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The Reverend Canon Michael Smith (Pastor)
12 August 2018 – 11th Sunday of Trinity – 10am Choral Eucharist
Ephesians 4.25 – 5.2 & John 6.35,41-51
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry” John 6.35
Whenever I read these words I always think of the poem called ‘Horace’ which begins
Much to his Mum and Dad’s dismay
Horace ate himself one day.
He didn’t stop to say his grace,
He just sat down and ate his face.
The poem continues, cataloguing how Horace slowly consumes himself and it ends ….
And there he lay: a boy no more,
Just a stomach, on the floor…
I have always liked this poem – it is by one of the Monty Python team – not sure which one. In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul identifies the followers of Jesus as “the body of Christ” and there are occasions in services we have when we say “we are the body of Christ”. So, if Jesus is the bread of life, there is a sense in which we should also be, at the least, a crumb, or even a slice, of the bread of life! Thinking of ourselves as food is a very strange idea indeed – but let’s do that and let’s do it in relation to the food we share each week, the Eucharist.
There are four main actions in the Eucharist – Taking, Blessing, Breaking and Sharing. Bread is taken at the Altar, we give thanks for it and bless it, we break the bread and share it. But what is happening at the Eucharist is many layered. On one level we are simply sharing food with people we love. On another level we are entering into and sharing the very life of God. When we come to the Eucharist we do not only bring bread and wine, we bring ourselves and so we can also say that at the Eucharist we offer ourselves to God and God accepts us and takes us, he rejoices in us and blesses us, because we offer our whole selves in vulnerable love, our selfish, self-centred instinct is broken and we leave ready to be offered in vulnerable love to those with whom we share our lives.
Horace’s big mistake is the same mistake that most of us make all the time – he thinks ‘It’s all about me’ – without wishing to get too prosaic and arty about what is essentially a silly little ditty – this poem can be said to reveal something that is essentially true – selfishness is ultimately destructive, selfishness is not only destructive of communities it is also destructive of individuals – people who only think about themselves, who work only to satisfy their own desires can appear to be successful by the world’s standards but ultimately selfishness leads nowhere – ‘just a stomach on the floor’!
I think that many of us come to the Eucharist thinking, subconsciously, that this is all about me – it’s about me being fed by God. It’s about me being sustained. It’s about me, at that moment of communion, connecting with God and feeling loved and held, safe and secure. This is all true, but it is only a part of the story, coming to the Eucharist is not only about receiving, it is also about giving. Giving ourselves to God to be blessed and broken to be given back to the world.
One of my sons as a teenager had a T shirt and it has emblazoned across the front with the words ‘God’s gift’. He wore it with irony (I hope) and with the arrogance of youth. I would like to buy a job lot of those T shirts and give them out as people walk away from the communion rail – sustained by God in the Eucharist we actually do become ‘God’s gift’ to the world. As we have been fed, sustained and blessed around the altar we go out to offer ourselves in unconditional love to the world around us. Not because we are better than anyyone else but simply because we know that we are accepted and loved by God and we are called to share that with everyone we meet.
People like me in pulpits like this say things like ‘You are to be a Eucharistic people’ and generally people like you think, ‘That sounds good, I like that’ ……. but we are not quite sure what it means. Well it doesn’t mean that we are simply a people who choose to worship in a particular way with a ritual based around sharing bread and wine. Let me explain what I mean by saying ‘You are a Eucharistic people.’ When I was training to be a priest I can remember having a long and heated debate (as only students can) about genuflecting. Genuflecting is when you bow on one knee, a sign of respect and honour. The argument was essentially this – when you are in church and you go up for communion you should genuflect because you are approaching the altar and more importantly you are approaching the consecrated bread and wine, the focus of God’s presence, the body and blood of Christ. We all agreed (because I went to that sort of Theological College) that genuflecting on your way to receive communion was the right thing to do. The question was, when you have received communion, should you also genuflect towards the consecrated bread and wine before you walk away? Some said you should while others argued vehemently that you shouldn’t because as you walk away from communion you are carrying the focus of God’s presence within you, you become what you eat – you have received the sustaining food of heaven, you are then ready to go out to be the sustaining food of heaven to everyone you meet, you are a walking tabernacle, you are God’s gift! What I mean by saying that you are a Eucharistic people is that you leave church to feed everyone you meet with God’s love, to develop relationships that are creative and sustaining based on the Kingdom values of justice, compassion, peace and love.
The Eucharist is our central act of worship. It is important that we remember two things;
1. The Eucharist is not just about the bread and wine and the Jesus of history it is also about you and me offering ourselves in vulnerable love to God, to each other and to the world
2. It is not just about you and me as private individuals coming to feel close to God so that we can feel better as private individuals, it is about you and me coming together in community to be fed and sustained so that we can give ourselves to each other and to those we meet – so that we can become God’s gift of love to the world.
In the past I have preached sermons about what is the most important part of the service on a Sunday. Everyone thinks it’s the reading of the gospel, or the Eucharistic Prayer or the Breaking of Bread, Some people even think it is the sermon! All of these things are important but they are all essentially a means to an end. The most important part of the service is the dismissal – ‘Go in peace to love and serve to Lord’ – Go in peace to give yourselves away as God’s gift to bring healing, wholeness, justice, peace, compassion, love to the world or at least to the little bit of the world in which you live.
Don’t be a Horace, just feeding yourself – be God’s gift to others to be his real presence to them, sustaining them with God’s love.
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