Sunday, June 26, 2011
June 26, 2011
+ This past Wednesday evening, at our Wednesday night Mass, we commemorated, very quietly anyway, the eve of the feast of Corpus Christi. Corpus Christ is of course Latin for the Body of Christ and it is a feast in which we celebrate the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, in the Bread and Wine of Holy Communion. And today is traditionally Corpus Christi Sunday. Of course the Episcopal Church doesn’t officially recognize this day, though Anglicans elsewhere do, as do Roman Catholics everywhere.
Traditionally on Corpus Christi, in Roman and High Church Anglo-Catholic parishes, the Host is placed in a monstrance—which is a tall, very ornate stand, with a little glass circular container in its center, in which the Host goes. The monstrance, with the Host in it, is then processed. It can processed through the church, or around the outside of the church or on the street outside the church.
You have often heard me mention the Episcopal church of St. Mary the Virgin—so called “Smoky Mary’s” because of all the incense they use—on Time’s Square in Manhattan. They process Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament right through Times Square on the feast of Corpus Christi amidst clouds and clouds of incense and bewildered onlookers.
We, however, did not nor will we do any of that, here at St. Stephen’s. Now considering that, on Wednesday, we had Thom Marubbio, Joanne Droppers, Gin Templeton and Betty Spur in the congregation, there seemed to be little chance of us actually processing Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament around the church. I don’t know who of them would have held baldachin (which is the fancy canopy that is carried by four acolytes) Though I’m sure we could’ve out on a good show for the college kids who live across the street on the corner. And I could’ve imagine maybe one or two of our Wednesday night congregants just sort of disappearing right before the procession started. I won’t say who…
Actually, such displays may be a bit too much, even for me… Still, I never shy away from my very solid belief that the Eucharist is the center of our lives as Christians. Even Lutherans believe that!
And with that in mind, it is good for us to be reminded about how and why the Eucharist is central to our lives. And it IS central to our spiritual lives and ministries here at St. Stephen’s. On our website you’ll find this wonderful kind of Mission Statement:
St. Stephen’s is a community called by Christ through the Holy Spirit
+ to live a life of common worship centered around grateful thanksgiving to God in the weekly celebration of the Holy Eucharist
+ to be faithful stewards of the gifts and resources entrusted to us
+ to be bearers of God’s healing and reconciling love.
As ambassadors for Christ, we are dedicated to share the Good News of God in Christ through the Sacraments, Liturgy, , Word, Music and by attending to the needs of all people in the name of Jesus.
I really like that mission statement. I think it really says it all, as far as I’m concerned. To a large extend all of this—being bearers of God’s healing and reconciling love, being faithful stewards—all of it stems from our celebration of the Eucharist. Because everything we do is simply a reflection of that.
What do we do when we come to this table? We are feed. And what we are called to do after we have been fed? We are called then to feed others.
What does it mean that we have the Eucharist as the center of our ministries here at St. Stephen’s? It means that, for us to do ministry, for us to actually go out and do the work we have been called to do, we need to be fed.
We need to be fed physically, but we need to be fed spiritually too. If we are famished, we do not feel motivated to work. If we are empty and having nothing to sustain us, our lacking will show in our ministry. The fact is, God wants us to be fed. God wants us to be sustained. And I’m not just saying us, gathered here today. I am saying God wants ALL of us to be fed and sustained. Every last one of us. And, in the Eucharist, we experience true nourishment. It is a reminder to us that what we do when we come at this altar is not just for ourselves. It is not some quaint private archaic devotion we do here. It is a radical experience of God And it is the “shot in the arm,” so to speak, for us to turn around and share this love and nourishment we receive here with others. We, who leave here, carrying Christ within us, are then to share this Presence of Christ with others through our actions and our words.
There is a reason the bread of the Eucharist is called a Host. The bread truly does become the Host to Christ, who is present. I love that idea of the bread being the host of Christ. But what I love even more is that we, in turn, become hosts ourselves. But we too are host to Christ when we take Holy Communion. And being host, we are all called to be host to those around us.
In our Gospel reading for today we find Jesus saying to us,
“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
In the Eucharist we find this incredible welcome. And nourished by the Eucharist, changed by the experience with God and with each other in this Eucharist, we are able to extend this welcome to all those we meet as well. The Eucharist empowers us and charges and, yes, challenges us to be hosts, to welcome everyone we meet as though they are Christ. It empowers us to give even a cup of cold water to the “little ones”—the least ones—in our midst. In the Eucharist we experience a hospitality like none we have never known before. It is a truly powerful experience. And you can tell it is a powerful experience because, some churches, for example, deny people from participating in the Eucharist simply because they don’t believe a certain way about it. Such thinking baffles my mind.
What we experience in the Eucharist is radical hospitality—the same kind of hospitality we practice here at St. Stephen’s again and again. At the Eucharist, each of us is welcomed for who we are. No one should be turned away from this altar and this meal. At this Eucharist, we are accepted for who we are. And, at this Eucharist, we are loved fully and completely just for who we are. And knowing this and experiencing this, we then can turn around and welcome others, accept others and fully and completely love others because we too have experienced all of this in this incredible meal.
I am amazed when I hear stories of people who have been turned away from Holy Communion. I get downright angry when I hear of people being denied the Eucharist because of something they did—whatever it might be. That is not what the Eucharist is about.
The Eucharist is a foretaste of what awaits us. The Eucharist is a glimpse of what the Kingdom of God is truly like—where all people are welcomed and received. The Eucharist is a peek into what awaits all of us. It is the ideal place.
As you often hear me say about the Kingdom of God—“It’s party and everyone’s invited.” We don’t have to go, but the invitation is always open. That is what Eucharist is. Our job as the hosts is to make sure that everyone knows they’re invited. Our job is to make that everyone knows they are welcomed and loved and accepted at that party. And we do it by who we are and what we are.
So, as you come forward this morning, come forward knowing that what we experience here is truly an amazing and radical experience with the Kingdom Jesus proclaims again and again. As you come forward this morning to this altar to receive Jesus’ Body and to drink his Blood, do so knowing that this radical welcoming of Jesus is also an invitation for you to welcome others just as radically.
“Whoever welcomes you, welcomes me,” Jesus says. “And whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.”
Those are not just words spoken to us. They are spoken also to all those we encounter in our lives. As Brother Curtis Almquist of the Episcopal Society of St. John the Evangelist shared once in a sermon:
“We meet Jesus in our baptism [and, I would, add, in the Eucharist] where, we believe, Jesus comes to live in our hearts, to make his home in us, to abide with us. But this is also true for others. They, too, are a dwelling place for Jesus. We, individually and corporately, embody Jesus. Yes, Jesus lives in me, but Jesus also lives in you.”
Jesus lives in each of us. He is living his radical and amazing life and love through us. So, let us each be the host of that loving presence to those around us. And, with Jesus present in us, let us his speak his welcoming words of invitation to all those we encounter. All are invited. All are welcome. No one will be turned away.