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Archive for October, 2010

A sermon on the meaning of the Eucharist.


Have you ever really needed something? I mean, really needed something? I’m not talking about needing a pen. I’m not talking about needing that morning coffee before you can feel like a stable, functional adult. I’m not talking about needing there to be a gas station at the next exit because, well you know, you didn’t get gas at that last exit with a gas station, certain there would be another one soon, you told your travelling companions as much, and now the gas light on your dashboard is about to explode. I know you’ve been there.

 

But I’m not talking about that kind of need.

What I’m talking about is the kind of need that could be the tipping point in your life or in relationships; a need for something so important that without it the course of your life could be significantly altered; a need that you do not have the resources to meet on your own. Have you ever been in that spot before?

That’s where the two characters are in our Gospel reading this morning. If you have your Bibles turn with me to Luke 24. It is the afternoon of Easter Sunday. Jesus has suffered death on the cross and by the power of God has been raised from the dead. The tomb is empty. Although they do not know what this means.  There are two disciples of Christ walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem. One is named Cleopas. We learn in John 19:25 that it’s highly likely the other one is his wife. So it is Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas.

They are not numbered with the 12 disciples but are still faithful followers of the Lord.

As they are walking home to Emmaus they are discussing all that has happened when they are joined by the risen Lord. Only for some reason we’re not told, they do not recognize him. They describe to him all that has happened to Jesus and how they had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Can’t you feel their disappointment and confusion?

Upon arriving at the Cleopas home in Emmaus, Jesus is going to continue on ahead, “but they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us.”

And then when he was at table with them, it says he took the bread and blessed it and broke it and gave it to them. And in that act, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.

If you’ve been following along with our current sermon series you’ll know we’ve been on a guided tour of our Sunday morning liturgy, taking time to stop and explain the meaning of various aspects of our service. Since meaning defines our practice it is good for us to know why we do what we do when we are together.

So let’s turn our attention to what happens at this table.

If you turn in our bulletin to that part of the service, you will see the liturgy is entitled The Great Thanksgiving, drawing on the Greek word Eucharist which simply means Thanksgiving. Other names for the Eucharist are Holy Communion and the Lord’s Supper among others.

What we should first say about the Eucharist is it is a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of inward and spiritual grace. The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer says that the sacraments are given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive his grace. So when we talk about what happens at the table, hold clearly in your minds that we are talking about Jesus and Grace.

It was instituted the night he was betrayed. As the words of institution in the Eucharistic liturgy declare:

“On the night he was handed over to suffering and death, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread….”

From that evening on, this meal has been essential to the life of the Church. References are made to it throughout the NT, particularly in Acts when it described the early church culture and practice.

The Eucharist was so normative, in fact, that it was only directly addressed at length when the practice was being misused, for example in our epistle reading this morning. Had the Eucharist been an uncommon practice, we would expect there to be more written to teach about it and encourage its use.

So what happens to the bread and the wine in the Eucharist? Much ink has been spilled over the centuries on this topic. From our earliest readings of the church fathers, for example Justin Martyr who ministered in the early 100’s AD, we see that they took a fairly simple view of the elements: by the word of the Lord that they were turned into spiritual nourishment for our souls. As time went on, doctrines were established to describe exactly what was happening to the Eucharistic elements. The Roman Catholic Church had a view, the Reformers had several views.

There is not time to describe the various views but we should note that if you’ve come from a tradition that does not celebrate Communion regularly and does not consider it to be a sacrament, that is a specific tradition. It contends that the Lord’s Supper is essentially an opportunity for the Christian to stop and meditate on Christ and to remember the gift of salvation offered by him on the cross. It is a contemplative moment of remembrance. This view focuses on the words “Do this in remembrance of me” in the words of institution. I offer this explanation because meaning determines practice. With this memorial meaning, it is understandable why churches who hold this view practice or celebrate the Lord’s Supper only occasionally.

