1 Corinthians 11.23-26; John 13.1-17, 31b-35
+ Several years ago, Pastor Mark Strobel made the suggestion of a book to me that somewhat changed my life. Now, Mark has not read the book yet. I believe he saw a review of it in some publication. But he said something like, “Have you heard about this book? It’s a kind of weird and eccentric book about the Eucharist. I think you’d like it.” Well, I got it. And yes, I did like it. I liked it a lot.
The book was Take This Bread, by Sara Miles.
If you have not read it, I highly recommend it. Even if you don’t agree with some of it, I still think it’s a good book to read. It’s an unusual book. In fact I had never read anything quite like it before.
It’s a spiritual autobiography in which Miles, who was raised essentially a Jewish atheist and is living this very secular life as restaurant chef and writer, suddenly and without any real reason wanders into St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco. In that church. Sara Miles received Holy Communion for the first time. And, in receiving the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, she was transformed and converted. Or as she writes:
Early one winter morning….I walked into St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church. I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian – or, as I thought of it a religious nut….And then we gathered around the table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh, crumbly bread in my hands, saying, ‘The Body of Christ,’ and handing me a goblet of sweet wine, saying ‘the blood of Christ,’ and then something outrageous and terrifying happened. Jesus happened to me.”
Jesus happened to her.
Tonight we commemorate Jesus happening to us. We commemorate an event in our lives as Christians that has changed us and affected us and transformed us and made our spiritual lives better, just as it did for Sara Miles. Tonight, we commemorate that incredible and amazing miracle—the institution of the Eucharist. Tonight, we remember the fact that Jesus took bread, broke it, gave it and said, “This is my body,” and that he did the same with the wine and said, “This is my blood,”
Every Sunday, in our two congregations of St. Stephen’s and St. Mark’s, we participate in this incredible, holy event. We come together. We celebrate together this mystery. We come forward and take this bread and drink from this cup and, in doing so, we take the Body and Blood of Christ.
Every Sunday, our congregations celebrate a mystery, a miracle and an incredible conduit in which God still continues to come to us in this tangible, real way. In this bread and wine we share, Jesus happens to us. He is present with us in a unique and wonderful way. And recognizing this presence, how can we be anything other than in awe of it. We should be blown away by what is happening on our altars. And we should remind ourselves that, no matter what we believe, Jesus is our spiritual food.
What I love about Sara Miles’ book is that people are still being converted and changed and transformed by this holy event. I’m sure there are people out there who see what we do as archaic. There are even some Christians out there who say we don’t need Holy Communion every Sunday.
I disagree. We need Holy Communion every Sunday. One of the reasons I came back to Church and have stayed in the Church as long as I have is this one act of the Church. Even when I wandered away from the Church and journeyed about in my own spiritual wasteland, I oftentimes found myself craving what I had always experienced in the Eucharist. And it was this deep desire for the Eucharist that brought me back to the Church in my twenties.
The reason we come to church is so we can experience Christ’s presence. What better way than in in the Bread and the Wine and in one another? The reason we come to church is to be strengthened in our everyday faith life. We come to church to be fed spiritually, so that we can be sustained spiritually. And the amazing fact is, people are still being transformed by this event.
Each of us are transformed by what we do here. And so is anyone who comes to our altars and experiences Jesus as he comes to us in this bread and wine.
This is why Holy Communion is so important. This is why we celebrate this miracle every Sunday. There is nothing else like this kind of worship in the Church. It is one of the most intimate forms of worship we can know. Jesus truly comes among us and feeds us with his very self. We form a bond with Jesus in Communion that is so strong and so vital to our spiritual lives.
But Jesus tells us tonight, on the eve of his death, on the eve of his leaving us, that he will not leave us without something. Rather, he will leave us with a sign of his love for us.
As John tells us tonight, “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
He loved us even at the end so that he could leave us something to nourish us and sustain us until he comes to us again. He does so in this bread that is his Body and this cup that is his Blood. But Holy Communion is more than just being fed in our bodies. What we learn at these altars of ours, when celebrate the Eucharist together and we share Holy Communion together is that, Jesus is our Bread of Life, our cup of Salvation, that Jesus is the Body given for us and the Blood shed for us, whenever we are starving or thirsting spiritually.
When we feel empty and lost, Jesus comes to us and refreshes us. Jesus feeds our spirit with that presence of absolute love in our lives.
In other words, what Jesus is saying to us is: I am what will fulfill you.
Jesus then becomes the very staple of our spiritual lives. Jesus is the one who feeds that hunger we have deep within us, who quenches that seemingly unquenchable thirst that drives us and provokes us. Jesus fills the voids of our lives with his life-giving Presence.
But it’s more than just a “Jesus and me” moment. This love that we experience in this Communion, is love that we can’t just hug to ourselves and bask in privately. This love we experience in this Eucharist is a love that is meant, like the Bread and the Cup, to be shared with others.
“Love one another,” is Jesus’ commandment to us in those moments before he is betrayed, in those hours before he is tortured, on the eve of his brutal murder.
“Just as I have loved you, you should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Communion—and the love we experience in it—is not just something we do here in church on Sunday mornings or on Maundy Thursday. It is something we take with us when we go from here. It is something we take out into the world from here. As Christians, we are to share the Body and the Blood of Christ wherever we go because we carry those elements within us. And because we carry those elements within us, we are to feed those who are not just hungry of body, but are hungry of mind and spirit as well.
We are to share the Body and Blood of Jesus with all of those we encounter in the world. And we do it simply by loving. By loving and accepting fully and completely. That is how we live this Eucharist in our lives in joyful thanksgiving.
So, as we go from here this evening, during the rest of this Holy Week and especially during the holy season of Easter, let us go out into the world remembering what we carry within us. Let us remember WHO we are carrying within us. Let us remember what nourishes us, what sustains us, what quenches our own spiritual hunger and thirst. Let us go out, refreshed and filled with life-giving bread and life-refreshing cup—with Jesus, who feeds us with his very self. But let us go out also into the world ready to share that bread and cup that gives such life to us. Let us show it in your actions and show it in our words. Let us show it by living out that commandment of love to all. Let that Presence of Jesus within us nourish those around us just as it nourishes us.