A snail made its way into a police station. He said to the desk sergeant “I’ve just been mugged by two tortoises.” “Gosh” said the sergeant “what did they do?” “I don’t know” said the snail “it happened so fast”
We live in a world which is changing rapidly, and in unexpected ways. Apparently if you put a single pound on an accumulator bet at the beginning of the year that the UK would vote to leave Europe, Donald Trump would be the next US president, and Leicester City would win the Premier league – you would now be four and a half million richer.
The pace of change can be bewildering, perhaps especially for the church, which at times seems to be playing a belated game of catch up.
Yet often in its history, Christians have been at the forefront of change, doing their utmost to usher in a better world. Think of the Evangelical Clapham Sect who led efforts to abolish slavery and child labour in Victorian times. The social impact inspired by Christian faith can be very personal and local – like the Methodist revival which changed drinking culture in working men or the current work among self-harming teenagers. Or it can be more like a revolution – it’s a well-documented fact that the demonstrations which brought down the Berlin Wall had their origin in a prayer meeting in St Nicholas church Leipzig.
Christian faith changes the world. As we go out of that door our faith makes a difference. It affects our relationships, our values and impact, our prayers – and if it doesn’t we have to ask what’s the point? The end of the Eucharist sends us out with the words: ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord’. It’s that serving we’re thinking about today in this final sermon in the series on the Eucharist. How does the Eucharist join us in God’s mission? How does the Eucharist affect our communities?
In our first reading from Romans 1:1-7 St Paul sets out a massive vision which we’ve followed in our Advent journey. Paul describes the amazing acts of God: how the Old Testament prophets promised the coming of a Saviour; how Jesus came as both man and God. Last week we reflected on the depths of God’s love shown when Jesus offers himself as a sacrifice for our sins. We also thought about the resurrection – in v.4 – and our call to be saints.
But this isn’t just something to make us feel great. Paul doesn’t stop there: how wonderful this is, let’s sit back and enjoy God’s love! No, in verse 5 he says: ‘we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles.’ In other words, having received this great blessing we share it with the world. We have forgiveness, the promise of eternal life, teaching on the right way to live, God’s Spirit to transform us, the Kingdom of God to build! What an amazing gift to bring the world!
And our worship equips and strengthens us to do this. The word of God read and preached changes our understanding, renews our minds and motivates us to action. Prayer and song focus our hearts on God, build a connection with heaven and ground us in God’s reality. Ministry time – fellowship and prayer for one another can be profoundly healing, restoring spiritual health and psychological wholeness. At its best, worship enables us to connect with God, connect with one another, and so connect well with our communities.
Of course, all of these things are open to the non-communicant – and that is a very important point. Nothing we’ve explored so far is exclusive to the Eucharist, and indeed there are many good reasons why outreach through worship is often non-Eucharistic. The Early Church kept the Eucharist secret, and for many today it can still be a mystery.
Indeed, the way the Eucharist is often celebrated is not exactly the material of revolution. Unchanging liturgy and regular observance emphasise the idea that communion is about ‘rations for the journey’ – enough to carry us spiritually through the week. That is true – we need God’s regular blessing, but there is so much more to which he calls us.
The Eucharist is more than bread for the journey. It is fuel for the revolution. For the wounded, worship can be a refuge from an unpredictable world, but ultimately the Eucharist should be healing and reconciling so that we can re-enter the world with radical engagement. The Eucharist gives us continuity with the past, but also transformation.
Transformation is right at the heart of the Eucharist. Look at the offertory procession, why do we do that? If you think about it, we could perfectly well start off the service with the bread and wine next to the altar and indeed many churches do that. But the offertory procession does have a symbolism: the bread and wine of human labour are taken and transformed by God’s spirit to be a blessing to us all. Someone made that bread, bottled that wine and their efforts represent our own self-offering and commitment to be transformed by God.
Remember our gospel reading? St Joseph the worker is willing to be offered, broken, in effect shared for God’s glory. He offers himself, accepting God’s costly call. It will feel like being broken – imagine the gossip, the innuendo, the humiliation – has Joseph lost his self-control? Or is he raising someone else’s son? Joseph’s talents, his parenting will be lavished on Jesus. How much was Jesus inspired by Joseph? What did he learn from him? And so Joseph will in the end, through Jesus’ ministry, be shared with us all.
The Eucharist speaks of Christ’s obedience to God, of his self-offering and brokenness, of bringing healing to the world. We too are called to follow that pattern. To offer ourselves, where we are, our concerns and joys, the fruits of our labours.
To be willing to be broken and shared in that strange dance of self-denying yet ultimately fulfilling love.
As we come to communion I think there are several applications for today. Firstly, let’s keep the big picture in front of us. Everything that we do as Christians is to glorify God. The purpose of the church is to share in God’s mission. Let’s keep that at the forefront of what we do, the ultimate goal of all our activities.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that we drop everything that we’re doing and start something else. But it does mean that the ethos of offering and being shared in God’s mission should pervade everything that we do. A couple of years ago our PCC developed a vision statement for this church, a hope of what we would like to be. It is
A holy place at the heart of the community, open to all.
We can do that, in a way which is centred and grounded in God.
Secondly, let’s ensure that our Eucharistic worship connects with our community. Communion can be evangelistic, if we celebrate in an appropriate way. It need not feel exclusive or distant. As another example, it’s perfectly appropriate for our intercessions to include national and local concerns. It’s right to pray about Syria – it’s right too to pray for this village. Who will pray about the future of preschool provision in Sherston if not Sherston’s church? We do not tell God what to do, how to answer our prayers (still less preach at him), but we do offer up particular instances and people to our loving Lord.
Finally, may we be drawn in to the movement of the Eucharist. As God invites us, may we respond to him in love and receive his grace. May we be strengthened through his spirit to love and serve the Lord. Amen.