Tag Archives: Lord’s Supper

A God who laments

I had already written this sermon on Lament before the horror of Christchurch on Friday. We heard the statement from the President of the Uniting Church and prayed together; but I left the sermon unchanged apart from one small paragraph.

Reading
Luke 13.31–35

Lament is a complex language of complaint, protest, and appeal directed to God. At times, lament may be subdued in tone as a poet wrestles with trouble; at other times, lament may be as loud and vigorous as any praise song.… laments share one commonality: deep faith in God in the midst of pain. — Glenn Pemberton, Hurting with God, p.30

…the merciful humility of God [is] the most powerful force imaginable. — Jane Williams, The Merciful Humility of God.

______________________

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem. He’s already told the disciples why, though they will not listen:

Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into human hands. But they did not understand this saying… (Luke 9.44–45a)

Jesus is going to the last great confrontation with the powers that be, a confrontation that ends with his death. 

In his mind’s eye Jesus sees Jerusalem, and he laments over the city: 

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

We can say that a lament is a faithful expression of grief. In lament, we ask for God’s help. We know things should be different, we want God’s justice. We may even accuse God, like the Psalm 77 (verses 8–10): 

Has [God’s] steadfast love ceased forever?
Are his promises at an end for all time?
Has God forgotten to be gracious?
Has he in anger shut up his compassion?

And I say, ‘It is my grief
that the right hand of the Most High
  has changed.’

Here, Jesus is continuing this tradition of lament. He is pouring his heart out to God. Why does Jerusalem, the home of God’s great Temple, turn its back on God’s prophets? 

Jesus wants to embrace the people of Jerusalem as a mother hen embraces her chicks under her wings. In this queer imagery, Jesus shows what is in his heart: it is the salvation of Jerusalem. Jesus loves the people as a mother loves her children. 

And Jesus will do whatever is needed to protect her children. 

Jesus laments for Jerusalem. Jesus grieves, all the more so because Jesus knows just what Jerusalem needs: to welcome God into their midst. 

Anyone who laments is aware of their powerlessness. We have grieved over the boys and girls who suffered abuse at the hands of ministers and priests, and not only in the Catholic Church. We have grieved the choice of the special conference of the United Methodist Church in the USA to turn its back on its queer members. We have grieved because we care for the people involved; because we want a safe church; because we want an inclusive church; because we are powerless to bring it about ourselves. 

Most recently, we have grieved over the horror of Muslim believers killed while at prayer in Christchurch. We have asked ‘How long, O God?’

Jesus laments—but what about God? Does God lament? But surely God is almighty, not powerless? Couldn’t almighty God just fix things like *that*? And if God can fix everything but doesn’t, what good is God? 

What do you think about that?

I ask this question about God because the New Testament says things like this about the risen Jesus:

…the full content of divine nature lives in Christ, in his humanity… (Colossians 2.9 GNB)

Christ ‘is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being…’ (Hebrews 1.3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.… And the Word became flesh and lived among us… (John 1.1, 14)

In Jesus, in his humanity, we are met by ‘the full content of divine nature’. Do you want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. ‘Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. Why, then, do you say, “Show us the Father”?’ (John 14.9)

So, that question again: Jesus laments—but what about God? Does God lament? 

There are plenty of people with a pagan idea of the Christian God: that is, the central thing about God is that God is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing. Oh, apart from that, and reassuringly, God does love us.

Yet perhaps the most profound statement about God in the scriptures is found in 1 John 4.16: ‘God is love’. 

That’s the first thing and the last thing we should ever say about God. Can God do anything? No! God cannot act against God’s nature. God is love—God cannot be unloving. 

So the way forward for Jesus is the way of love. Not to gather an army together. Not to plot and scheme. The Way of Jesus is the Way of Self-giving Love. 

So Jesus laments, and in Jesus God laments too. Is God almighty? Yes, if we are talking about the love of God. God is almighty in love, but love waits, loves serves, love gives and gives again to the beloved. And we, dear friends, are God’s beloved. 

A lot of people who say to me they can’t believe in God mean that pagan God, the all-powerful being who can slay, and punish, and put people in hell for eternity. Some parts of the Bible talk that way, but we see God in and through Jesus Christ. 

And anyway, I don’t believe in that pagan God either. 

The clear image of God our faith gives us is Jesus Christ. In him ‘the full content of divine nature lives…in his humanity’. 

We see God in the humanity of Jesus Christ. A God who loves to the end, who laments when God’s beloved turn away. A justice-bringing God, but only by the narrow way, the Way of self-giving love, the Way of the cross. 

One more thing to add, and it’s the end of Jesus’ lament. Jesus cries out,

I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ Do you recognise that? We sing it every week: 

Blessed is the One who comes
  in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.

We welcome Jesus as he comes to us in the Holy Meal of the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion. 

Jesus (and we) are quoting Psalm 118.26:

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.

This psalm was a thanksgiving for a returning hero. But Jesus turns it upside down. When he comes to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, people are shouting these words; but Jesus is coming on a donkey, not a war horse. He is coming to the cross, which is the only throne he gets. He comes in peace. 

When we sing these words in church, we welcome Jesus into our hearts, we prepare to receive him in bread and wine. Not as a hero, but as the very love of God made flesh. We commit ourselves to follow his Way of self-giving love. 

