A few years ago I had the opportunity to hear a short talk given by of our forces Chaplains who had served a couple of terms in Afghanistan. He told my colleagues and I about his ministry and showed us some of the kit that he used. Among the items he showed us was a small card… which he said was `probably the shortest service of Holy Communion we were ever likely to see….`
He made light of it at the time but the more serious point was that this short opportunity for the men to receive communion actually took place in the corridor outside the barracks briefing room. Having been assigned their duties, those who wished, would pause for a few moments before going to the kit room and leaving on patrol. This is just another and for me, quite moving example, of the multitude of different contexts in which this meal we share tonight is observed by Christians. In homes, in hospitals and prisons… In great Cathedrals; small country churches ……here in bread and wine is Jesus….the centre of our common life…..
As we heard a few moments ago it all began on that night Christ was betrayed and it has continued ever since. In obedience to his command we gather… wherever we are …. and `do this in remembrance` of him. But how are we to understand this rite which is at the heart of who we are?
Well, in one sense we can`t. It`s like trying to define a kiss…. I mean, `The pressing together of lips with the mutual exchange of microbes` really doesn`t cut it, does it? And neither do the multitude of explanations of what`s happening here at this table. Like many things about our faith; often the best thing to do is to shut up and simply gaze….. But background thoughts can help; and an attitude of anticipation can help.
So the first thing we might note is that this is a Passover. In other words you won`t get very far unless you remember something of the story that lies behind this meal. It`s all about what God did in liberating his people from slavery… leading them through the wilderness and forming them into a people for his own This if you will, is the spine of what happens here tonight. So, to speak of this as making MY communion, as has often been the fashion is really only a partial truth… and one which leads to serious misunderstanding.
Because, as I say gathering at this table reminds us that we are one of a people. We have a history with the God of Israel… a turbulent and disobedient one; yes, that`s true…. But we are gathered here… this is not our doing.
But what IS he doing?… well in technical jargon he is` making Covenant with us`. God is binding us to himself. He`s assuring us that despite our wanderings and disobedience he continues to call us and nurture us. And again, the initiative is always his. This is by invitation only…You see we have grown accustomed to talking about religious activities as something we do `when we feel the need`…. And this implies, doesn`t it, that there can ever be a moment when we are the prime mover; and as if there is some time when we are not in need of the sustaining word…. and the guiding presence of the Father. How vain we are….
And in binding us to himself… he`s binding us to one another. The fellowship we share at this table goes far beyond the social categories we so assiduously cling to. This after all, is what got Jesus into such hot water… He was celebrating table fellowship with `all the wrong people`. You see we easily forget how subversive it is to sit around the table with Jesus of Nazereth. This meal is about inclusion….. you don`t get to choose who you sit with…
And Christ is creating a people, not so that we can sit around and congratulate ourselves on how nice it is to be together. He`s creating a people… for the good of the world. This is the point Jesus makes in tonight`s Gospel when he says, “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many”. (Mark 14.24)
The fact that (with our manifest differences, backgrounds and disagreements) we can work at and work out what it means to be `community` is part of God`s way of re-creating the world.. Our gathering is `mission` made physical; made visible… our gathering is a foretaste of God`s Kingdom… the way he wants the world to be.
And then, this meal is also about freedom and rescue. It`s a remembering of the first Passover rescue…. A remembering of the rescue of the Cross… a remembering which invites us to a leap of the imagination. I mean, this is how the Passover works… the people of Israel are told in no uncertain terms… it`s not just the people of old who receive the blessings of God`s freedom… It`s YOU in the here and Now. God`s freedom is made manifest `in the here and now`.
It`s become fashionable to coin the phrase “It does what it says on the tin“. Well, listen to the words of Jesus: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. (John 6.54-56)
And this meal is also `bread for the journey…` Just as the Lord sustained his people with Manna in the wilderness… so he sustains us. It`s the source of our life and strength. It`s a rite of great intimacy… of Communion…. Jesus said, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing”. (John 15.5) Again the encounter is linked to the mission… the being light and life for the world.
And this meal is a revelation of God`s love….. It points to the cross. As we hear Jesus words… “This is my body.. This is my blood of the Covenant” we see that this is what it costs to bring together disobedient and vain souls such as us. This is what it costs to begin recreating a world…. And the gazing shapes us.
The command, “Do this in remembrance of me” goes beyond the call to hold a particular religious rite. ”Do this” means offer yourself in the same manner… allow your life to be shaped by this rite; this manner of self-giving. It`s often been observed that Jesus did four things. He took (the) bread, and (he) blessed it, he broke it, (and) gave it. This is what Jesus did with his life for us and the good of the world…. We pray the grace to do the same.