Pentecost 7 Year C – 28th July 2019
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)
Text: “Lord, teach us to pray”
One of the required skills of school teachers is multi-tasking. This was perfectly demonstrated by the man who taught me Latin at the school I attended. He was a light shining in an otherwise rather grim period of my life. He was also an officer in the school’s Combined Cadet Force (or the Hitler Youth as we used to call it!). It came as no surprise to me that he was ordained some time in the years after I left, and he went on to become the chaplain at Eton College. We kept in touch, and he told me the story of one particular CCF camp, when the exercise of the day was to get the platoon to abseil safely down the face of a cliff – I don’t expect this would be allowed in quite that way nowadays. This was not long after he had been ordained, and he found himself with the job of standing at the top of the cliff as the anchor-man, seeing the boys launch themselves safely down it. One boy, when he came to be clipped on to the rope, looked at his teacher rather nervously and asked, “Are you qualified to do this, Sir?” He assured him that I was not, and added, “But I am qualified to give you the Last Rites.” This appeared to satisfy the young lad and, with faith seemingly renewed, the young would-be soldier descended flawlessly, and immediately returned for more.
“I tell you,” says Jesus in today’s Gospel, “Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find…..For everyone who asks receives, and he who searches finds.” I suppose that here, Jesus is telling us some home truths about prayer, and the first is the need for confidence in our approach – faith, if you like. This is not at all the same thing as over-confidence. Prayer is a learning experience as much as anything else. The second factor is determination and perseverance, and it is this that Jesus spends most time on in this passage. The third aspect is love, especially the knowledge that we are loved by God unconditionally.
The disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray.” And Jesus begins by offering them a pattern for prayer – the Lord’s Prayer – which covers all the major ingredients of prayer: Adoration (Hallowed be thy name), Intercession (Thy will be done; give us this day our daily bread), Confession (Forgive us our trespasses), and (in the Early Church’s slightly later addition) Thanksgiving (Thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory). It’s all there. Then Jesus encourages them to have faith (“Ask, and it will be given you”). This doesn’t mean approaching God like some rich and benevolent uncle who is a soft touch: that’s simply being over-confident. When we ask for things in prayer, we aren’t trying to change God’s mind or get ourselves on the A-list for the granting of requests. So is it still important to ask?
A while back, the Church Times had an article about the Reverend Simon Oliver, who uses this illustration to try to untangle what it might mean to ask for things in prayer. He wrote: “Last weekend, my wife and I had a battle with our two-year-old son over chocolate mousse. We insisted that he eat his (painstakingly prepared) dinner before having his pudding. Needless to say, these battles are quite frequent. By granting certain requests and not others, as parents we are attempting to mould our child’s will so that he begins to desire and request what is good and truly enjoyable….Nevertheless, it remains important that he continue to ask, for, in asking, he learns what to ask for.” He went on to say: “Our relationship with God might be faintly similar. God is always ready to pour upon us good things for our flourishing and joy. Yet it’s important that we ask God for all that we need to live the sort of lives He intends us to live; for, in asking, we learn what to ask for. By living prayerfully, we also learn to discern, in the pattern of our asking and receiving, all that God desires to give us. In this way, as C.S. Lewis once famously remarked, “Prayer changes us, not God.”
But Jesus gives His disciples further advice about prayer: keep at it, don’t be discouraged. The illustration in today’s Gospel is of a neighbour who wakes up his friend next door in the middle of the night to ask for three loaves of bread. The friend is – not unnaturally – annoyed and then exasperated, but finally gives in to pester-power. Jesus loved using these quirky, humorous stories to illustrate serious themes. The story of the widow who needs her case heard in court, and eventually receives justice, makes the same point. The idle judge can’t be bothered to try the case, but the widow’s persistence pays off and she gets her justice. But I rather doubt that Jesus really thought that God needs continued badgering like a sleepy neighbour or a lazy judge; the point is that we should persist in our prayer life and not give up, even when we feel discouraged.
