April 9, 2009

The Meaning of Holy Communion

Sermon, Maundy Thursday 2009—The Rev. Scott Homer
In the Name of God Almighty, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

It is, of course, Holy Week. And this is, of course, Maundy Thursday. It came to be known as Maundy Thursday during the late Middle Ages. “Maundy” is a Middle English word derived from the Latin word “mandate” which means “command.” It is where we get our word “mandate.” The thing that makes tonight Maundy Thursday is that the night before he died for us our Lord Jesus Christ held a dinner with his disciples and at that dinner he said to them, “I give you a new commandment (a new maundy), that you love one another.” So Maundy Thursday is the day when Jesus gave the commandment to love one another. Remember he said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” But Maundy Thursday has become rather complex over the years. There are many traditions that have grown up around it. Last year on Maundy Thursday we held a footwashing ceremony that reminded us that Jesus taught, by his own example, that we are to humbly serve one another. Sometimes churches hold Seder meals. I know that you have done that here in years past. And the Seder meal reminds us of God’s great act of salvation in the Old Testament—the Passover—when God set his people free from slavery in Egypt and started them on their journey to the Promised Land. We Christians hold Seder meals because they help inform us about the what Jesus was doing at the Last Supper with his disciples.

But, in my experience at least, we don’t talk about this meal that has come down to us, this meal that we call Holy Communion or Eucharist. What about this act of worship that has become such a central part of our community life? What does Scripture teach us about this meal that Jesus inaugurated so many centuries ago and that we will soon celebrate again, here in our day and age?

It is a big part of Christian life—and it doesn’t matter what denomination you look at. This Holy Communion is celebrated by most, if not all, churches in the world. There are a whole variety of theologies that attempt to explain what we are doing and why we are doing it. Some churches have Holy Communion infrequently. Others everyday. Some places celebrate Communion with real bread, in some a pressed wafer, Some places use wine and drink from a common cup. Others use grape juice or drink from individual cups. But in most churches Holy Communion is a consistent feature of worship. Why? And what do we Anglicans teach about its meaning and practice?

As we look at this simple meal called Holy Communion it might be helpful to provide a context—a foundational text that informs our discussion. And I think St. John has provided just the right text in his first letter. In 1 John chapter 4, verse 9, he says, “This is how the love of God was manifested in us—God has sent His only begotten Son into the world so that we might live through Him.” The first thing we need to notice about what John says is the verb tense he uses, and in order to get it you will have to look at the Greek or at a literal translation. More popular translations miss it. (It’s too bad that we don’t teach grammar anymore because grammar is really important to the writers of Scripture and they are giving us very important messages through the way that they say things.) Did you notice that St. John said, “God “has sent” his Son into the world. It isn’t just something that happened long ago. The Son was not only sent. He is still present—that’s what John claims. Secondly, John makes another surprising statement through his use of the conjunction “in.” He makes the audacious claim that the love of God is not manifested “towards us” but that God’s love is actually “in us.” God’s love is not something we experience in the universe around us. God’s love dwells inside us, somehow.

St John wrote this letter many years after Jesus lived, after he died, rose and ascended to heaven. All of those events were long past and so the people to whom John writes are people who have never met Jesus in the flesh, and who never witnessed his resurrection but he writes to them to tell them that the Son of God has come into their world, and is giving them the opportunity to live a redeemed life through his Presence. John is not talking about an abstract God, a conceptual God. John is pointing to a God who is real and present in the life of his people, present in tangible ways.

So, John tells people far removed from the events described in the Scriptures that even for us, God’s love is in us—not directed towards us. And he says, Jesus is in our midst, not someone who visited and vanished in ancient times. But how? How are you and I, living in twenty-first century America, able to experience God’s love within us or come to rest in Christ’s presence in our midst? In what way is Christ really present to us, in the here and now?

