There is a moment in the Eucharist Order of service when the priest says “Great is the mystery of faith” and it is proclaimed that “Christ will come again” and I find myself at odds with everyone else, for I always say “Christ has come again” for we are at the moment when the bread and wine by the power of the Holy Spirit (of Christ) become the Body and Blood of Jesus. The Real Presence.
A moment so important that in many churches a bell was (and still is) rung at these two moments to indicate that something wonderful has happened of great importance to the present worshippers and the entire world.
Last week we considered how Jesus promised that “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”, and if this is so, then what more wonderful than that He can be present in the Spirit and more significantly is sacramentally so under the form of Bread and Wine?
An action so simple, yet like so much regarding Jesus and His teaching can become, if we are not watchful, mundane and almost automatic rather than realising we are In the Presence of Divine Mystery.
When is the moment of Consecration?
There have been many arguments on this subject of over the past 2,000 years; some scholars suggest it is at the words of Institution “This is my Body/Blood”, but it is only complete when the final Amen is said with the congregation, so that it is not just the priest’s offering, but becomes Christ’s people sharing in the priestly act.
It appears in ancient service forms that the congregation once had a greater part in the Consecration Prayer, similar to one in Common Worship where the (Thanksgiving) Prayer involves the people.
The word “Amen” means “So be it” or “I agree”, being the only moment when the laity can share in the act of Consecration. That means that in our worship that united seal of approval and participation needs to be pronounced firmly and even, loudly.
In parentheses, it’s worth saying that congregations seem to be a bit anaemic in their “agreeing” with prayers that are said on their behalf. Paul writes (1 Corinthians 14, v16) how important it is that the priest or leader of prayer should pray in such a way that we are able to know exactly when we should say “Amen”.
Then again, another school of thought says it is not finally complete until the “Our Father” is said and Common Worship has rightly brought that prayer prior to the administration of Communion, rather than as in the 1662, Book of Common Prayer, being said afterwards as an act of thanksgiving.
So you have a choice, but it doesn’t really matter, except that He is among us when the priest recites His words of Institution, so we can say with the first Queen Elizabeth : “His was the Word that spake it, He took the Bread and brake it, and what that Word doth make it, that I believe and take it”.
One thing is clear that Jesus is not confined by forms of service for He can be present even among a small believing group, with a particularly focus when we receive Him through the Blessed Sacrament.
It may surprise some that until the Reformation believers were expected only to receive Communion very occasionally, but rather gathered on a Sunday morning to “hear” Mass and to adore the Sacrament but not to receive it!
The whole focus of the 1662 Book and the Anglican reformers was to restore the Mass (with Communion) as the central Sunday act of worship, but for many reasons that didn’t become a realty until the Anglican revival of the Victorian years.
The Eucharist has only over the past 150 years become the central act of Christian worship in the Church of England.
The glory of Christendom is the teaching of the “accessibility” of God, for we can gain personal access to the Divine without the intervention of priests or elaborate sacrifices of animals or other creatures.
However, when we come to Communion we need to prepare ourselves well for this wonderful encounter and welcome the Risen, Glorious Christ who, as in Bethlehem came (and still comes) quietly with His loving Saving Presence.
“I reckon it will be the end of the world” said an old friend to me, last Monday, considering the dire threats of calamity with global warming, which we had been discussing considering the message of Advent, the “End of all things”.
We wondered together what it would mean for our grandchildren and the legacy of disaster that they will inherit, thanks to our greed and reckless treatment of God’s world and all that is in it.
Rather than heeding the scientists’ warning, Donald Trump refuses to admit that it is going to happen and indeed has sanctioned the reopening of American coalmines that will add to the pollution.
Yes, it’s a frightening future, with the visions of disaster that readings from the Book of Revelation suggest.
Will Jesus come in clouds of glory visible to terrified mankind as He declared? When, How?
Yet, the Gospels suggest that the “Coming” (that’s what the word “Advent” means) may occur in different ways, even in our own lifetime.
Let’s consider the possibilities:
Many of us have become complacent regarding our relationship with the Almighty Father.
Of course as I was suggesting last week, Jesus came to show us the “Human face of God”, who by His Cross has bridged the gap between humanity and the divine, but that does not mean that we should not retain what the Old Testament describes as the “fear” of God.
As a youngster, I was truly afraid of God, hiding when I thought I had done something that He would find offensive and for which I would be punished,
If someone had taken me aside and suggested that I needn’t be “afraid” of God, but that I should approach Him as I would anyone who was superior to me; in other words, “Respect”, I would have felt much better.
After all, I respected my teachers, not least Mr. Bolton-King (our headmaster at Sandown Sec.), who wielded a nifty and efficiently handled cane!
So we need not be afraid, but considering His majesty and power, we need to show Him respect and come before Him in reverence.
That is something that has disappeared from much of our thinking and worship attitudes. The Psalmist says “Be still and know that I am God”.
