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In Blood there is Life

Continuing our thoughts on the Eucharist

Saturday mornings at the Scala Cinema in Ryde, I and 2 friends sat enthralled, particularly watching the cowboy films starring “Hop-along Cassidy” and Tonto.

Often there seemed to be conflicts with the resident Indians, culminating with a peace pact, where the “Pipe of Peace” was smoked, plus a strange blood ceremony, where a gash in the arm, placed against a similar gash in the erstwhile opponent’s arm, mingled their blood, with the immortal words “Ugh, me blood brother” and peace reigned. We tried unsuccessfully to recreate this in the cycle shed at Sandown Sec.!

However, this wasn’t just a cinematic event, for something similar is recorded in Exodus 24, vv1-11, being the description of a ceremony to renew the Covenant (Agreement) between God and His people of Israel.

First, God’s Law (the 10 Commandments) are read to the gathered assembly, to which they reply “All that the Lord has commanded us, we will do”; animals are sacrificed and the blood gathered in two basins.

Having made this covenant with God, the basins are taken and the contents of one thrown over the altar (God’s share), the other its contents are scattered over the people.

Thus, in the Jewish mind, like our red Indians, the covenant is confirmed at Sinai and God and mankind joined in a blood relationship, removing any enmity between the two parties.

Blood, being the source and maintenance of life was regarded with great reverence, and through the sacrifices in general, worshippers were enabled by purchasing (at a price calculated according to their financial standing) something to sacrifice, to offer their lives by proxy in service and worship of God.

In ancient Jewish circles, every agreement between two parties (even buying some land or property) was sealed with a sacrifice ensuring that God was brought into the process as a witness.

Not surprisingly, our Eucharist has undertones of these ancient practises, and when the New Covenant (Testament) is instituted in the Upper Room, and Jesus says: “A NEW commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you”, He supersedes the original 10, and it is sealed as Jesus passes the common cup around His disciples.

The sacrificial blood is that shed on the cross (study the Epistle to the Hebrews and this will give you the thinking of the first Christians on the matter).

God is insistent that it is for ALL to drink and it is extraordinary that for hundreds of years in the Roman Church only the priest drank from the chalice; the ordinary folk had to be content with bread alone until quite recently when the Pope restored it to them.

However, using the common cup the other element appears for thereby we are rather like our Indians of my first paragraphs; through it we are spiritually joined to our fellow worshippers.

Some people worry about the chances of infection by so doing, but there has never in my 60+ years’ experience and that of informed experts been any instance where an infection could be traced to using a common cup.  Wine is in effect a useful disinfectant.

So we come to the Eucharist week by week to renew our commitment to the new Law of Love, receiving strength to enable us to do so and are joined spiritually to all our fellow worshippers. “All one Body we”.

GCR

16 September 2018

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The Cost of Love (A very personal thought)

I wept as I knelt, holding Ness’s paw, as the gentle lady vet did the last thing I could do for my beloved dog by putting her to “sleep”.

Liver failure had done its worst and unable to stand and no longer eating, this 15yr. old, Border Collie whose companionship I had enjoyed for 6 yrs. (she was a rescue) it was now time to allow her to go in peace.

She now lies in my son Peter’s garden at Chale Green.

Why the tears? Simply because Ness had been my faithful companion for 6 years and one can only say that I wept because I loved her. All pet owners will recognise that feeling.

That is the problem with love. Once we begin to love anyone or anything, we run the risk of being hurt at some stage, when something happens to that which we love. That can apply, not only to human beings or pets, but also to anything that has occupied the central part of our affections, even our car, or bike, or some other inanimate object.

C. S. Lewis wrote,“To love at all, is to become vulnerable”

The truth is, that if you wish to avoid being hurt, then the answer is simply that you love no one or nothing.

However, not to “love” is inhuman, for all of us, however depraved, have affections for something, so the capacity to be hurt is universal.

However, if this is true of human beings, common sense will tell us that it is, then what about God?

The God portrayed in some of the Old Testament seems to us often to be cruel and vindictive, but this is not true of all of it.

The prophets gradually discerned that there was another aspect of God and that He is loving, caring and forgiving; sadly this message doesn’t seem to have got through even to self-confessed Christians.

That message was brought to its fulfilment in the life and teaching of Jesus, who by word and example as the Son of God showed us that this was indeed true.

It’s a pity that often in history, people, including Christians, have justified the most evil actions on the basis that they believe that this is what God wishes.

If God is love as Jesus taught and so many New Testament texts declare then it follows, not only that God abhors many actions done in His Name, equally He does not send calamities and disasters, whether on an individual or global scale, for a loving God will want the best for His Creation.

The popular notion that God sends illness or disasters, as a punishment, or that it is His will that some child should die of cancer is alien to the life and teaching of Jesus.