Sometimes things are not what they appear to be. For example, on the negative side, an “attractive nuisance” is something which compels people to come towards it and then, instead of being a good thing it turns out to be a bad thing. An unattended swimming pool may appeal to a child as a fun place to play but it may very well become a drowning pool for that child. A dog with a wagging tail may draw us towards it with the promise of friendship but then snarl and snap and injure us instead. On the positive side, I am sure that you have known people who look like a snarling dog from a distance and yet when you get to know them they are amongst the kindest and gentlest souls you have ever met. Perhaps you have tentatively opened the door to a dark and empty house only to have the lights thrown on and a crowd of people yell, “surprise.” You have not come home to be alone, you have come home to a party. Things are not always what they appear to be. And when that happens with God, when God presents us with something that is much more than it outwardly appears to be, we call that a sacrament. A sacrament is something that appears one way, but its effect on us, the impact that it has on our lives is quite a different thing.

This meal that we will be sharing in a few minutes is a sacrament. It is more than it appears to be. It appears to be little pressed wafers and a goblet full of Port wine but Jesus tells us that it is his body and his blood given for us.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
Some may argue that this meal is just a remembrance of his precious death and glorious resurrection—just a memorial to the events that happen long, long ago and far, far away. Indeed Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22.19 and 1 Cor. 11.24) No Eucharist would be complete with remembering His death, proclaiming his resurrection and awaiting his coming again in glory but this, in itself, is an insufficient explanation. Holy Communion is a memorial but it is much more than that.

Jesus told his disciples, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In the Gospel of John, chapter 6 the people are demanding an outward sign from Jesus. They want Jesus to prove he is the Son of God. They say, “in the old days God sent bread from heaven.” And Jesus responds by saying "…the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world. Jesus says to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.” And he does not want to leave them the option of thinking that he speaks metaphorically, (“O he is just saying he is like the bread that comes down from heaven.”) Just to make sure they understand that he literally means what he is saying, he says to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” Now, please don’t get wrapped around this old worn argument, “O that’s transubstantiation! Those nasty Catholics believe in that!” That is not the point. None of us have anyway of knowing how this works—and we don’t need to understand. (That’s the problem with Transubstantiation. It creates a doctrine to explain what cannot be explained and then requires it as a point of faith.) What is important is that Jesus makes it crystal clear that he is really present to us, somehow or another he really does come down from heaven, just like the manna fell in the wilderness, and God really does come to dwell in us and work through us when we receive the sacrament of Holy Communion. Jesus is alive! He comes into our midst—God’s love dwells within us—every time we receive Holy Communion in faith. We are not alone. We don’t have to despair. We are not living in a world far removed from the source of grace. Christ is with us, literally, in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus said, “A new command I give you, love one another.”
There is a final important piece to this great mystery we call Holy Communion. We need to touch on it as well. Holy Communion is a memorial meal in which we rehearse the saving acts of God in the lives of his people. It really is a memorial. Holy Communion is the means by which Jesus conveys himself, in the here and now, into the lives of his people. We truly eat his flesh and blood. And Jesus really did give a new commandment as he was inaugurating this meal. He really did say, “A new command I give you, love one another.” And then he passed out the bread and the wine and he said, “Share this amongst you.” Share my body and blood as a perpetual way of bringing love into the center of your community. Holy Communion is not just a remembering in the sense of memory. It is remembering in the sense of bringing back together a disjointed and divided body. When we come to the Altar of God scattered Christians are reunited and we become one body—the Body of Christ. Did you know that if a priest doesn’t hear at least two people say amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer that the priest is not supposed to administer the sacrament to you—this is not about “I believe.” This is about “We believe.” This is not about “I receive Jesus Christ.” This is about “We receive Jesus Christ,” and together we come before the throne of grace, together we demonstrate our love for God as we demonstrate our love for one another. And together we have the capacity to truly love one another because Christ first loved us and gave himself as a sacrifice for us. We receive him in order that we may receive one another.

Friends, we have come this Maundy Thursday evening to remember the events of Christ’s final days. As Martha prays the Eucharist tonight you will hear the story told once more. Once more we will look upon Jesus’ extreme humility by which the unblemished Lamb of God gave himself sacrificed himself to death in order to restore us to life. Tonight we will, again, receive the enormous gift of God’s gracious love dwelling within us as He makes himself present to us in the body and blood of his Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Tonight, through Christ’s loving presence we will be knit back together into one body, the body of Christ, and together we will give witness to the world that, truly, this Jesus is the Son of God.

Come let us adore him. Amen.