It’s easy to say that prayer doesn’t work, when the problem may be within us, if we feel our prayer isn’t effective. It’s worth remembering - by contrast - Jesus’ intense and continued prayer in Gethsemane, when all the world was against Him and even His disciples were asleep. His love for God his Father never failed Him. Our prayers too need to be backed by love, founded on our firm belief that God has loved us since before we were born. Prayer is much more a chance to simply ‘stand and stare’ with God alongside us, than it is an opportunity to ask for things. Jesus repeatedly uses the picture of the perfect Father to describe what God is like. At the conclusion of today’s Gospel He says: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
Basil Hume writes so eloquently about perseverance in prayer in his book To Be A Pilgrim. He likens prayer to a toddler standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, with his Father at the top, encouraging him to make his first ascent. It’s a beautiful image, as the Father takes pride and delight in His child’s efforts – even if they don’t amount to much at the end of the day. He writes: “I don’t know how often it is that He will come down (those stairs) and take any of us to the top. We must not be disappointed if it is only once in thirty years…I believe that truly valiant souls very often spend most of their time at the bottom of the stairs, just trying to put a foot on the first step. It pleases (the Father) to see that constant trying, that constant effort.”
So, go on asking, go on trusting – even if it feels like you’re standing on the edge of a cliff sometimes in life. The trick with successful abseiling is to lean back once you’re clipped to the rope. To make it safely to the bottom, you need faith and trust that the rope will indeed hold you. Faith and trust are those absolute essentials if we’re to make headway with our prayer – faith and trust to leave our requests, concerns, repentance and praise at the foot of the Cross, knowing that in Jesus, all things will be resolved and made whole again.
Pentecost 5 – 14th July 2019
(preached by the Rev’d David Higgon – Associate Priest)
The lawyer in our Gospel reading is disputing with Jesus and in the course of the argument the lawyer succinctly sums up for us what we have to do to gain eternal life - to love God with our whole being and love our neighbour as we love ourselves. As the discourse continues, a new question pops up. Who is my neighbours And in response to this Jesus tells a story that is intended to stretch the lawyers understanding and our understanding of those to whom we should show compassion.
We will have heard the story of the Good Samaritan many times of times and I suspect we all identify with the Good Samaritan.
But what of the other people in the story or those listening to the story? Can we identify with them and see the story through their eyes?
Some of you may have heard of a method of praying known as Ignatian ‘spiritual exercises. Part of that method is to use your imagination to place yourself in the story and to try to understand what’s going on through the eyes of one of the characters or as one of the on lookers.
So lets try to put ourselves into the place of someone listening to this story at the time Jesus is telling it.
If the Samaritan is someone we can identify with, he would have been the last person that some one in the crowd would have identified with.
The Samaritan was a hated foreigner, the last person they would be associated with – and maybe Jesus chose a a Samaritan rather than an ordinary Israelite to make a point.
He choose a hated foreigner to act in the way that the priest and Levite would have been expected to act.
If we were to tell the story today then we need to substitute the Samaritan with as the last person on earth that we would identify with.
Would it be an illegal immigrant, a Jihadist, a drug dealer, a convicted sex offender. Some one for whom we had so much contempt for that we would rather die than accept help from.
Lets place ourselves into the position of the injured man. This is someone who is compelled to accept help from someone who would have been the last person on earth they would have turned to for help.
And it is this most hated man who provides the help, who doesn’t shy away from the messy business of caring for someone who they just come across lying injured in the road, who just happens to be someone who probably wouldn’t thank him for his help and who would most probably walked past him if he was lying injured on the road.
Who else in the story could we identify with , - what about the priest of the Levite?
Both of these may have been going to Jerusalem to worship at the temple in and may have keeping themselves ritually clean.
To touch a bleeding man would have meant defiling themselves and may have debar them from worshipping at the temple.
And to do so may have more than just an inconvenience. But as they were about God’s work perhaps they thought they could leave it to God to send someone else to care for the man .
