Do this in remembrance of me…
One of my favourite poems is Andrew Motion’s poem, “the voices live”. Andrew Motion, then poet laureate, wrote this poem in 2001 for the service held at Westminster Abbey to remember British victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11 that year.
The voices live which are the voices lost:
we hear them and we answer, or we try
but words are nervous when we need them most
and stammer, stop, or dully slide away
so everything they mean to summon up
is always just too far, just out of reach,
unless our memories give time the slip
and learn the lesson that heart-wisdoms teach
of how in grief we find a way to keep
the dead beside us as our time goes on -
invisible and silent but the deep
foundation of ourselves, our cornerstone.
(Poems for Refugees, ed. Pippa Haywood, Vintage 2002)
Holy Communion is the Christian faith’s “heart-wisdom” way of keeping all those whom we have loved and lost and gone before us and the dead-then-risen Christ ‘beside us,’ - invisible and silent, but the deep foundation of ourselves, our cornerstone.’
Today is the day when we thank God for the institution of the Eucharist. The first free Thursday after the seasons of Easter and Pentecost, when we remember again that first Maundy Thursday and give thanks with joy to God for this ‘heart-wisdom way’ of keeping the dead-then-risen Christ beside us.
This way is called the eucharist, from the Greek word which means to give thanks. So today we give thanks for the opportunity of giving thanks!
This is not a meal to commemorate the dead body of Christ, but a celebration of thanksgiving of the dead-then-risen body of Christ as living bread. We’ve heard Jesus say in our gospel reading, I am the living bread.
The contemporary American theologians Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker call the eucharist “The Beautiful Feast of Life” - and describe how in the early church, “members showed that joy and thanksgiving by bringing gifts to support the church, and foods for the Eucharistic meal. Heaped on tables, the offering represented the community’s shared resources, the community’s shared wealth in God in celebration.”
They quote Bishop Hipolytus of Rome, from about the year 200, who said: “In offering fruits, roses and lilies, the believer was celebrating the goodness of the God who had given them to him.
And in a show of super abundance “the following fruits were also blessed: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives, pears, apples, mulberries, peaches, cherries, almonds, plums;”
(p. 141, 142, Saving Paradise, Beacon Press, 2008)
Today, in Corpus Christi traditions in Cathedrals, cities and towns around the world, aisles and city squares will be decorated with flowers and echo such early church celebrations.
The eucharist is a beautiful feast of life.
We’ve heard St Paul’s words that on the night before he died Jesus took bread and wine and said, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
This regular disciplined “do this in remembrance of me” heart-wisdom practice of gathering together to give thanks to God connects us with the risen Christ in a way that in action, participation, and silence takes us beyond words.
Not only does it nourish us in joy, it also nourishes us in times of suffering too.
Thomas Merton, that great American Trappist monk of the 20th century, said “Sometimes no explanation is sufficient to account for suffering, the only decent thing is silence and the sacraments.”
So we come to the sacrament of the eucharist to nourish us not only in joy but also in suffering.
Yesterday at our regular midweek morning communion service in Gillingham one lady in her 90s said to me on the way out, “Peter, it does me good to come here every week”. Yes, that’s right. It does us good to come here every week, and every high day and holiday.
The earthly body of Jesus has gone, and so the risen body of Christ is here, symbolically on this table today and every day when we celebrate the eucharist.
The earthly body of Jesus has gone, and so the risen Christ is here beside us and inside every human heart.
The earthly body of Jesus has gone, and so the risen body of Christ is here in our shared presence together.
And more… in the bread that we will consecrate, in these atoms, God given atoms, we affirm by faith that Christ is here!
And if we affirm by faith that Christ is here in these atoms, do we not therefore affirm that the risen Christ is present in every atom?
John Carden, a Church Mission Society Mission Partner wrote a book called ‘Empty Shoes’ about his experiences of working in Lahore, Pakistan.
He begins by writing about an early morning service of Holy Communion. All went well until they came to the offertory, and the priest discovered that there was wine but no bread.
A small boy was quickly sent off to buy bread from the bazaar.
What if that were to happen here? Would the fastest choirboy or choirgirl be sent running to Reeve the baker?
Anyway in the pause that followed John Carden mused that “if the priest had been a Teilhard de Chardin, I suppose that drop of wine might have sufficed, and that for bread he might have consecrated the very world around us, the sun already high in the sky, the people streaming down our street, the Friday beggars, the barking dogs, the crying children, the school bells ringing, the morning social life of our local bazaar. And thus we might have communicated with Christ through the body of his humanity in this locality.” (p. 1, Empty Shoes, Highway Press, 1971)
What we do here does not separate us as the body of Christ from the world around us. What we do here in this heart-wisdom beautiful feast of life today connects us with the body of Christ in the world around us, the body of his humanity in this locality.
May it be so, and may it be so each and everytime we celebrate the eucharist.