If God is love, then it follows that when anything happens to us whom He loves so much that He sent His only Son to enter our world and die on a cross for us, then surely God like us, will suffer also?

God is not remote, uncaring, incapable of hurt, for if He is, then He cannot be a God of love.

Have you ever thought how the heart of God must ache when He surveys the world, in which we could all live happily and fruitfully, yet is marred by cruelty, greed and so much avoidable human suffering; stemming from our own failure to live lives conforming to Jesus’ teaching or in harmony with the wonderful world that He has created?

Love and hurt go hand in hand, so much so that a modern hymn says this:

God is love; and He enfoldeth all the world in one embrace;

With unfailing grasp He holdeth every child in every race,

And when human hearts are breaking under sorrow’s iron rod,

Then they feel that self-same aching deep within the heart of God”.

That thought sustains me and I hope it will you.

GCR

9 September 2018

Ness (suffering from a liver failure) was “put to sleep” last Sunday

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1662 and All That!

Archbishop Cranmer and his Reformation supporters had one eye on the Roman Mass (then forbidden in England, thanks to Henry VIII) and the other on the Lord’s Supper as it had progressed from the early stages I described last week.

The worship had moved from a fairly informal service, where the first part was the Preaching, Readings and Prayers to a structure where all the requisite “wordy” stuff led on to the structure we have today.

The1662 Prayer Book (that emerged from the first English Prayer Book of 1549) makes this division between what is “said” and what is “done” very clear.

Our Prayer Book envisages a service where the altar is now “The Lord’s Table” (for the Reformers didn’t like the sacrificial idea of an “altar”) and is now to be placed sideways, to which those who wished to make their Communion had to move. It is for this reason that the Prayer Book places the Confession here, half-way through the service. Presumably, the non-communicants can go home for an early lunch or, as they had done previously stay to “hear Mass” but not partaking of the Sacrament, something of which the Reformers disapproved.

Then followed the Lord’s Supper, whereas the first half had been what is “said”, we move now into the realm of what is “done”. We “Do this, in remembrance of Him”.

What, however do we mean by “Remembrance”?

The word seems to imply that we are merely joining in a kind of memorial Service, but far from it if we think what “remembering” really is.

At my age, I do lots of remembering, but it is not senile romancing about the past.

When we really “remember” the words and actions we recall, are not “going back”. Rather, we are “bringing the past into the present”, when one can even smell the smells and hear the sounds that are part of the memory.

That means, that through this action, we are bringing into our gathering Jesus who said “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”..

“Let all mortal flesh keep silence and with fear and trembling stand” and “Christ our God to earth descendeth our full homage to demand”.

At the “Breaking of the  Bread”, we bring the Upper Room of AD30 into the 21st century, so that Jesus is surely among us here in Brading, Yaverland, St. Helens and Seaview and thousands of other similar gatherings.

The Prayer Book states, the Communion was essentially a sacred meal, with Jesus among us and within us, an aspect of the Eucharist which had fallen almost into disuse.  There had grown up this practise of using the Host (Bread) as a focus for devotion, carrying it in procession, which the reformers criticised because it was in the giving and receiving of the Sacrament that Jesus is Present.

The majority of Pre-Reformation worshippers only came to the Mass to see the Host lifted up by the priest that they might worship and adore. Often windows pierced the walls to enable people to worship from outside the building.

Jesus is unequivocal when He says “Except you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you have no life in you

For centuries in the Roman Church, Communion had been given in the Bread alone; the chalice was denied to the laity but received by the priest alone and this again was alien to the words of Jesus.(John 6, vv48-58),

The Prayer Book compilers sought to restore the full nature of the Lord’s Supper that had been lost for centuries.

It was only in the 19th and 20th centuries that it regained its true place in the spiritual life of the people.

Last thoughts on this next week and thanks for being with me thus far, I hope I haven’t bored you.

GCR

2 September 2018

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How it all began ...

I want you to imagine that it is a Sunday (because then, the day started the evening before from 5 p.m.), so to us, it’s our Saturday

So, Sunday the 1st day of the week, the Day of Resurrection begins on Saturday evening, and you are a Christian slave off to worship.  Surprisingly it still does in our Church Calendar.

These meetings took place in the evening as Sunday was a working day and were usually held at one of the believers’ houses, for building Christian meeting places was illegal.

The worship started when everyone had gathered, but you are a slave and while others are awaiting your delayed arrival, they are tucking into wine and food.

You meet in secret, because you have enemies mainly among the Jewish leaders and their faithful. The persecution by the Roman invaders has not yet started, reaching its heights in the reign of Diocletion (303-311AD).

So, the meeting begins, with prayers, and singing, even members “speaking with tongues” as they are led by the Spirit Who is at the heart of all their spiritual lives.

Certainly God’s Law in the 10 Commandments would have been recited, or more probably, Jesus’ Summary of the Law, “To love God with all their minds, soul and strength and to love their neighbours as themselves”.