The Anglican view is quite different – which is obvious since we do this every time we are together. While holding to the important sense of remembering, we also take into consideration Jesus’ words, “This is my body. This is my blood.” Even in holding this view of the elements, thankfully, the Anglican Church has largely steered clear of getting overly involved in the discussion of HOW bread and wine become his flesh and blood. It is simply enough that Jesus promised that they would.

This is not a mathematical formula or something that can be contained in a test tube or analyzed in a Petri dish. This is a Holy Mystery: it is the mystery of the real presence of Christ.

CS Lewis, good Anglican that he was, wrote, “To seek to capture the Eucharistic mystery is like taking a red coal out of the fire to examine it: as soon as you do, it becomes a dead coal.”

So what happens with us in the Eucharist?

First, we must come to the Lord’s Table hearts are open to Christ. How important it is to receive Christ and open our lives up to him and him! Had Cleopas and his wife not opened their doors to the risen Lord and invited him to stay the night, they would only have known that this was a wise and godly man – a great teacher. They would not have known he was the Lord.

For once they opened the door to host him, notice what happened: Jesus became the host. It would have been customary for the male of the family to say the blessing for the meal. But we’re told Jesus took, blessed, broke and gave the bread to them. They invited him in and he took it from there and revealed himself as Lord. So we must invite Christ in to be Lord of our lives.

Secondly, in the Eucharist, we are invited to come to the Lord ’s Table where he makes himself present to us in a very unique way. As Jesus revealed himself at the table of Cleopas, he reveals himself to his followers each week at this table.

Remember, Jesus is present to us in other ways, as in through the working of the Holy Spirit who Christ says in John 15, “dwells with us an in us and instructs us in living the Christian life.” He is with us in the church, as Matthew 18:20 says, “wherever two or three or gathered together in his name, there I am among them.” And he promises us in Matthew 28:20 that his abiding presence will be with us, “always, to the end of the age.”

But in the Eucharist, the bread and wine bear his presence in a unique way, a filling way, a way unlike the other modes.

Thirdly, remember that this is a meal. It is an extraordinary meal because it is hosted by the risen Lord. So it has all the same potential for power, life and revelation as the meal the Lord hosted with Cleopas and his wife in Emmaus. That is to say, it has the same potential to excite us and enliven us as it did them to realize they were at table with the risen Jesus Christ!

But it is an ordinary meal because this is the ordinary, normative way that God has ordained for Christ to meet and commune with his people. Through our participation in this meal we have fellowship and communion with Christ. That’s why it is called Holy Communion. This is a communion so intimate that Christ not only communes with us, not only is he with us, but Christ literally gives himself to us to be spiritual food to nurture us, to sustain us, and yes even to transform us.

Fourthly, by giving himself to us he extends to us his grace. So remember what I said about the sacraments being a means of grace – that grace comes to us as his presence in the bread and wine. Well what exactly is grace? It’s a term that gets thrown around a lot. I think we can often see grace as some passive inoperative something that makes us okay with God.

But grace has force. God’s force. It has power. God’s power. It moves heaven and earth because God can move heaven and earth. The prayer book defines it as, “God’s favor toward us, unearned and undeserved; by grace God forgives our sins, enlightens our minds, stirs our hearts, and strengthens our wills.” Strengthens our wills to do what? To act! To live this Christian life, to please God! So you see Grace is potent.

According to Margaret Visser in her most excellent book The Gift of Thanks: The Roots and Rituals of Gratitide, “Grace [in Christ] is overflowing, abundant, always enough. It is experienced as a dynamic, energetic supply, a joyful enabling; God’s grace is generous to the point of extravagance; where a quiet virtue such as patience is needed, grace provides the strength to be patient.”

Fifthly: This is the mystery of the sacrament: by the power of the Holy Spirit the Eucharist becomes a channel for Christ’s resurrected life to be active and operative in the lives of those who receive it in faith. The sacrament works. Through it we receive Christ’s life as grace. The bread and wine carry the freight of what God promises in them, namely the sustaining power of Christ’s body and blood – his living presence.

This is what CS Lewis was describing when he spoke of his experience of Holy Communion as a place where “the veil between the worlds” gets thin: “Here a hand from the hidden country touches not only my soul but my body…. Here is big medicine and strong magic.” He defines magic as some objective efficacy – a power that comes from God to work in his life for good.