April 8, 2009

Betrayed by a kiss

Judas sells Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

April 6, 2009

Behold the Lamb of God

We Too Are Witnesses

sermon at Trinity Church on Passion Sunday 2009
The Rev Scott Homer

In Luke chapter 24, after all the events of Holy Week are over, after his victory over the grave the resurrected Jesus says to his disciples, "This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” (46, 47) Today we celebrate Passion Sunday. It is a bi-polar sort of day. Our readings begin with shouts of joy, ecstatic people greeting their king, lining his pathway with their garments and waving palm branches in celebration and our readings end with Jesus dead and the hope of glory extinguished. Light to dark—manic to depressed—hope filled to hopeless. No wonder they call it the Passion.

Holy Week has begun and for the next seven days Churches all over the world will retell the ancient story as they have every year for the past two thousand years. It is the story of Jesus of Nazareth and his final confrontation with the forces of evil. The story is familiar to us but we continue to rehearse it year after year because contained within the story is the promise. Our personal future and the future of the whole world is wrapped up in the events of Jesus’ final days. We listen to it, reflect upon it, look at it with fresh eyes, because through it we witness the miracle of God’s salvation. The story of Jesus’ humble walk to the cross is the story of God reaching down from heaven and drawing us up to himself even as his Son is lifted up on the cross. This week, Holy Week, God calls us to be his witnesses by being present and staying awake through the final hours with Jesus.

“Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God?” This is the question asked of witnesses. The judge wants a vow of honesty before he will listen to our testimony. He wants to know that their testimony is true, complete, and unvarnished. The judge relies on the testimony of the witness because neither the judge nor the jury were present at the events under consideration. The witness is, therefore, absolutely essential. The witness must present the facts and then the jury can arrive at the correct decision. But if he was not observant, if he was not paying attention, if he did not commit the events to memory in the just the way that they happened, then he will mislead the jury and they will err in their decision. We are called to be witnesses and people will make life decisions based on what they hear from us so we need to get the story right. That is why we have been telling it over and over, in exactly the same way, for all these years.

Jesus chose disciples to be witnesses to his life. (Andrew, Peter, James and John, Judas and Nathaniel, Matthew and the rest of the twelve, but not just the twelve, Jesus sent out seventy-two at one point, and there were probably many more than those) Disciples were given a very specific task: They were to bear witness and give testimony about Jesus the Christ. Through their eyewitness testimony everyone in the world could hear about Jesus Christ. They were given the opportunity to make a decision to receive him as their Lord and Savior. Disciples are sent to testify about Jesus. You and I are disciples in our day. If you have heard and believed the testimony about Jesus and if you have made a decision to receive him as your Lord and Savior then you have also been chosen as a disciple and you have also been assigned the task of being a witness and giving testimony to those who have not yet heard and do not yet believe. God has called each of us to be his witnesses. Now we may not like it. And many of us don’t do anything about it. We deny it, we pretend it isn’t true, we say we will do something about it tomorrow, or we make excuses for why we aren’t complying, but make no mistake about it, God has issued the call to you and me.

We began, this morning with a reenactment of sorts—Jesus’ triumphant entrance into Jerusalem. We had a little joyful procession around the church. We carried palm leaves. We cried out “Hosanna.” Our reenactment was based on an eye witness account of the Christ riding into the City of David on the back of a donkey. It is the story of a would be king entering the Holy City Jerusalem and making the claim that he is the Anointed One of God who has come to take his rightful place on the throne of Israel. We have just listened to another reenactment of sorts. It is what we call the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ, according to Mark. It is the story of Jesus’ final hours on earth and it tells about his arrest, his trial, his punishment and his death on a cross. And all throughout Holy Week we will hear the old stories about the King of Glory and his self-sacrifices on our behalf. And I pray that you will experience true joy and supernatural hope and immense peace through these stories because these stories are not myths or legends. They are not fables or fairy tales. They are eyewitness testimony, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth by God’s help. They were first told some two thousand years ago by the apostles—disciples who had been with Jesus and who had witnessed these events firsthand. They were there when Lazarus came out of the tomb. They were there when Mary anointed Jesus with perfume. They walked beside the donkey up the Mount of Olives. They heard the crowd crying out “Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” They saw Jesus’ tears and heard his laments. They were frightened for him when he drove the money changers out of the Temple. They ate the bread and drank the wine at the Last Supper. They watched him suffer and die on the cross. The stories are the testimony of witnesses to the actual events that comprise the stories we tell this Holy Week. And we can rely on their testimony because we know the price they were willing to pay to tell us. They were beaten and imprisoned and eventually killed for giving their testimony. People aren’t willing to die to protect a fairy tale. Few of us would die to protect the truth unless that truth were so important to the survival of mankind that it must be guarded at any cost—even the cost of our own lives.

