Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Sunday, 9 August 2015

Sermon at Parish Mass Trinity 10 2015

1 Kings 19.4-8
Ephesians 4.25-5.2
John 6.35,41-58 (incorporating next week's section as next week is the Assumption)

Before I was ordained I was a server at a church in the West End of London. We had to do duty at quite a few weddings – I was at Letitia Dean’s, with most of the cast of East Enders sitting in the church and the photographers from Hello Magazine snapping away – my one claim to fame!
But I recall one wedding which was a nuptial Mass. Afterwards one of the guests, a lady in a posh frock and very smart hat, interrogated me about the service.  “I suppose you would call this ‘High Church’?”
I agreed that was one thing it could be called.
“It’s very like the Catholic Church, in some ways.”
I said that, yes, there were many similarities, and we had much in common.
“But, of course, you don’t believe that the bread and wine really become the body and blood of Christ.”
“Actually”, I said, “yes, we do.”
“No you don’t!”, she answered, clearly taken aback.
“But we do. That is what Jesus said, and we take him at his word.”
“I thought the Church of England regarded it as just symbolic.”
I assured her this was not the case, but the conversation didn’t go on much longer, and I fear I didn’t persuade her. She quickly moved on to someone less troublesome, probably aghast at the survival of mediaeval superstition in 21st Century London.
But of course it’s not mediaeval superstition. It’s exactly the same question, the same challenge to faith, that was made in Jesus’ day. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” This has been a persistent question down the ages.
Today we continue reading John Chapter six. We have seen in previous weeks that Jesus goes to the people and feeds them where they are, but then expects them to follow him where he is going, and that is on a journey of faith. He wants to give them, not material food, but the food that endures to eternal life. But faith is needed to follow on this journey and receive this gift.
God is in truth the Bread of Life, the food that will satisfy us eternally and change us into himself.  But how can we eat God? So God adapts himself to our need. He emptied himself to take our human nature in Jesus. But to feed us Jesus empties himself still further, giving us his body and blood, his soul and divinity, under the sacramental forms of food and drink. The Bread of God, Jesus himself, is given to us, in very truth and not as a symbol, in the Eucharistic bread and wine.
God in Jesus makes himself human to meet us where we are. Even more, we are bodily beings, not angels, and he gives himself to us as bodily food. But the crowd listening to Jesus is incredulous at this. There are two causes for scandal here. One is lack of faith that God could do such a thing. The other is a shrinking back from God coming too close to us – we do not think that God should do such a thing. We prefer to keep God at a distance, to be called upon according to our wishes only. A God who makes himself edible is all too mixed up in the stuff of human life for our liking.
But in truth we only exist by participation. God alone exists absolutely, in himself. In him we live and move and have our being; he is our supreme good, our worship, our beginning and our end, our rest, our centre and our circumference, the source and secret of our true self. God is the eternal “I AM” in which we must participate moment by moment, or else fall into nothingness.
But lest this seem too vast and overwhelming, God, in his infinite lovingkindness, accommodates himself to our need and our capacity to receive. He gives himself to us under the form of ordinary food, so that we will not fear to draw near to him.
The great Anglican Divine Jeremy Taylor (I mean the Bishop in the time of Charles I, whose feast day is this week), said this:
“The Bread, when it is consecrated and made sacramental, is the Body of our Lord… if we be offended at it, because it is alive [that is, living flesh], and therefore less apt to become food, we are invited to it because it is bread; and if the sacrament to others seem less mysterious, because it is bread, we are heightened in our faith and reverence because it is life. The Bread of the Sacrament is the life of our soul, and the Body of our Lord is now conveyed to us by being the Bread of the Sacrament.”[1]
In the Eucharist Jesus gives to each what each has the capacity to receive. But we can receive more if we prepare ourselves for this gift. We need to dispose ourselves, to open our hearts so that Jesus can fill them.
Frequent communion is a good thing. Its restoration was one of the great revivals of the last century. Nevertheless it is not compulsory. The Church of England only requires that we receive three times a year. We don’t have to receive every time we come to Mass, and everyone should be guided by their own conscience in this matter.
If we don’t receive the sacrament itself we can always make an act of spiritual communion, asking Jesus to unite himself to us spiritually in our souls. This is a good practice, for example, for those who are not yet baptized or confirmed, or who for a good reason can’t come to Sunday Mass. It is efficacious and fruitful, a real spiritual participation at the Eucharist.
But whether we receive frequently or not, we will receive more from Jesus if we come with the right disposition. He gives himself to all, to the lukewarm and the fervent, but not equally. We receive what we make room for in our hearts. And a casual or thoughtless approach to the sacrament is a poor return for such a great gift. So it is very commendable to spend some time in prayer before receiving the sacrament, perhaps early on Sunday morning when it is quiet, or on Saturday night.
Firstly, to consider the greatness of the gift and the love that Jesus lavishes on us in the Eucharist. Archbishop Fulton J Sheen once said, “The greatest love story of all time is contained in a tiny white Host.”
Secondly, to examine our consciences, to ask the Lord for pardon for our sins and the grace of amendment of life. That way we can come better prepared to the short confession and absolution at the beginning of Mass.
Thirdly, to call to mind any particular intentions and needs to offer with the Eucharist. This sacrament is Christ’s offering of himself to the Father, made present and effective for us. It is the most powerful intercession that we have, for it is Christ’s own prayer, and our prayers joined to his are offered to the Father by his own hand.
And finally, afterwards, let us not forget thanksgiving. We have received the greatest gift there is, our God himself, and by the grace of the sacrament are actually united to him. Let us not go away heedless, but in the intimacy of this holy union offer him our thanks for all the blessings he showers on us, and above all for giving us himself, in Jesus, in the Eucharist.

[1] Jeremy Taylor, “The Life of Christ”, Discourse XIX, Of the Institution and Reception of the Holy Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

1 comment:

Blogger said...

BlueHost is ultimately the best website hosting company for any hosting plans you might require.