Corpus Christi 2017
Earlier we heard ian play on the organ Cesar Franck’s lovely music for these words by Aquinas:
Fit panis hominum
Dat panis coelicus
O res mirabilis
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 -
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 -
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 -
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 -
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 -
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.
Why is there such violence in the Bible?
A sermon preached by Rev’d Jan on Bible Sunday 2017, at the Benefice Eucharist.
Today we celebrate the Bible, our sacred text, which inspires and leads us as it has led the people of God for thousands of years. We also this year celebrate the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation when the Bible was first translated into the vernacular so that anyone who would read could read it and understand it for themselves -
But translating the Bible into everyday language brought its problems and drawbacks. One is that many more people read the Bible than have the tools to understand it -
What the Biblical text means does not always leap off the page clearly and obviously. Sometimes it does -
How can this then be the word of God who we think is a God of love and peace? Or maybe we have got that wrong?
We need to get to grips with the fact that some parts of the Bible are unpalatable -
Well, let’s look at the example of Jesus, who after all, is the real and living Word of God, that became flesh.
What was his attitude to the OT? It was the bible of the Jews of his day, they called it Torah, or in full, the Law, the prophets and the writings. He would have known much of it by heart, in Hebrew. He read from the scrolls in the synagogue so we know he was literate. And he famously said, ‘do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them.’
Now why would anyone think he was there to abolish them? Why would that occur to them? It was because a lot of the time he seemed to take rather a cavalier approach to scripture. He shocked his contemporaries. He used to say -
There are a few people like that about today still -
But coming back to Jesus, he challenged them to think about anger, not just murder; about lust, not just adultery, and so on. He went inside and underneath the surface meaning to find something much more challenging and significant -
He also did things that challenged the usual understanding of Scriptural law. So one day in the fields his hungry disciples were plucking grain from the wheat crop, rubbing off the husk and eating the wheat. According to a strict interpretation of the sabbath law that counted as work, and it was the Sabbath, so of course there were loud critics. Jesus answered them with an example from the life of David, one of the greatest and most respected figures, leaders of the OT -
So those are examples which show that Jesus felt free to take quite a critical stance to the text of the OT. It’s a good precedent. He did not switch off his brain when thinking about Scripture -
‘Open my eyes O Lord that I may see the wonders of your law’ -
When Jesus was asked to summarise the Law and the prophets -
Notice there is nothing in there about killing your enemies. Rather the reverse, especially as he went on to interpret ‘neighbour’ as meaning someone you might often think of as an enemy -
So that’s all lovely, but -
Well, two things to say.
One is, there are lots of places in the OT which show God as a God of love, compassion, mercy and justice. Lots. God has not changed; but our grasp of what God is, has changed -
As for the opposite stuff -
‘Open my eyes O Lord, that I may see the wonders of your law’ -
The Bible is not just a book -
Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away, said Jesus. Paul told the Christians in Colossae to cover themselves with God’s word, inside and out -
Open our eyes O Lord to see the wonders of your life, your love, your peace, and open our hearts and minds and lives to your transforming Spirit.