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Thornbury Parish


Corpus Christi 2017

Earlier we heard ian play on the organ Cesar Franck’s lovely music for these words by Aquinas:

Panis angelicus
Fit panis hominum
Dat panis coelicus
Figuris terminum
O res mirabilis
Manducat Dominum
Pauper, pauper
Servus et humilis

I always think of Aled Jones as a boy treble singing it. That pure sound of a young voice seems just right for the words. the translation is:

Thus Angels' Bread is made
the Bread of humankind today:
the Living Bread from heaven
with imaginings does away:
O wondrous gift indeed!
the poor and lowly may
upon their Lord and Master feed.

Today we have a special focus on this bread, the living bread from heaven, as Jesus was called in John’s gospel.

 One of the reasons for its origin was that Maundy Thursday, when we celebrate the original Last Supper, has so many different foci - the foot washing and servant leadership, the betrayal, the impending arrest and crucifixion - that the Eucharist itself might not have enough attention. It is tinged with sadness then, as we are so conscious of God Friday coming. So today is pure celebration and thanksgiving.

Inevitably our thought turn to wondering afresh, what does it all mean; the body and blood of Christ in this bread and wine.

Today we use the phrase ‘real presence’ to express theologically what it means - but of course being Anglicans, there are many shades of interpretation of this phrase. I am not very keen on discussing, let alone arguing, the details of this. What can we say positively, what can we focus our thoughts on, helpfully?

Well, a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. In other words its an event which operates on two levels, at least two. The difficulty for us is that we find it hard to do this double think - we concentrate on either one or the other, it’s hard to think of both levels at once. One person said what happens at the altar rail when we receive communion is a ‘collision between the divine and the human’. That’s a good phrase - a collision - a strong word, stronger than encounter or experience of the divine. A collision. It implies a certain shock reaction, a sudden wakening up, a surprise, something which might knock you sideways or make you change direction. This sacrament could and should do that to us, sometimes. Or over a period as we receive it regularly. So think today about that word collision, reflect on that.

Of course we don’t have to be in church or kneeling to receive bread and wine, in order to be in the presence of Christ. Christ is everywhere, but we frail humans need a little help in realising that. Christ is close and involved in our daily lives - how hard it is to keep that in mind all the time. Hence the sacrament of food and drink. We are bidden to eat and drink him. God is meant to be eaten. Worshipped of course, praised, yes, prayed to, naturally, served, definitely, but also - eaten. Chewed and swallowed. Could there be a louder or clearer way of saying to us, ‘I want to be, I am, involved in your every moment, your physical self as well as your spiritual self, don’t put me on a pedestal or lock me in church or in Scripture, no, I go about in you, within you, and this meal is a tangible reminder of that’. We are members of Christ’s body. Lets not spiritualise that TOO much.

So I wonder if the real mystery about the communion, the one we should be thinking about, the one that matters that we work it out, is not how is this wafer the body of Christ? Rather, the real mystery is this - how is it that I, you and I, are the body of Christ? Paul says ‘you are the body of Christ and individually members of it’. Now there’s a mystery worth figuring out and working out how to live up to.

You may have heard me tell this story before but its a powerful one. It was Easter and a group of Christian men were in prison. They were prisoners of conscience; they wanted to celebrate communion. there was no priest, no bread, no water even. The other prisoners said, you go ahead, we will keep the guards distracted so they don’t notice. But the Christian men said how can we celebrate HC without anything? Anyway the leader decided just to start. He recited the prayers from the service as best he could from memory. When it came to the words of Jesus over the elements, the bread and wine, he turned to the man next to him, cupped his empty hands and said ‘this is my body which is given for you.’ His neighbour turned to the next man, offered his empty palms and said ‘this is my body which is given for you’. And so it went on around the circle. Can you hear the layers of meaning within those words?

When I say to you as I hand you a communion wafer, ‘The body of Christ, broken for you’ am I speaking of the wafer? or am I describing you, individually? Or is it the community gathered here? Or the presence of Christ by his Spirit around us? All of those. All.

Teresa of Avila said

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

We are now the incarnation; we are his hands and his feet. He lives in us, through this sacrament. Let that collision, the divine meeting the human, happen to you, tonight, then go out to love and serve him, to incarnate him, in the world.

Rev’d Jan