August 19, 2018
Sermon from Rev. Bruce Nickerson, Deacon
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer.
In a small nearby parish, a mother and child, maybe 3 years old, came to church every Sunday. The cute red haired freckled kid would hold his mother’s hand as they walked down the center aisle of the small sanctuary to the communion rail. The little boy dutifully crossed his arms over his chest, looked seriously and reverently at the rector as she knelt down to give him a blessing, then turned his head looking wistfully and longingly at his mother as she received some bread and wine. One Sunday, as the small boy held his mother’s hand walking from the rail back to their pew, he turned around and wailed, loudly, “I want some Jesus.”
You might notice that I give bread or wine to anyone who holds out their hand. Even to infants. To Men, women, adults, kids, infants. At the jail Father Bill and I give the sacrament to murderers, thieves, drunk drivers, addicts, sex offenders, and anyone who comes to us with hands outstretched.
Some parents of young children and infants sometimes say to me “I want them to be old enough to understand what is happening.”
Curbing my innate sarcastic sense of humor, I feel like asking them “And you do?”
Can any of us understand today’s Gospel?
It is difficult for many of us with its striking and startling imagery. No wonder the Jews were upset saying “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
But these words and actions in today’s gospel are strikingly familiar. We say them and act them out at every Eucharist:
“The body of Christ, the bread of heaven,” and then we eat a piece of bread.
“The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,” and then we sip a bit of wine.
Do you understand this? I don’t.
In the immortal words of Buffalo Springfield (remember them?):
“There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear…”
There are many interpretations of Jesus’ words “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” These words got early Christians in trouble with contemporary Jews. For Jews, the ingesting of blood is especially repugnant. Jewish dietary laws say [Leviticus 7:26 that] “you shall eat no manner of blood.” Jesus’ words this morning would be, and still are, very bothersome to Jews. And for us as well.
Many of us here are not “cradle Episcopalians” and have taken communion in other churches. Given our backgrounds, experiences, and participation in other churches, what will we think in a few minutes as we kneel for communion and eat this flesh and drink this blood?
My faith journey, not yet over, began in a very conservative evangelical church. Next I became a Presbyterian Calvinist singing only the Psalms with no musical instruments. Then came a period of non-church. Next I became an Episcopalian. And at last, gasp, an ordained deacon!
Each of these experiences offered differing views of the sacrament and what it means to eat Christ’s body and drink his blood.
Perhaps many here have similar experiences and can identify with one or more of the following interpretations of today’s gospel:
Some say and believe that “the bread and wine in the sacrament of the Eucharist, become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The manner in which the change occurs is a mystery.”
Other groups affirm that the Eucharistic bread and wine remains physically bread and wine, while becoming spiritually the body and blood of Christ.
Not sure how this differs much from the previous belief system, and I suspect it’s an Anglican or Protestant attempt to avoid getting confused with people who hold the previous belief.
Some groups suggest the Eucharist is a kind of extended metaphor. A few weeks ago in Father Bill’s Bible study at the prison, he suggested just that- an extended metaphor. One of the guys responded, and said as he pointed to the crucifix on the wall behind the altar, “for me it’s no metaphor, it’s Him.” (Bill, last Thursday I confirmed it was the guy I thought it was!)
As a child, communion in my church was once a month. It was viewed as a memorial of Christ’s supper with his disciples, much like a birthday, or the anniversary of a loved one’s death.
After the preaching, singing, some choir presentations and prayers, the minister placed on a table a tray of little cups of grape juice and another tray of soft white bread cut into little cubes. On the front of the table, which was used only once a month at communion services, were carved the words, in big gothic letters: “This Do In Remembrance of Me.” The minister, using words very similar to those in the Episcopal liturgy, would consecrate the wine and bread which would be served individually to people who sat in their pews.
Or how about the credits at the end of the film Places in the Heart, where in a small rural church every actor, even those who had died earlier in the film, receive communion?
Are you puzzled by this confusing variety of beliefs and practices?
What do you feel, not just think, when you take communion? When I sit in a pew next to my wife in her parish where I began my journey to the diaconate 30 years ago, I watch people I have known for years walking down the aisle towards the communion rail: I see teenagers I have known since before they were born; I was on vestry with that one; does that one still drink heavily; is that couple’s marriage still troubled? I feel a closeness with all these people as we share in a communion and a meal with each other. Sometimes when as a deacon I give someone bread or wine, our eyes will catch each other’s and there seems to be something like an electric spark, a special feeling, that jumps between us. I’m not sure what it is, I’m not sure that both of us feel it, but it is there. It is something I cannot turn on or off, it just happens. Happens here at All Saints’.
And what do you think?
What do you feel?
Thomas Hooker, a 17th Anglican theologian, said:
Let it therefore be sufficient for me, when presenting myself at the Lord’s table, to know what I receive from him there, without searching or inquiring of the manner how Christ does this; let disputes and questions take their rest; let curious and sharp-witted men beat their heads about these questions. What these elements are in themselves it [matters] not, it is enough that to me which take them they are the body and blood of Christ, his promise in witness hereof is sufficient, he knows which way to accomplish it, why should any thought possess the mind of a faithful communicant but this, “O my God thou art true, O my soul thou art happy”? (V.67.12)
I want some Jesus!