I wonder if say Nicholas turned up two hours late to take a wedding because he had stopped to help someone bleeding on the road and had gone home to shower and to change his clothes. I wonder what the reaction of the bride and groom and family and friends would been!
There is another person in the story we never identify with and that is the innkeeper.
He wasn’t even included by Jesus in the question of which one of these was the neighbour of the one who fell into the hands of robbers. But wasn’t the inn-keeper a neighbour?
He was one who took the man into his Inn, bleeding and dirty.
Being a neighbour can be very inconvenient at times. It can be asked of us at an inconvenient time, or by someone we would least like to help or who we thought might ask too much of us.
Notice how the inn-keeper gets sucked into the story by the Samaritan.
Its one thing taking paying guests,, it’s another to care and to subsidise the injured man. He was asked to trust that the Samaritan would return to pay any additional expenses he incurred in caring for the injured man.
We can only imagine how the inn-keeper reacted because Jesus doesn’t tell us his reaction. Perhaps Jesus expect him to react in the same way as he expects us to react when he challenges us to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.
The commitment of the Samaritan and the innkeeper show us that being a neighbour isn’t a one off act. It involves a long-term commitment and it can involve creating and building community with those we don’t really feel comfortable with.
There is one other person in the story that we don’t normally identify with and that is the lawyer who tests Jesus in the first place.
Sometimes it’s the Questions we ask that reveal more about us than anything else we do or say.
The lawyer asks the question. Who is my neighbour?
He has just spoken of love, the love of God, the love of neighbour and the love of self but his question is not about love. It’s about the opposite: it’s about self-justification. He asks who his neighbour is in order to limit those who he as to care for to gain eternal life.
‘Who do I need to care for so that I gain eternal life?’ is not care. It is asking how little he can get away with giving.
And Jesus replaced the question ‘Who is my neighbour?’ with the question ‘How can I become a neighbour to a stranger and an enemy?’
The lawyer wants to know what the least he has to do to gain eternal life for himself. Jesus shows him how to live his life fully in relationship with neighbours right now in the present.
The Samaritan, Jesus tells us, was moved to pity and the help he provides is painstaking, He doesn’t shy away from the intimate and messy business of caring for someone. Nor is he someone who simply provides immediate help and then moves on. His provision of money shows a long-term commitment to the welfare of this stranger and enemy.
Jesus stretches our understanding of who is our neighbour and challenges the boundaries we all create to limit the extent of those to whom we should show compassion to – and to extend it to those whom we would least like to be associated with, the stranger and the enemy .
Sunday 7th July 2019 – Proper 9 Year C
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)
Text: The Lord appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go.
A week or two ago I was watching - from the relative safety of this building - events going on across the road. A pair of Jehovah’s Witnesses were on one of the doorsteps just over the road there, and were engaged in what looked like earnest conversation with the resident. Well, hats off to them for not pretending to be out, or hiding behind the sofa! And hats off too to their would-be visitors. Whether it is the Gospel, or the fact that you firmly believe that the earth is flat or the moon is made of cheese, it takes something to knock someone’s door and try to bring them round to your way of thinking or of seeing things. In a world of instant messaging and high-tech communication, knocking on doors seems an old-fashioned approach to get your view or opinion across nowadays. Today many Churches have a website, some are on Facebook and others even have Twitter accounts.
Before the arrival of the mobile telephone, email and texting, the way people often set about advertising a forthcoming event was to send an advance party – which is just what Jesus did. So seventy committed followers are chosen by Jesus to travel His route ahead of Him, telling people He’s on His way and assessing their likely reaction – presumably so that He can focus His efforts where they will have the most effect. Jesus probably knew by this stage that He would not die an old man in His bed – so His message needed to be preached where it would have the highest chance of being heard and acted upon.
