Preached at St. Mary’s June 17th 2020
1 Corinthains 10:16-17
We are one body.
Since The Annunciation we have been locked out of our church buildings. We are told over and over again that the church is open, but the buildings are closed. There is a great deal of truth in that – an essential truth that needs to be told because the reality is that we cannot say ‘the church is closed’.
But we all know that it is. We all know – today of all days – that the church is closed and the longer it remains so the more painful it becomes. Many people – even Christians – cannot understand that pain. They cannot understand why we are not happy with all of our ‘services’ streamed digitally into our homes.
They do not understand the physical reality of the pain that is caused by not being together in the Eucharist.
Okay. We’ve made a good go of it. We’ve streamed all of our services. We’ve even upgraded our cameras and got the sound to a place where it’s not painful to listen! We’ve got the words of the hymns uploaded to the website, there have been phone calls to each other, waving at each other from the road… we have persevered… in our exile from our community we have persevered… but we have done so without mana from heaven. We have pushed on, and will continue to do so, but we are hungry. We are hungry because we know at a very deep level that to be a Christian is to gather at the Eucharist – the source and summit of the Christian life. Every single thing that we do as Christians is tied up in the Eucharist and without it, we starve.
We are starving.
And today, of all days that hunger is most keenly felt. Corpus Christi, the moment that we celebrate the Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ… where we gather and through our offerings and participation in the Mass are joined with Christ as the head of the church. We celebrate the very very real presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament as we process at the end of mass. Tears are shed, hugs are offered, music is sung, and we viscerally feel and understand our part in the body of Christ.
The Eucharist is a sacrament of love, a sign of unity, a bond of charity – it is a Paschal banquet in which Christ is consumed, the mind filled with grace, and a pledge of future glory is given to us.
It is in this light that we hear the words in Deuteronomy this morning. ‘…to humble you, to test you and know your inmost heart’. We cannot and should not attempt to compare ourselves to the freed slaves in the desert, receiving mana from heaven because man does not live by bread alone. But it is hard not to when we are ourselves starving and homeless.
I’m not sure it’s helpful to see this time as some sort of test of our humility, but perhaps we can view it as a time of testing of ourselves and of our love for each other. And of course, we are nothing like the slaves because we have Jesus, because even in our pain and hunger we know that Jesus is the living bread which has come down from heaven.
Yes, we are separated from that ultimate reality at the moment.
Yes, we are in pain and continue to hurt.
Yes, we are hungry and searching.
But none of this means anything when we know that – despite all this hardship – we will soon be together again and soon receive Christ in the sacrament of the altar.
Yes, today we cannot gather and process and be joyful – bathed in that love and grace. But… that time is coming. Tomorrow we open our doors here at St. Mary’s for private prayer. It’s been a convoluted and difficult journey to get here and for many people makes little sense because we still can’t gather to participate in the Eucharist. Why go to all this bother to open the church for half-an-hour here, half-an-hour there… to let people come into the building to light candles and pray.
Well, I’ll tell you.
Because here at St. Mary’s when you come into the building to pray when we open tomorrow you will not be praying alone. Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar will be there with you. Really really there. On the Altar for you to come and kneel before and to offer yourself up for forgiveness, grace and love.
You will be surrounded by other Christians doing the same thing (at a safe distance). You will be there with your Priest who will have celebrated the mass with and for you that morning so that when you come together under the Blessed Sacrament you will physically and mentally become more aware of the sign of unity that Christ in the Blessed Sacrament offers us.
We will start again on the journey towards unity with Christ and each other. We have been given an opportunity to learn again what it means to be united by Christ in the Eucharist. To have had it taken away from us and to now crawl back, tiny step by tiny step towards Jesus feet.
And I pray… I pray and I pray and I pray that as we take those tiny steps we will really once again learn what the Eucharist means. Not just – as St. Thomas tells us – with our senses – but by faith – a faith which relies on divine authority. A faith that is questioning and exploring, a faith that reaches out with the heart as well as mind.
A faith that will bring us back into church to kneel in front of Christ on the Altar and to pray that our hearts are fully open to him.
So that when we do return and are able to fully participate in the Eucharist,
we will be fully prepared to let Jesus into our hearts. That when we come back to church and approach the altar rail, we will be so overcome with the love of Christ that we will cry.
And perhaps that is what this time of exile has been about for us. At the start of this lockdown I expressed a hope that in it we may find new ways of connecting with Jesus. I know, from talking to so many of you, that that has happened.
But perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps what this time has enabled is not finding new ways of being with Jesus – as laudable as that is of course – but appreciating in a new light the power of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, the power of his Love in his Eucharist. The power of the mass as it has been said from the very very earliest days of the church. The power of the mass to take us back to that room with Jesus that night as he said to his friends “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
We have a choice before us this Feast Day of Corpus Christi. We can chart our return to church by what it means in terms of community. Of sharing time with one another, of sharing tea & coffee after mass, of cleaning rotas or reopening the physicality of the church building. Or, and perhaps as well as, we can chart it through our crawling steps back towards Christ in the Sacrament. Through our re-admittance into the presence of Christ so cruelly taken away from us. We can shout and be sad and be angry that this happened. Or, we can take this opportunity to be children once again. To learn again what it means to be admitted to the Eucharist.
Over the coming days I’ll be sharing some resources on the St. Mary’s and St. Anselm’s websites for you to print out and bring to church in the coming weeks – to help you do just that. But ultimately the way to learn again what it means to be admitted to the Eucharist is to come to church, to kneel before Christ in the Sacrament and to fully open your heart to him. To be bowled over by His love and grace, to offer yourself in complete and total surrender to that love and to take that out into the world so that others may come to know Him.
To pray for the day when this virus is gone, when we can once again be together in the Eucharist – just as Jesus commanded us.