That objective efficacy is God’s active and operative grace which comes by his giving of himself to his people to strengthen us and uphold us. In this he becomes our forgiveness, our strength, our salvation, our spiritual food and drink, our comfort and our life.

I know I am not alone in my experience of finding strength and nourishment at the Lord ’s Table. A number of years ago, I was going through a particularly dark season of life. The Eucharist became an essential part of my week. I would often come to the table exhausted, disheartened, filled with doubts, just low. But when the liturgy of the Eucharist came and the priest said, “Lift up your hearts” I lifted my heart as high as I could to the Lord, hoping he would hold it there and encourage it, and give me what I was needing. And then in that posture while receiving the body and blood of the Lord, I was touched, strengthened and given new resolve.

There are others I know and have counseled who likewise have experienced the blessings of the new covenant – a new relationship with God through the working of the sacrament of Holy Communion.

Thankfully, nowhere in Scripture does the Lord’s Supper happen in an idyllic setting – at its very inception that night in the Upper Room the dark clouds of impending suffering were already gathering on Golgotha. What I think this means is that we can bring to this meal all of our fears, our hurts, our illnesses, our wounds, our doubts, our struggles, the pain of broken relationships. We can bring to this table our concerns for a broken world that is so far from the shalom – the peace – that the Lord desires.

I started off the sermon with the question, “Have you ever really needed something? Have you ever needed something so important that without it the course of your life could be significantly altered; a need that you do not have the resources to meet?

In Jesus Christ, our greatest longings our deepest needs have been met. Like Cleopas and his wife, we too have hoped for someone to redeem us. We too have longed for a hero, a savior to rescue us. In the goodness and love of God, Jesus Christ has come to fulfill our deepest needs and longings.

Do you need healing? Come to his table.

Do you need comfort for your grief? Come to his table.
Do you need strength in the face of temptation? Then come to his table.
Do you need to fortify your faith in a season of doubt? Come to his table.
Do you need humility? Do you need patience? Do you need courage because you’re in over your head? Come to his table.

In Jesus Christ, our greatest longings our deepest needs have been met. That’s why this is called the Great Thanksgiving. It is a chance to celebrate – literally celebrate – all that God has done for his us.

Us. Us is a good word and brings me to my next point. For you see, not only is the sacrament for us individually. It is for us a community. This Holy Meal becomes the means by which God enables the church to be the Church. It forms us into the people of God. As the saying goes, “the family that prays together stays together.” It could also be said the family that eats together stays together.” We’re not talking about special holiday meals that we celebrate with our families. Remember this is the ordinary, normative way God has ordered his people to receive from him. This is part of our normal pattern of life.

There is much evidence that the regular routine eating patterns of families has inestimable benefit. If it is true that routine meal times are important in our families, how much more so important is the Eucharist for us as the family of God? It draws us together as the Body of Christ. It is the sign that declares you are my brother and you are my sister. We are members of God’s family – he is our Father. So it this meal recognizes that the grace I receive from the Lord is not only for me, it is for you too. It is for us all.

Lastly, as Christians were are always the gathered and scattered people of God. We gather together on Sunday mornings for the sake of being renewed and enlivened to be sent back out again. If you recall from our Gospel this morning, when the Cleopases realized who Christ was, they immediately sprung to action to return to Jerusalem – 7 miles one way. That’s 14 miles walking in a day! Makes my feet hurt thinking about it. Yet they could not help but go and reveal what God had done.

It’s the same for us as we come to worship him on Sunday mornings. There is a double movement to this thing: A centripetal force pulls us in, and a centrifugal force sends us back out again. We are at once the citizens of heaven, welcomed home, then pilgrims sent back to continue the journey.

It is why we pray at the conclusion of Communion the words of the Prayer of Thanksgiving and Mission: “We give you thanks and praise for accepting us into your family. Send us out with your blessing, to live and witness for you in the power of your Spirit, through Jesus Christ, the first born from the dead. Amen” Acceptance – drawing in; Sending – pushing out. We are then blessed and dismissed to go and serve the risen Lord!

