Sermon: Mass of the Lord's Supper, 2006

Mass of the Lord’s Supper

In the name of the +Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

“Do this in remembrance of me”

Today is traditionally known as Maundy Thursday. Maundy comes from the Latin word “Mandatum” – commandment – “A new commandment I will give to you – that you love one another” – John 13:34.

Love is at the heart of this Gospel

It is love which transcends tribe, culture, language, ethnicity, sexuality or location

It is love which unites when the world seeks to pull apart, to dissolve into sectarianism or ethnic conflict

It is love which overcomes the rifts, arguments, fights and conflicts in our families and our marriages.

This love is shown for us on the Cross. The cross which was in the eyes of so many a terrible humiliation, a criminal’s death becomes the victory, the triumph. The Lamb of God slain for our sins, led out to the slaughter – and every time I think of this, I am reminded of those stark images from the Passion of the Christ which make plain the love which gives of itself so completely.

How could we not respond to such love with anything other than our love?

How could we do anything else than recall this saving act with faith.

The Jews made a great thing of recalling the saving acts of God – the book of Deuteronomy is effectively a recapping of the escape from Egypt and a reworking of the law (on the basis that if you teach something twice, it must be really important). To the Middle-eastern mind (and indeed many other non-western cultures), where story telling and recalling are a societal act, stories are not just events of the past, but a living embodiment of the present – we are here because of what we have done in the past.

The Jews sat in the desert and later in the promised land because of Yahweh – we are here because of what we have done in the past.

The Jews fretted in exile in Babylon because of their failure of obey the Torah and recalled – we are here because of what we have done in the past.

We gather together to proclaim the Lord’s death and resurrection in the sacrifice of the mass – we are here because of what has been done in the past.

The word at the heart of this, the institution of the Lord’s Supper in the Upper Room is Anemnesis

I Corinthians 11:24 – “when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

and

Luke 22:19 – “Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”

Remembrance is an inadequate translation for the Greek word – bringing the past into the present – bringing Christ into our midst – the real presence of Christ in body and blood.

Jesus said “THIS IS MY BODY … THIS IS MY BLOOD” and he meant it.

The Passover was a festival which was not a remembrance of the past deeds of Yahweh and the deliverance of the Jews from slavery in Egypt, but a bringing of it into their midst. The Passover happened not 4000 years ago, but now.

Our deliverance, from the slavery of sin and the punishment of death occurs now.

And why should we recall it? Because it brings into our presence that parable in action, which we have just all witnessed – the humility of Christ – the same humility which would be further revealed on the Cross.

When the priest takes off the chasuble and puts on an amice to wash the feet of the people, he brings home the call of Christ, not just to think fondly of the poor, the outcast, the refugee, the tainted, the unsound, the diseased, not to think fondly of them in the past, but to deal with them in the present – to deal with them now. For, as Jesus said, “the poor are always with us”.

The job of washing the feet of guests feel to the lowest slave in the household. People didn’t routinely wear shoes, and the streets were full of the products of an agrarian society – the evidence of donkeys were all around, and so it was not a pleasant task. Jesus took on this role and showed his disciples, showed us, a parable in action – to become one with Christ means casting aside our claims to greatness, claims to honour, claims to prestige and to act like the lowest slave of the household.

Tonight as we gather at this celebration, to bring into our present the whole message of Christ, we see the Mass as the heart of our faith: with its messages of love, of humility, of loving, of thankfulness and of the closeness of God in our midst. The Mass is not an optional extra, but the very centre of our being with God.

We do not presume to understand the mechanisms going on here: anyone who demands to understand the Eucharist taking place here is merely showing how far they are from understanding that the ways of Yahweh are simply beyond understanding, that although God is close, he is unknowable, mysterious, other.

God cannot simply be measured out, or weighed, or deduced. God is.  God simply is.

But through the grace of holy orders, the calling down of the Holy Spirit, something special happens: the ordinary – ordinary bread and ordinary wine are made extraordinary. Ordinary people like you and I are transformed into the extraordinary people of God, and the Christ who said “I will be with you always” stands here in our midst and shares again, and again and again his simple meal of bread and wine, and love and humility.

At the end of the Mass of the Lord’s Supper, the Church is stripped, the sacrament is removed to the altar of repose and we are left in the desolate silence, reminded of the arid loss of the disciples as their Lord was arrested and taken from them.

But we recognise that what took place in that Upper Room fed not only those disciples gathered for a Passover meal, but fed an entire Church. It is a miracle which makes the feeding of the five thousand look trivial, and yet here amid bread and wine and worship and prayers are hidden the gateway to salvation. This is more than a simple memorial meal, or a farewell toast – it is that night brought into Elson and shared with you, his disciples.

During Lent we have used the memorial acclamation which cannot be any more apt, so let us say together:

“Every time we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim your death, Lord Jesus, until you come in glory”

We are here because God is.

Amen.