Discussing the changes we (over 80s) had experienced during our lifetime, one subject was that then Sunday worship was an event and when we entered God’s House we should behave as if we were entering a royal palace to meet and have an audience with the Queen. Quiet and respectful.
In our worship we are approaching the King of Kings, the “Master of the Universe” and should show it by our demeanour.
Jesus is not “up there”, but this morning by the power of the Spirit, is present here in St. Mary’s as He is in any of our four parish churches.
A local priest, justifying the closure of a parish church, said that “it isn’t worth coming to a church to take a service when only 12 people attend”. I’m sure that Jesus doesn’t think so.
Obviously, that priest had not studied Matthew 19. v20 where Jesus tells us that “Where two or three are gathered together in my Name, there am I in the midst of them”.
Our service may begin “The Lord is here!” to which we reply “His Spirit is with us”, but do we really believe it and are in a state of quiet anticipation?
It was said of the Apostles (Acts 4, v13) that they were inspired, because they “Had been with Jesus”; when we go out to the world would people say the same of us this morning?
No, you don’t have to be dead to meet with Jesus, but if we can’t approach our worship with anticipation, it may be because we are spiritually so.
Watching a documentary last Sunday evening on “The rise of the Roman Catholic Church”, I couldn’t help wondering what Jesus, born in a stable to obviously poor parents, or His disciples, together a homeless wondering band, makes of the vast enterprise that has arisen from a group of “Nobodies”?
Watching, it was clear that there was little relationship between the Church of St. Peter, St. Paul and the other early apostles and the slick business-like organisation, not only of the Roman Catholic Church, but even of our own Church of England.
What is obvious, is that both are built upon secular organisations, which as far as the CofE is concerned has at its head a competent business man.
Each (and indeed, the other Christian Denominations) have within them the elements of “business”, with a constructed hierarchy, each with their honorific titles.
We view the Roman Catholic set-up, with concern, where the Pope is titled “The Vicar of Christ”, whose authority is absolute, defining what Christians should believe for salvation. He is supported by a vast pyramid of officials (all with honorific titles), of which the local base is the parish priest and congregation, and above it all is God, the Managing Director.
This won’t do, for the whole of Jesus’ Mission was devoted to defining our relationship with Him whom we are to address as “Our Father”. Such a close relationship that Jesus can not only address God as “Abba” (a term of endearment similar to “Daddy”), but that “every hair on your head is numbered”, implying that our relationship with the “Master of the Universe” is one of “freedom” where we can individually have access to the Godhead without the intervention of a priest.
When we see Jesus in action, we are also glimpsing the “openness” of the Father, for He sits down feasting with a crowd of folk who could by no means be considered “desirable” members of Society, but treating everyone with concern and courtesy.
Between 2016 and 2017, I spent more than 6 months in St. Mary’s Hospital (knees with infected bones) and throughout that whole period, we never saw the Chief Executive on the wards, so that he had no personal relationship with the staff or knowledge of the problems they encountered.
This is the common and understandable complaint regarding our leaders. Many MPs and certainly prominent politicians seem to have no idea how ordinary people live and what are their needs, hopes and aspirations.
To some extent this can be said of our Church leaders; it is fine for Diocesan “experts” to draw up wonderful plans, some without prior consultation with the parishioners and those most affected.
However, when you consider the multitude of people who inhabit this small planet, you may ask how God can possibly fulfil this role to be close to His Creation and particularly what we consider His highest creation, humanity itself?
This is where our vision of God is too small; when we consider the vast, unimaginable Universe with its reliable order, there is no way that we can begin to understand the immensity of the Godhead.
To enter our world and our lives, it is clear that God had to come in recognisable form, as a human being and living among us, chose the most humble of families to whom to be born.
if God came among us with all His Glory, we would be unable to approach Him; as the son of a village carpenter who mixed with every level of Society, He demonstrated that we are equally valuable to our heavenly Father, no matter who or what we are.
“For the love of God is broader than the measure of man’s mind and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind.
If our love were but more simple, we should take Him at His Word; and our lives would be all sunshine in the sweetness of Our Lord.” (Faber)
Not an unapproachable despot, but a loving, forgiving Father and friend to whom we can be joined in love.
When I tell you I have always turned my sock tops down since 1950, you are bound to ask, “What was that all about?”
Quite simply, when I entered Cheshunt College there were sharp (but friendly) divisions between “High” and “Low” students, but you knew exactly what other students’ ecclesiastical position was. You simply had to look at their socks! I haven’t got out of that silly student habit, even now.
The “Low tendency”, pulled their socks up (when ordained they mostly favoured high clerical collars too).
Stupid, and one might have expected such silliness from fresh-out-of “Uni” young men, but most of us were “mature” in age, if not in behaviour; trying to regain our lost “teen-age” years.
Read some of Isaiah, and you find there what God thinks about fussy ceremonies and ecclesiastical correctness. Jesus, obviously thought the same, particularly concerning religious ceremonies that were meaningless and unacceptable without the social commitment.
