Sunday, July 29, 2018

10 Pentecost

July 29, 2018

2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21

+ One of the comments I get from new members of St. Stephen’s, especially those from more non-liturgical churches, is: “Why do we do Communion every week?”

There’s usually a bit of exasperation with that question. And it’s a good question to ask.  It’s an important question.

The answer is a fairly simple one. Many congregations in the Episcopal Church—especially those were more Low or Broad Church congregations--used to only do Holy Communion maybe once or twice a month (usually once a month). The rest of the Sundays the service of Morning Prayer was the main Sunday worship service. St. Stephen’s was certainly one of those congregations. So was the Cathedral and St. John’s. In fact, it was only High or Anglo-Catholic congregations that celebrated Holy Communion every Sunday.

Then, in the 1970s, it all changed, with the revision to the Book of Common Prayer. Suddenly, there was a shift in thought regarding what worship is on Sunday.

Now, I’d like you to pick up your Prayer Book and open to page 13. I know many of haven’t really explored this area of the Prayer Book before, so it’s fun to open it up to some areas you might not know about. On Page 13, you will find a heading:
Concerning the Service
of the Church
And the opening line for this section is this,

The Holy Eucharist, the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord's
Day and other major Feasts, and Daily Morning and Evening Prayer, as
set forth in this Book, are the regular services appointed for public
worship in the Church.

So, we find that the Holy Eucharist, beginning with our 1979 revision of the BCP, now shifts the principal act of worship on Sunday to the Holy Eucharist, just as the ancient Church did.  And Morning Prayer, along with Evening Prayer, are upheld as what they should be—daily prayer.

For me, I, of course, think the Holy Eucharist is vitally, immensely important. It is our principal act of worship here at St. Stephen’s. And it is from what we do at this altar that all our ministry emanates.  What we do here, at the Eucharist, is what we then go to do in the world.

Fed, we then go out to feed.  

Or just to it more practically, we gather together on Sunday to share a meal together.  Because there is nothing better than share food with one another.

Now, as you all know, I LOVE to preach about and explore and talk about the Mystery that is the Eucharist. I love pondering the beauty of why what we do with bread and wine here at this altar is so important to us, to vital to us. I love thinking about all the ways God works through this meal we share here.

But, I also really like the symbolism of the Eucharist.

Over these last several months as I’ve explored my own Jewish roots, I have also explored the Jewish roots of what we do here—of how what we do here is a way for us to do what was done at the altar in the Temple in Jesus’ own day. In a sense, this bread we share at this meal is essentially the Lamb that was offered on the altar, and this cup is the blood that was shed from that lamb.  Jesus, as we all know, has become the Lamb that was offered and slain on that altar as a sacrifice. (Certainly that is how Jesus saw his role) 

So, what we do today and on every Sunday is a continuation of what was offered in the Temple in Jesus’ own day.  We tend to forget this important fact in our Christian life.

We forget that this is a meal we share with one another.  We often come to Communion without really thinking about it. We often think of Communion as a quaint little ritual we do, sort of like a Church-version of a tea party.

But when we put the Eucharist in the larger perspective of our history as the people of God, we realize that every time we partake of the bread and wine of the Eucharist, we are joining in at that sacrificial worship that has gone for thousands of years.  This is the sacrifice of wine and wheat we hear about in the book of Joel.

Now, I know some of you immediately find ourselves bristling when you hear the word “sacrifice” here. Sacrifice and the Mass seem a bit too…Catholic..for some.

But it is a sacrifice. What we do here is sacrificial. I haven’t realized that more than since I have been looking at what we do with a more Jewish lens.  And just to make sure you don’t think this is one of Fr. Jamie’s weird, quirky takes on what we do here, I would like to draw your attention once again to the Book of Common Prayer, except now we are going to look in the back. In the Catechism. On page 859

The second question under “The Holy Eucharist” is,

Why is the Eucharist called a sacrifice?
Because the Eucharist, the Church's sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is
made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering
of himself.

By what other names is this service known?
The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord's Supper, and
Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine
Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering.

So, the Eucharist is this incredible things really. It is a meal.  It is a symbol of the sacrifice of Jesus. It is an offering to God. It is a way to remember Jesus and all he has done.

All this just goes to show us this wonderful way in which God works through something very basic in our lives to make something deep and meaningful. Namely, I am talking about food.  Nothing draws us closer to each other than food.

On Friday night, Janie and Adam Breth had me over to their home for an incredible vegan Thai feast of veggie dumplings and a dessert of mangos and rice and coconut milk with Julia and Justin. I can still taste all of it!

Food is an important way to bond with each other. And food a great reminder of how God truly does provide for us.  Our scriptures for today give us some interesting perspectives on food as well.

In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people.  We hear this wonderful passage,

“He set it before them, they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”

It’s a deceptively simple passage from scripture. But there’s a lot of depth to it too if you really ponder it.

In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event.  Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—is feeding miraculously the multitude.  And by feeding, by doing a miracle, they recognize him for who he is. For them, he is “the Prophet who has come into their midst.”

For us, these stories resonate in what we do here at the altar.  What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event. Here we are fed by God as well.  Here there is a miracle.  Here, we find God’s chosen one, the “Prophet come to us” Jesus—the new Elisha—feeding us.

We come forward and eat.  And there is some left over.

The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over.  The miracle for us is the meal itself.  In this meal we share, we are sustained.  We our strengthened.  We are upheld.  We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.

There is something so beautiful in the way God works through the Eucharist. This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us as humans.

But being sustained spiritually in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic.  It is miraculous.  And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.

This simple act is not just a simple act.  It is an act of coming forward, of eating and drinking, and then of turning around and going out into the world to feed others.  To feed others on what we now embody within ourselves—this living sacrifice to God.

And how do we do that? We do that by serving others by example.  By being that living Bread to others.

The Eucharist not simply a private devotion.  Yes, it is a wonderfully intimate experience. But it is more than that.  The Eucharist is what we do together.  And the Eucharist is something that doesn’t simply end when we get back to our pews or leave the Church building.  The Eucharist is what we carry with us throughout our day-to-day lives as Christians.  The Eucharist empowers us to be agents of the Incarnation of God’s Son.  We are empowered by this Eucharist to be the Body of Christ to others.

Through the Eucharist, we become God’s anointed ones in this world.  And that is where this whole act of the Eucharist comes together.  It’s where the rubber meets the road, so to speak.  

When we see it from that perspective, we realize that this really is a miracle in our lives—just as miraculous as what Elisha did and certainly as miraculous as what Jesus did in our Gospel reading for today.

So, let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculously to us each time we gather together here at this altar.  The Eucharist is an incredible gift given to us by our God.  Let us embody God’s anointed One, the Christ, whom we encounter here in this Bread and Wine.  

Let us, by being fed so miraculously, be the Body of Christ to others.

Let us feed those who need to be fed.

Let us sustain those who need to be sustained.

And let us be mindful of the fact that this food of which we partake has the capabilities to feed more people and to change more lives than we can even begin to imagine.

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