Something we still do today in our service.

As yet no set Prayers, no form of service, and Bible readings from the Old Testament, the only existing “scriptures”. Possibly, reading a letter (an “Epistle” from one of the Church leaders, such as St. Paul or St. James).

The earliest we have of these is either from St. James (Jesus’ brother) who took charge of the leadership of The Church or St. Paul. Scholars date these letters from 50 AD onwards. 20 years after the Resurrection.

Read St. James’ letter, obviously a plain speaker who might have been the first Christian Socialist leader in his concern for the underprivileged!

There was no “New” Testament as such, for the first Gospel (written (in Greek) was by St. Mark, circa. 65AD, and it’s worth settling down and reading at one sitting his account, for its racy style and brevity.

Until then, accounts of Jesus’ teaching and ministry were given by actual eye-witnesses (see Acts 1, vv15-end) and it was only when old age or execution ended these that it was felt essential (as the “End of all things” had not taken place as they expected) to pass on the Gospel, the word meaning “Good News”.

You will find how this Good News was spread by ordinary members. Read Acts, the earliest account of the life of the first Christians, and note too, how in their preaching they related Jesus to the prophecies of the Old Testament

It was considered that anyone who held any office in the Church needed to have been members of this early fellowship. (See Acts 1, vv15-end ).

It’s worth noting too how many lay women of The Church took an active share of this Ministry and significant that the first witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were women.(See Acts 1, v14)

Then, the Lord’s Supper began and from that time onwards, the Eucharist (Mass, Communion) fell into two sections.

The first being the Ministry of the Word, the “teaching and praying” part and the second the “doing” where the words and actions of Jesus were recited followed by the Communion of the faithful (including baptised children).

This division is clearly seen in the 1662 Communion Service, where the Confession comes immediately before the Offertory, intended only for those receiving the Sacrament.

Breathless? More to come, next week.

GCR

26 August 2018

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A Bone of Contention

What do you do, as an Anglican priest conducting a Communion service at the well-attended Methodist Church at Castle Cary? The distribution of the Sacrament was ended, but thoughtlessly I had consecrated a whole dish of “Mother’s Pride” sliced bread cut into numerous small cubes of which a good deal was left over.

The Prayer Book says that such is not to be carried out of the church, but reverently consumed by the priest, and any of the laity whom he asks to assist.

For Anglicans, after the Consecration, the bread and wine can only be disposed of reverently, by being consumed, but for Methodists it was still bread, not requiring any special reverence after the Service and so perhaps the birds were lucky!

It was the inability to reconcile these two different approaches that ended the proposals for uniting the Church of England and the Methodist churches in the 1950s.

Indeed, it was equally a bone of contention between the Roman Catholics and the new Church of England at the Reformation, for Archbishop Cranmer (with the Reformers) planned to eliminate the excesses of Rome, where the Bread and Wine became a subject for “Adoration”, the Host (the bread) being often carried in procession, or used as the focus of devotion.

The Anglican Reformers were trying to return the Mass (the Communion service) to one where the whole congregation, not just the priest would share in the bread and wine, with the intention of promoting it as a priority.

What then happens to the bread and wine when it is con-secrated by a priest?

The argument was bitter and indeed deadly, for many were executed or burnt to death between the opposing views.

The Roman Catholics maintained that the bread and wine became indeed to be the Body and Blood of Jesus and worshipped and adored and until recently, the only person who received the wine was the priest.

It was said that if a priest happened to spill a drop of wine from the chalice, he would be expected to lick it up! Such was the reverence offered to it.

When I was first ordained in 1952, the (CofE) congregation where I ministered were expected to come (fasting) to the 8 a.m. said Communion, and then to return at 11.00 for the Sung Mass at which only the priest and a few disabled or elderly folk could make their Communion.

In all this, it is interesting that the Methodists were so called for they, led by John and Charles Wesley came regularly (“methodically”) to the Lord’s Supper, whereas the average CofE member came as little as three times a year.

Until the Reformation, the laity came to be content, coming to worship at the Sung Mass, but not to receive the Sacrament!

Few know of its existence, but at the end of the Book of Common Prayer there is a whole series of definitions (the “39 Articles of religion”) as to what a priest or member of the CofE should believe and do.

Cranmer and Co. wanted to restore the Communion as a necessary service for ALL the people, (not just the priest) and this is re-affirmed by it being the only service at which a sermon is ordered. Mattins and Evensong were intended to be extra devotions for the more devout.

What happens to the bread and wine at Consecration? Frankly no one really knows despite all the arguments; it is a matter for faith and devotion.

When the first Queen Elizabeth was asked (as head of the CofE) for her opinion, she simply said: “His was the Word that spake it; He took the bread and brake it; what that Word doth make it, that I believe and take it” and so should we.

GCR

19 August 2018

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