The prophet tells us that God didn’t want the sacrifice of countless creatures (including people’s children) to demonstrate His importance, but rather that we look after the under-privileged people around, feed the hungry, support the poor and widows, house the homeless and welcome the “strangers” (immigrants).
Many outsiders regard The Church (of all denominations) as insincere for they see that often theChristian Churches are divided, and wonder where the Christian love is.
It is possible, as many Christians do, to imagine that their denomination’s image of God is the only true one, fitting into their particular box.
The Roman Catholics are sure that God favours them, barring everyone else from receiving Communion at their Masses, because only the Pope and those owing allegiance to him are true successors to St. Peter, the first Pope (or Bishop of Rome).
People are able to accept their (often sentimental) idea of Jesus Christ, but when faced with each denomination claiming to be the only “right” one, they walk away in bewilderment.
Isn’t it time that we realise that if Disunity is hindering The Church’s Mission, then we should ensure that it isn’t just prejudice or bigotry causing the divisions, for sadly often it is.
As a staunch High Churchman, for two years, between 1989 and 2001 I ministered regularly to Methodists in Somerset and found some of their views refreshing, quite happy with my Anglican robes and the way I conducted their services.
In some ways I thought that many Methodists approached their Communions more reverently than some of our own Anglican folk.
The truth is that God is not a good Roman Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Baptist, or whatever; where, when and how we worship is irrelevant, provided we are carrying out the specific commands of our Saviour, and worshipping in Spirit and in Truth. He is too big for us to think otherwise..
Reading the elaborate sacrificial worship of the Old Testament, all we need for Christian worship is a loaf of bread, a cup of wine and lives dedicated to service of God and neighbour.
We may add other elements to enhance our worship, but all that is truly necessary is for us to love God and our neighbour, for He is too big for us to contain Him in our neat, denominational boxes.
18 November 2018
St, Mary’s: Underneath the Food Bank box there is a container in which you are invited to place resalable items for the Island charity AbilityDogs4YoungPeople” training assistant dogs for disabled young; they will welcome Ink cartridges, stamps, milk bottle tops-mobile phones, shoes, clothes and bags,
They died, convinced that they were laying the foundation of a new World Order, when there would be peace, prosperity and freedom.
They couldn’t have imagined that 100 years later, Schoolboys would be stabbing others to death, or someone would put a lighted firework in a rough sleeper’s pocket regardless of the consequences? Reported last Tuesday.
Or, that people would still be homeless, abused, or ostracised because of the colour of their skin or their nationality?
Looking at modern British Society we cannot feel comfortable, that with all our words and ceremonies their hoped-for memorial after 2 World wars doesn’t sit comfortably with the world our children and grandchildren are inheriting.
Where have we gone wrong?
Simply, because we have failed to love and proclaim the Christian Gospel
You will say, “That’s what any parson would say” and I do, because looking at the teachings of Jesus and God’s Word through the Old Testament prophets, it is obvious that “Loving God and our neighbour” is the only way of life that can bring peace to ourselves as individuals and as a nation.
Sadly, the Great War had a negative impact on churchgoers afterwards; there was a loss of faith in a good and loving God, the difficulty that both Britains and Germans worshipped the same God and prayed to Him for victory.
The Church was unable to deal with these feelings and when you consider how heartily our clergy (including Bishops) acted as recruiting agents for the forces in the Great War, some of their religion seemed hypocritical, to say the least.
The aftermath of war led to a relaxing of morality in many ways, and “a good time” was the object of those who had the money to do so.
Towards the end of the last war, in 1943-4, a report was produced of great importance, for it presented a comprehensive guide to “Evangelism”, with many ideas which had they been taken on board with enthusiasm by the clergy, would have prepared The Church to deal with the many spiritual and practical problems that would arise.
This report, entitled “Towards the Conversion of England” (One shilling!), sponsored by the then Archbishop, William Temple (a great Evangelist) was almost entirely neglected by Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher (Temple died in 1944), who had never been a parish priest and spent nearly 20 post-war years creating a new set of rules (Canon Law). The “Conversion of England” took a back seat, only to be read and implemented by a minority of parish clergy (including me), who were able to transform their parishes as a result.
The congregations are decreasing almost everywhere and The Church (especially the Church of England) has an especial responsibility, for much of the morality (or lack of it) we deplore today stems from complete ignorance of what Christianity really is all about.
The majority have only vague ideas about the faith and especially, their knowledge of Jesus. The populace have got little further than thinking He was a nice gentle man who never upset anyone and who is irrelevant to the technological world of today.
The Diocese talks about spending some 9 million pounds on gearing up the parishes for this task; it’s not a question of money, but imagination, true faith and to allow the Holy Spirit to be an agent of Change (however much we may find that difficult!). We really are “All in it together”!
11 November 2018
St, Mary’s: Underneath the Food Bank box there is a container in which you are invited to place resalable items for the Island charity AbilityDogs4YoungPeople” training assistant dogs for disabled young; they will welcome Ink cartridges, stamps, milk bottle tops-mobile phones, shoes, clothes and bags.