So, who were these people – the intended targets of these 1st century door-knockers? One might assume Jesus would have only selected people with the right kind of belief in God, to hear His message and join up to the growing band of disciples. But questioning people about their beliefs doesn’t appear to part of the brief given to these 70 ambassadors. Instead – rather oddly perhaps – they are to make judgments based on the level of hospitality they receive. Jesus is looking for people who are as open-handed as they are open-minded – people who are happy to welcome new people into their homes, and to listen to new ideas. I think that’s one thing that’s easy to miss for us reading this 20 centuries later. The message that Jesus brought is now generally seen as ‘old hat’. But at the time, it was all very new and rather outlandish. Is this our fault – that the Church’s transmission of the Gospel has turned something that is full of vitality and freshness into something rather drab and all to do with following rules? Because that’s how the mission of the Church is often perceived these days. It’s not, by and large, the reality, but it is very much the perception – that the faith we hold so dear is not just boring, but it has nothing of value to offer or to say to society in general.
I was brought to thinking about this by an article in last week’s Church Times. It was an excerpt from a conversation between TV personality Russell Brand and the current Bishop of Chelmsford – Stephen Cottrell. I quote part of what the bishop had to say: “The good thing nowadays is that the Church isn’t that strong, and, although I long for more people to come (to Church), so many people have never really heard the Christian faith….they think they know what it’s about, but they don’t. I long for that to change. But, actually, a poorer, weaker, less strong Church might be a good thing. It’ll make us a little less pompous, a little more humble, a little more determined to get alongside people, and I think that’s a good thing” (end of quote). This really made me sit up and take notice – and then I thought there was something vaguely familiar about what he had said – St Paul writing to the Church in Corinth: “That is why, for Christ's sake”, Paul says, “I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.
So perhaps if it’s not the message, then it must be the messenger – today’s inheritors of what Jesus started. Oh – well, that’s us! And I think there’s much in what Bishop Stephen was trying to say. But then we look back at our Gospel reading today and see that although those 70 disciples who set off on their mission from Jesus returned full of excitement, Jesus knew that they would soon have to deal with the biggest apparent failure of all – namely the defeat and death of the One in whom they had placed all their trust. The lesson of the bigger picture is that whilst success is good, it is not essential. They – and we – do not have to earn God’s favour.
It’s easy to slip into thinking that we need to work hard to earn our place in God’s Kingdom. And, indeed, there’s nothing wrong about making an effort. Strategies for mission are important, because the Church has an obligation to make the Gospel known, and we have God-given brains to work out how best to do that. But we need also to remain grounded – earthed in everything we do as ambassadors for Christ. This involves being neither too excited by any successes that may come our way, nor too disheartened by our failures. Simply trying to remain faithful, in a world that feels perhaps it is done with the ‘old religions’ as it were, and is groping around for anything that’s perceived to be ‘new’, is challenge enough in itself.
Mission and outreach is an item on the agenda of each meeting of the Vestry of this Church. Sometimes there’s lots to get excited and worked up about – St Mary’s Green Screen Cinema, the Foodbank, being the only Church building open in the village, visits to our schools and care homes and so on. Some of these schemes come and go, some are more lasting than others. And when they don’t all come to the conclusion and fruition we hope for them, it’s easy to lose heart. But it’s just as true that many of our plans which appear to end in failure, are nothing of the sort. From time to time seeds are sown silently – even without the sower knowing - and the process of germination works away unseen until, sometimes years later, because of that act of kindness where before there had been only bitter recrimination, because of that encounter of the Gospel of acceptance where before there had been rejection and isolation – sometimes it’s only then that those seeds are seen to sprout. There is great wisdom in the person who plants the seed of a tree under whose shade he or she will never sit.
So, the message – as is so often the message in following Jesus – is “never give up, and leave the rest to God; and never think you cannot make a difference”. By way of a little illustration of this, the Bishop who ordained me Priest more than 30 years ago, was conducting a Confirmation service in one of the parishes in his diocese. At the refreshments afterwards, one of the candidates said to him: “Thank you, Father, for making today so special. You won’t remember – but you’re the reason I have come to Confirmation today.” To the bishop, this young lady was a complete stranger. “You don’t remember me, do you?” she said. “No, I’m sorry, I don’t. Could you please refresh my memory?” “Well”, she replied, “I work as a receptionist at a bank in the City. The governors of the board of the bank invited you to have lunch in the boardroom a couple of years ago. As they ushered you across the foyer to meet the bigwigs, you broke away and walked over to me - a mere bank clerk – and spoke to me with great courtesy. I wanted to know why someone like you would have done such a thing – and that was enough for me to begin my own journey in the Christian faith – and here I am today.”
