heaven.
So it’s a special day. Heaven is certainly rejoicing. And I thank you, Father John, for your kind invitation to preach this evening.
The Eucharist, The Mass, The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion – however we describe it, is the source and summit of the life of the Christian people – It is where we draw our strength from, it is where we find our true identity, it is where we live again the narrative of the Gospel and find our place within it – and so, there is nothing more important, no place more worthy of our time, no activity that should come before what we are here to partake in.
Sadly though, routine things so easily lose their splendor,
And here all Christians are guilty, no matter what they denomination–
We come to the Lord’s Table – worried about the length of the liturgy, the quality of the preaching, whether someone will have sat in our place…or if you’re like me – thinking too much about the vestments clergy wear and the theology of Eucharistic prayers and hymns…!
Too often, we leave the Lord waiting at the altar for his people. So if there is worship going on, we ought to turn up if we are able. Because the truth is, God does, always – for us. And in the Eucharist, we have the opportunity time and again to be lost in wonder, love and praise – to have our minds, souls and bodies changed from glory into glory – as we share in the heavenly banquet prepared for all people.
We should leave the Eucharist – having taken part in something that looks good, smells good, tastes good and feels good…because we come with all our baggage and burdens, our hopes, dreams, doubts and aspirations, and in the Eucharist all of that, all that we have and all that we are is offered up to God in prayer and praise, and by the end, hopefully, we leave feeling:
I often think that we can know when we’ve been truly present at the Eucharist, when we leave feeling a little more prepared for death than when we arrived…a little more prepared to serve and meet the Lord…feeling ready for our Christian mission and witness in the world. Prepared to proclaim that which we proclaim in the liturgy…that eternal and unchanging truth: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.
That’s not just a phrase for saying aloud within this four hallowed walls, it is, for us, reality.
Everything we do here, is, for us reality…it’s fact, it’s true, it’s real – and the world needs to know and hear that, so we ought to get living it as best we can.
John Wesley believed very firmly that that which was wrought in us in our worship, would be continued in our daily living. All that we sing, all that we hear, all that we say, all that we do – has consequences for how we live our lives beyond the Mass, beyond this time, beyond these walls.
We heard in St John’s Gospel:
‘So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
Jesus, making it very clear, that this bread is not like the bread our ancestors ate – it is his body, his flesh, his blood…
It is special, and life-changing, and life-giving in ways which you can only imagine.
And all these years later, we are still discovering the depths of God’s love for us through this holy sacrifice, which is the powerhouse and apex of Christian life.
But this gift, this life-changing sacrament, the body and blood of Christ which is meant to pull all people to God-self, to unite us as one, to gather us all around the same table, as equals loved into being and made in the image of God – this gift is so often devalued,
The Body of Christ is broken, and we are, all of us, responsible for its brokenness.
For those times when we refuse to share the peace with those who have hurt us,
For those times when we have sat judging those who go forward to receive because we think they are unworthy,
For those times when we have wished that the celebrant would refuse the family we think are totally dysfunctional and who we feel don’t even know what the Eucharist is about,
For those times when we have acted and used language as though the we were the only reason the Lord came to live and die and rise amongst us,
For those times when we have made the Eucharist all about us, may the Lord have mercy.
Anything we wouldn’t do at the foot of the cross, we ought not to do in the Mass if we genuinely believe Our Lord is here.
We know that we are weak, fragile vessels in the awesome presence of Our Lord, yet what we are about to receive gives us an empowerment beyond our wildest dreams –
This isn’t about memorial only.
This isn’t about a remembrance of things long past.
This isn’t about us, it is about the faithfulness and love of God in Christ Jesus to his Church.
And as we gather here, in this place, we come to realize and see, smell and taste the mystery of faith – that what happened in Bethlehem, and by the sea of Galilee, what happened in the upper room, on the cross, and in the tomb happened for us, for the whole of creation and happens anew within us and around us each time the Eucharist is celebrated.
As we gather, we gather with the whole company of heaven, all those who throughout the ages have lived the Eucharistic life, a life lived in total thanksgiving to the God of Abraham.
And even if we cannot believe in the mystical change of the bread and wine, then we continue to belong until we can believe.
We continue to belong to the Body of Christ, which has room for all people – no matter who they are, or what they have done, or what state their life is in.
We continue to belong to the Body of Christ even in those moments when we approach his body humbly hidden in bread and wine, casually, lazily and begrudgingly.
Charles Wesley wrote in one of his many hymns: “With solemn faith we offer up, / And spread before Thy glorious eyes, / The only ground of all our hope, / That precious bleeding sacrifice, / Which brings Thy grace on sinners down, / And perfects all our souls in one.”
This is the Sacrament that teaches us life’s true meaning.
This is the Sacrament that promises eternal life and renewal.
This is the Sacrament that reveals to us the depths of God’s grace.
This is the Sacrament that reminds us of our true worth and value, as children loved into being and made in the image of God, This is the Sacrament in which we meet – in flesh and blood, our Savior, our lover and our friend Jesus Christ – who lived, died and rose again so that we may have eternal life. And it is in this Sacrament that we hear Christ, reaching out to us, calling out to us, inviting us to play our part in this passionate drama with those words:
‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’
Let us offer up ourselves as a holy and living sacrifice unto God, let us accept his invitation to feed on him with reverence, faith, and thanksgiving and let us proclaim the mystery of faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.