This double-movement of worship and mission is nothing short of a journey to the inner heart of God so that we can then go and wash the feet of the world.  Please pray with me.

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Quotes on Eucharist

Thank you Matthew Carlson.

The Eucharist of Christ and Christ the Eucharist is the “breakthrough” that brings us to the table in the Kingdom, raises us to heaven, and makes us partakers of the divine food. For eucharist—thanksgiving and praise—is the very form and content of the new life that God granted us when in Christ He reconciled us with Himself. The reconciliation, the forgiveness, the power of life—all this has its purpose and fulfillment in this new state of being, this new style of life which is Eucharist, the only real life of creation with God and in God, the only true relationship between God and the world.

–Alexander Schmemann

And since God has created the world as food for us and has given us food as means of communion with Him, of life in Him, the new food of the new life which we receive from God in His Kingdom is Christ Himself. He is our bread—because from the very beginning all our hunger was a hunger for Him and all our bread was but a symbol of Him, a symbol that had to become reality.

–Alexander Schmemann

Lord, You are the Holy of Holies: I am the worst of sinners. Yet, O Lord, You stoop to me, who am not worthy even to raise my eyes toward You. Lord, You come to me, and desire to be with me; You invite me to Your Table; You wish to feed me with the Heavenly Food, the Bread of Angels. This Food is none other than Yourself, The Living Bread, who came down from Heaven to give life to the world.

–Thomas à Kempis

The church is in the sight of God the Body of Christ; at the eucharist and by the eucharist for a moment it truly fulfills this, its eternal being; it becomes what it is. And the church goes out from the eucharist back to daily life in this world having “received the Spirit of adoption, whereby we cry ‘Abba, Father,’”—the syllables always upon the lips of the Son when He dwelt in time.

–Dom Gregory Dix

In the Lord’s Supper there is truly given unto the believing the body and blood of the Lord, the flesh of the Son of God, which quickeneth our souls, the meat that cometh from above, the food of immortality, grace, truth, and life; and the Supper to be the communion of the body and blood of Christ, by the partaking whereof we be revived, we be strengthened, and be fed unto immortality, and whereby we are joined, united, and incorporate unto Christ, that we may abide in him, and he in us.

–John Jewel

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George MacDonald

I need to find some time to read George again. This quote by Lewis is great:

“Picking up a copy of Phantastes one day at a train-station bookstall, I began to read. A few hours later, I knew that I had crossed a great frontier.”

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Watch this video.

A Gospel Of Suffering from The Work Of The People on Vimeo.

So real and honest. Prophetic credibility. When this woman talks about God turning suffering into something precious, I don’t know, something about the way she says “precious,” you believe her. She really means it. And when she talks about God using our suffering to bring change, kind of reminds of you someone else, doesn’t it? Glory to God that, if we allow them, our sufferings carve out deep recesses in our souls so that we can catch as much grace as possible when it comes to quench our thirst that we may share it with others who are thirsty and dry.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. 2 Cor 1.

There’s more for me here. I find it so refreshing to hear from this woman. She has no need to be polished. She’s put away trying to wear someone else’s face as she’s put down her bottle. There’s something alive about her. Alive!

For some reason (well for obvious reasons) this dear sister’s words reminded me of my favorite quote from Kerouac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars, and in the middle, you see the blue center-light pop, and everybody goes ahh…”

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Here’s a link to a lecture given by Francis Collins back in 2003 at the University of British Columbia. I found it inspiring to listen to his personal story from atheism to faith. I was intrigued to hear of his interaction with CS Lewis’ Mere Christianity and its role in his journey to faith. It was also helpful to hear him interact with some of the issues we’ll be discussing this weekend at our church at an event called God, Science & Truth.

 

Click here to listen.

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Almighty and eternal God, who has entrusted the minds of men with the science and skill which can greatly bless or wholly destroy: Grant them a new stature of spirit to match your trust; that they may use their many inventions to your glory and the benefit of mankind; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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