Sunday 30th June 2019
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court, Rector)
Anniversaries effect folk in different ways. As we grow older, the advent of the anniversary which a birthday brings can change from something to which we used to look forward in our younger days, to one we’d rather forget or ignore as time passes. For instance, on Tuesday I will celebrate the 30th anniversary of ordination to the Priesthood, and with the joy and thankfulness of that, memories come flooding back of what seems in many ways to have been a lifetime, and in others, just yesterday.
It’s no accident or coincidence that one of the times of year when ordinations have been traditionally carried out is about now – what the Church sometimes calls Petertide – around the Feast of St Peter, whose day in the Church calendar fell yesterday. But why choose St Peter’s Day as a particularly significant date – why not, for example, the Feast of St John Vianney at the beginning of August – the patron saint of parish priests, which might seem a far more obvious choice? Part of the reason is that Peter was not only the one appointed by Jesus to take charge of the Church and became the first bishop, but because it took a while for the Church to develop a need and ministry for priests.
In the earliest years of the Church, each congregation grouped itself round a local bishop; but as the Church grew and spread, it became impossible for the bishop to visit and preside at the Eucharist for each congregation on anything like a regular basis, and so the bishop would lay hands on selected and trained individuals to be his extended hands – just as the Apostles had done in the Acts of the Apostles with the first deacons. Through this laying on of hands, these men (and, to the best of our knowledge they were all men in those days) would receive and accept the authority to preside at the Eucharist and celebrate the sacraments on the bishops’ behalf in a specific region or for a particular congregation; and so the foundations of the parish system were laid. And when new bishops had to be made, as they do today, other bishops would lay hands on them, ensuring that link with the Apostles – the first bishops ordained by Jesus Himself. This is why a priest may not preside at the Eucharist without the permission of the bishop, and why it is bishops who ordain priests.
Nowadays, of course, the lead-up to ordination includes a lengthy period of study and preparation, of discerning vocation and of development. I was blessed enough to have been trained at Chichester Theological College in Sussex, and it was a very happy time for me; and it was part of the ethos of the place to be inspired by those who had gone before us, some of whom had become bishops themselves. But we were also encouraged to be inspired by those who had not been raised to the dizzy heights of the Church hierarchy, but who had gone on to serve their Lord in humble and lowly surroundings, often in the mission field. One such was a man called Vivian Redlich – the College martyr - about whom I have spoken to some of you on other occasions. But his story is one that deserves and needs to be told and retold.
He gave his life thousands of miles from Chichester – in the South Pacific – during the occupation of some tiny islands by the advancing Japanese forces during the Second World War. Fr Vivian Redlich became the priest at a tiny mission station in the middle of the jungles of Borneo, and although he had plenty of opportunity to escape and evade capture in his final hours, he decided to stay with his people and say the Mass for them on that fateful Sunday in early August 1942. “Today is Sunday – the Lord’s Day – and we will share the sacraments together”. Because he stayed, he paid with his life. The details of his martyrdom took a while to emerge – and I will not trouble you with the grizzly details. His fiancée – who was an Australia mission nurse – had died a few days before him at the hands of the Japanese, although the news of this had not yet come to Vivian’s ears – something of a mercy perhaps. Dedication to the task ordination laid upon him meant that he stayed; and so died a brave priest.