Jesus chose disciples to be witnesses, that is, to live in Jesus’ presence and to observe his life, to learn the lessons he taught them, and to see what happened to him, so that later on these witnesses would be able to give testimony. That is what witnesses do. They see, they hear and they experience and later on they testify in order that people who were not present at the time may nevertheless be able to understand what happened. Those first disciples received a special name. They became known as ‘apostles’ which is a Greek word that means messengers. They bore witness and their testimony was the most blessed message in the history of the world—that Jesus Christ died to save sinners.

Their stories were highly personal relating not just the facts of Jesus’ life but also showing the ways in which the risen Christ continued to touch them, continued to transform them, and continued to lead them into God’s presence. They carried a priceless message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, and by their eyewitness testimony people in remote parts of the world came to believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. And these remote peoples began to experience Christ’s presence in their own lives. Through the apostle’s witness people all over the world came to know Jesus, not just about Jesus. Their words opened the way to new life, life defined by hope and joy, all made possible through relationship to Jesus Christ.

We are able to do our reenactments this morning because Jesus sacrificed himself for our sakes but not just because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus’ disciples risked their lives, sacrificed their own interests, compromised their own health, so that the world would know about the all surpassing love of God in Christ Jesus and so that they would believe and be saved…but we are indebted to others as well. The disciples died martyr’s deaths or grew old in imprisonment. And a new generation of witnesses had to take their place. This new generation committed the stories to memory and wrote them down and rehearsed them year after year. They began to do what they saw the apostles do. They took risks, they reached out beyond their comfort zone, they mustered up the courage to tell the old stories just as they had received them and they took the gospel message out to their generation. And after them another generation of witnesses was born, and another and another, generation after generation—a great cloud of witnesses from every tribe and tongue and nation all testifying to the One True God and the One True Savior of all—countless individuals from every corner of the earth making costly sacrifices in order to bring you and me these priceless eyewitness accounts, in order that you and I might know God’s grace and blessing in our lives. If you know hope, if you know peace with God, if you know the joy of your salvation you know because of this great cloud of witnesses, these humble and self-sacrificing children of God who suffered to deliver these stories to you.

We can sometimes take these stories for granted. But they are precious, more precious than we can possibly imagine. They have been bought at a terrible price. They have been preserved through the blood, and the sweat and the tears of faithful men and women who would not allow the story to end. They fought and died to preserve this message for us. Our world is fighting very hard to destroy these stories. There is a concerted effort to make them into meaningless fairy tales, and the battle is not being waged by outsiders. It is being waged from within our churches. And so now it is our turn. We are called to be Christ’s witnesses and to tell the stories and to guard them from those that would abuse them for their own gain.

We must begin honoring the ancient stories again. We have to start picking them up and dusting them off and placing them back into a position of high honor in our lives. We have got to start sacrificing our time, and investing real effort into being present at the retelling of the story, and devoting real time to engage in the events of Holy Week. Words in a book, even a book as wonderful as the Bible, are just words. Unless they take on real renewed meaning in our lives, and unless the story begins to demonstrate power in our lives the words will have no impact on anybody else. These stories have real power—they have the ability to heal us. They have the power to transform us. They are strong to save us, if we will let them truly touch us. The disciples of old got to know Jesus’ power by living with him by being steeped in his teachings. We must live with the stories and be steeped in their teachings

I invite you to join wholeheartedly in the events of Holy Week—to surrender to the power of the ancient story in your life once again. Give yourself over to true worship by giving honor and glory and blessing to our Lord, by sacrificing your time and by walking the Road to Calvary with him. I believe that as we immerse ourselves in the story and as we allow God to speak to us through the events of his Son’s Passion we will find renewed strength and new life through them. When we learn to live in and through these stories we will find that sharing them with the world will no longer be a chore. It will no longer be an option. It will simply be the way that we understand our daily lives. And then we will have a testimony that is the whole and nothing but the truth so help us God.