I am always reminded of Vivian Redlich whenever the feast of the martyr and first bishop St Peter comes around. I suppose it’s because Vivian embodied so many of the characteristics we associate with St Peter. Like Peter, Vivian was an ordinary man – he wasn’t born with a halo. Like Peter, he was a missionary. Like Peter, he was a great support to the people in his care, shepherding them and staying with them when danger threatened, preferring to give his life rather than abandon those who had been given into his care. Vivian took as his pattern and model, Jesus the Good Shepherd; and although both Vivian and Peter must have feared the manner of their deaths, they faced the great and terrible day of their martyrdoms with unflinching courage, secure in the fact that they were going home to God. Both were to die far from home and loved ones, but with eyes firmly fixed on the promise of their eternal home waiting for them in heaven.
Eleven of the Apostles gave their lives for their Lord, beginning with James the brother of John. Peter was to follow some years later. Like Jesus, he got into trouble for challenging the existing order of things. Just as Vivian’s allegiance could never have been to the emperor of Japan, no more could Peter’s allegiance have been to the emperor of Rome. Both for the Japanese people and for the people of Rome, their emperors were gods. But once Peter and Vivian had made that commitment to Jesus Christ as God, they realised that He had to be the centre and head of everything, no matter what the world thought or tried to impose.
The martyrs and saints of the Christian Church are not simply there for us to admire from the safety of stained glass windows, or as historical figures from Church history. They are honoured not just for their bravery and way of life. They are revered because they give us a glimpse of what we could be, and what we might be capable of if our faith is strong and central to our way of living. That’s not to say that we’re all called to the sort of martyrdom Peter and Vivian suffered. It may be so, but we are not granted to know the future or what it might hold for any one of us. We are called to be faithful, and to accept the consequences of what that might mean. We are called to be faithful here in the Highlands, at home and in the places where we work and spend our leisure time. We are not called or asked to take our Christian faith out on a Sunday, give it a quick once-a-week dust and put it away again until next Sunday. The feast of the great Apostle Peter, and this 77th anniversary year of Vivian Redlich’s martyrdom serve to remind us of that, and how a dedicated life born of a living faith can not only glorify God, but can be an inspiration to those who come after us. We are the next link in that chain, and with that comes the responsibility of being the best we can be as ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
10am Mass – Corpus Christi Sunday – 23rd June 2019
(preached by Fr Nicholas Court - Rector)
Some of you will have noticed from the monthly letter that today we are celebrating a day in the calendar of the Church called Corpus Christi or, to give it its full title Corpus et Sanguis Christi. If your Church background is not Episcopalian, this, I suspect, will set off all sorts of alarm bells – not least because it’s Latin, and so, presumably, must be regarded with the utmost suspicion – but perhaps I’ve guessed wrongly. Well, if you’ve come with any such suspicions in your head, I’d like to invite you to lay them aside for the next few minutes, and let’s see if between us we can sort out what’s what.
The feast of Corpus Christi is an opportunity set aside once a year for us to give special thanks for the gift we receive in Holy Communion – the gift of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Eucharist. You may have wondered why the celebration of the Eucharist is so central to what we do when we meet together, rather than a more simple celebration of worship and praise. So, today I thought I might do a bit of unpacking with you of something of what the Episcopal Church believes, understands and teaches about the Eucharist. If at any time I start teaching my grandmother to suck eggs, I apologise and thank you for your forbearance.
The outward form of bread and wine we use when we celebrate Holy Communion, is what is known as a Sacrament; and there is a definition that we have for Sacrament which goes: “a Sacrament is an outward, visible sign of inward spiritual grace” (repeat). So, in what sense can or do the outward forms which we see on the altar at the Eucharist – bread and wine – end up becoming signs of inward spiritual grace – and what does that mean anyway?
I think there’s an understandable tendency to link the Eucharist primarily with the Last Supper and the events that followed, and it’s a natural thing to do, as the words and actions of Jesus on that occasion form the focal point of what will happen at this altar in a few moments. But, of course, the Last Supper itself has deeper roots in the Jewish Passover meal, and it’s this that Jesus was celebrating with His disciples when they gathered in that upper room the night before He died. The annual celebration of the Passover, commemorating the liberation of the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt, kept alive the memory of what had happened. Remembering what had happened lies at the heart of the Passover, so if we’re to understand what is going on at the Eucharist, then we have to look at it through Jewish eyes.