April 2, 2009

Reflections on a Buddhist Bishop-elect

The Dean of Nashota House Seminary, Robert Munday, comments on where the true responsibility lies. Scott+

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The thing that has struck me ever since the matter of the Buddhist Bishop-elect became news is that the blame (if I may use that word) for where he is does not ultimately lie with him. The ultimate responsibility for a Buddhist Bishop-elect and a Muslim Episcopal priest (and countless other permutations of syncretism and unbelief among clergy that simply haven’t come to light) belongs to an Episcopal Church where probably NO ONE along the path of their journies ever said to them, “This is wrong. Here are the claims of authentic Christianity, and you can’t reconcile them with Buddhism or Islam.” In fact, Kevin Thew Forrester’s late Bishop even commended him publicly for walking the path of Zen Buddhism and Christianity together.

For the rest of the article, click on the headline above.

April 1, 2009

Priest won’t recant her faith in Islam

01:00 AM EDT on Wednesday, April 1, 2009
from projo.com

By Richard C. DujardinJournal Staff Writer

The Rev. Ann Holmes Redding, the Episcopal priest who has been told by Rhode Island Bishop Geralyn Wolf that she had until the end of March to recant her faith in Islam or face expulsion from the Episcopal priesthood, said Tuesday she still has no intention of doing so and realizes that by dawn Wednesday she may no longer be a priest. Reached by phone as she was stepping into a language academy in Seattle where she has begun studying Arabic, Redding said she had spent part of Tuesday mourning her impending expulsion. “There is an acknowledged sadness, because if it were not for the limited vision of one particular bishop I still might have been able to function as a priest.”

Although Redding has never ministered in Rhode Island since Bishop George N. Hunt, the then-bishop of Rhode Island, ordained her 25 years ago, she has remained, at least until now, under the jurisdiction of Rhode Island’s bishop because she has never changed her canonical residence.
Bishop Wolf — who plans to release a statement on Wednesday — initially called Redding back from Seattle in 2007 after learning, at a bishop’s meeting, that Redding had converted to Islam while continuing to serve in the Olympia, Wash., diocese as an Episcopal priest. Redding’s unusual step did not seem to raise the ire of the then-bishop of Olympia, who called her move innovative.

Bishop Wolf — who plans to issue a statement on Redding on Wednesday — said she became particularly concerned because Redding had publicly recited the Shahada, the statement of belief that is at the cornerstone of becoming a Muslim and that she was attending prayer services at a mosque in Seattle.
Bishop Wolf has repeatedly insisted that such a melding of two faiths is impossible because of key differences between the two particularly on such things as belief in the incarnation and belief in Jesus as the only-begotten son of God. After initially placing Redding on a year-long suspension from priestly duties that lasted an additional two months to give her time to reconsider, she warned Redding in September that she had six months to recant or be deposed.

On Tuesday, Redding said she still sees herself as both Muslim and Christian and sees no reason to change. “I am Muslim and I am a Christian and Episcopalian,” she said. “I will continue to follow the path that God has called me.”

Redding said she fully expects that when she rises Wednesday sometime between dusk and dawn, she will recite the first of the five prayers that the faith requires Muslims to recite each day. She will also gather at the local mosque for community prayer services, and on the weekend, visit a local Episcopal parish for Christian worship.

“I know that not all places are happy with my presence,” she said. “This is not about making people uncomfortable or making them feel their spaces are being violated. So I go to places where people recognize me as a Christian.”

On Thursday, the day after her 25th anniversary of her ordination to the priesthood, Redding marked the anniversary with a book signing celebrating the publication of a new book, Out of Darkness Into Light, that she had co-authored, looking at the Koran from Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspectives. On Wednesday evening she is expected to be the subject of a profile on CNN.

Ruth Meteer, communications officer for the Diocese of Rhode Island, said Bishop Wolf was waiting until the last minute to see if Redding changed her mind, and will release a statement on Wednesday.