We might say something like: “Do you remember that lovely sunny day last week – or more likely – do you remember the terrible weather the week before last?” This sort of remembering is simply a matter of thinking back to last week and calling to mind the experience of what the weather was like. But in Jewish thought and understanding, remembering something that has happened in the past, functions on a completely different level. When Paul and the writer of Luke’s Gospel relate the events of the Passover meal which we know as the Last Supper, they do so in a typically Jewish way. When Jesus breaks and distributes the bread and shares the cup with His disciples, He says: “Do this in re-membrance of me.” We might fall into the trap of reading and hearing this as: “Do this so that you don’t forget me” – but if we do that, we miss the point.
We are westerners, and so being asked to think in the mind-set of 1st century Jews might be a big ask; but I hope you might find this helpful. Think of the constituent parts of the word “re-member”. To the Jewish way of thinking, “remembering” – among other things - can be understood as being the opposite of “dismembering”. Now, we all know what it means to dismember something. For instance, we might see a dismembered pig or cow’s carcass sitting in a butcher’s shop window, cut up into its various chops, steaks and fillets. Something that is dismembered has had its members – that is, its limbs and other parts separated - dispersed. And so if we were to remember that same body, we’d draw those pieces back together again – restore it and make it whole and – most important – to make it fully present with us once more. So the act of re-membering ceases to be a mere mental recalling of an event – that event, person or thing re-membered is made to be real and actually present. This is what the Church’s teaching about the Eucharist means to tell us – that when the Body and Blood of Christ are remembered on the altar, and the Holy Spirit is invoked upon that Bread and Wine, although they remain bread and wine, Christ Himself is among us again in these simple elements – we are in that upper room – we are joined to and joining in the events of that Passover meal, that Last Supper – Christ is present in the Bread and Wine as surely as if He were sitting at table with us. And perhaps most important of all, as He feeds us with Himself, the sacrifice of Calvary is re-presented to us; and so, the Eucharist draws us not only into the suffering Jesus endured for us, but we also have a share in its fruits – Easter, the Resurrection which lies at the very heart of Christian hope.
So, when we talk about believing in the real presence of the Eucharist – that is, Jesus being with us in the Bread and the Wine – perhaps this can help us begin to understand how this can be. Much superstition grew during the Middle Ages around the nature of this Bread and Wine, and the more people tried to explain it, the more tangled the explanations, and the more deeply rooted those superstitions became. What happens at the Eucharist is not magic – it’s a meeting-point instigated by Jesus. It’s the point at which Jesus Himself – beaten and broken - reaches out to us, and we can really feel the power of His touch. The Bread is still bread, and the Wine is still wine, and yet because of this re-membering, they are not taken to satisfy hunger or slake a thirst. Our Liturgy reminds us of this at the heart of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Send your Holy Spirit upon….this bread and this wine, that…they may be the Body and Blood of your Son”. Or as put so eloquently by none other than the great protestant Queen Elizabeth I: “’Twas God the word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it; and what the word doth make it; that I believe, and take it.”
But there is one further piece to this jigsaw. You’ll notice that during the prayer of thanksgiving, the Holy Spirit is not just called down upon the bread and the wine. The Spirit is called down upon all those present – that’s you and me – and so we too become caught up in this act of re-membering. As members of the Body of Christ, the Eucharist draws us together, to be more readily one body, one spirit in Christ – in short, through the act of re-membering in the Eucharist we too become re-membered – made one and bound together – just as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper – “Father, may they be one, as we are one, with you in me, and I in them”. It’s in brokenness that God comes to us in Jesus through the Eucharist, so that our own brokenness can be touched and healed – healed by the touch of the hands of Jesus, still bearing the marks and wounds of our indifference – so that never again can we tell God He doesn’t know what it’s like being us. He does – that’s why He came to live our life 2,000 years ago, and it’s that that He continues to share with us each time we break the bread and pour the wine, re-membering the cost of true love and making His home with us afresh with each Holy Communion.