And yes, we often grieve for the world that turns its back on the ways of peace, the ways of love, the Way of Christ. And we lament, keeping our hope in God, whose ‘almightiness’ is the Way of Jesus. Amen. 

 

West End Uniting Church, 17 March 2019

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Which meal, Jesus’ or Herod’s? (Year A, 3 August 2014)

Readings
Isaiah 55.1–5
Matthew 14.13–21

Reading the Bible with the eyes of the poor is a different thing from reading it with the eyes of the [one] with a full belly. If it is read in the light of the experiences and hopes of the oppressed, the Bible’s revolutionary themes — promise, exodus, resurrection and Spirit — come alive. The way in which the history of Israel and the history of Christ blend with that of the hungry and oppressed is quite different from the way in which they have often been linked with the history of the mighty and rich.

Jürgen Moltmann,
The Church in the Power of the Spirit

When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.

Hélder Câmara,
Dom Helder Camara: Essential Writings

 

The first half of Matthew 14 is a tale of two meals. One is obvious; one is not. Let’s start with the obvious meal, the Feeding of the Multitude.

There are thousands of people in the wilderness. They have come to be where Jesus is. Perhaps we’re like those people, confused about things, wondering if everything will be ok, if we’re stuck in the wilderness, but — we’ve come to be where Jesus is.

Some of us saw the Judean wilderness last year. I wouldn’t like to be out there at night with nothing to eat. It’s not surprising that the disciples came to ask Jesus to send them away so they could find food.

What is surprising is Jesus’ answer: ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’

They know what they’ve got. Five loaves, two fish. It’s not enough. They are living out of a sense of not having enough, a sense of insufficiency, a sense of not-enough-ness. Jesus wants to teach them — and us — to live out of a sense of being enough with Jesus.

Jesus made that small amount feed the multitude. People often get hung up on the ‘how’ question: Is this a creation miracle, did Jesus the living Word of God create enough bread and fish for the crowd? Is it a miracle of sharing, that people brought out the food they’d hidden from others in case they wouldn’t have enough? Is it more a parable in story form?

People come down in different places on the How questions, but these questions don’t matter as much as this: Jesus takes what little we have and multiplies it to feed many others, even to feed people we don’t know and will never meet.  Continue reading

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Bread of Life 3: You are what you eat—Sunday 20, Year B (19 August 2012)

Reading
John 6.51-58

 

Almost 2000 years ago, people had some very strange ideas about what went on in Christian worship.

This tirade against the Christians comes from a book written by a Christian in the second century AD. It’s called The Octavius of Minucius Felix (chapter 9):

And now as the world grows more wicked, your abominable shrines are sprouting up throughout the whole world. This entire impious confederacy should be rooted out and destroyed! You know one another by secret marks and insignia. You love one another almost before you know one another. Yours is a religion of lust. You promiscuously call one another brothers and sisters. You apparently do this so that your debaucheries will take on the flavour of incest.

Your vain and senseless superstition revels in wickedness. I would apologise for passing on the reports I hear about you if I weren’t so certain that they are true…

…The stories of your initiation rites are as detestable as they are well known. Your priests place an infant covered with flour in front of the new convert. Then they tell the convert to strike the harmless-looking lump of flour with deadly blows. Thereby the convert innocently slays the infant and is initiated into your horrors. The Christians present then lick up the infant’s blood and divide its limbs among themselves to eat. They are united by this unholy meal, since they are bound to mutual silence because of their wickedness. Your sacred rites are more vile than any imagined sacrilege.

All I’ll say is that Uniting Church Communion services aren’t very much like that! Continue reading

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Bread of Life (2): fill up on bread—Sunday 19, Year B (12 August, 2012)

Reading
John 6.35, 41-51
Note: I enjoyed dipping into 52 Loaves by William Alexander as I prepared this sermon.

 

I can still remember my mother’s wonderful words to me: ‘Fill up on bread!’

She said these words to me often, as I frequently complained that I was still hungry after dinner was finished.

Fill up on bread. I didn’t like a lot of the bread I was given to fill up on though.

I do like good white bread—crusty loaves from the bakery are great—but the white bread I knew as a child was pretty insipid. You know, that tasteless, stick-to-the-roof-of-the-mouth white fluff that has passed for ‘bread’ since before I was born.

That was the only white bread I knew in my childhood, so it’s not surprising that I always preferred brown bread to this so-called bread.

I’m not the only one who thinks a lot of bread tastes awful. The American celebrity cook Julia Child once said,

How can a country be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex? Continue reading

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A Very Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Uniting in Worship 2 contains ‘A Short Guide to the Service of the Lord’s Day’. The Working Group on Worship simplified it at our meeting last week, and offers it on the website. I’m putting it here too:

A VERY SHORT GUIDE

to the Service of the Lord’s Day

Introduction

When we cross the threshold into a service of worship, we bring with us the concerns and joys of our lives. In other words, we bring the concerns and joys of the mission field in which we live. The Sunday service does not provide ‘time out’ from our daily mission; liturgy and mission are integrally related. ’Liturgy’[1] is our graced response to God’s gracious acts. It is best to think of liturgy as the work of God in which God graciously enables us to share. Through it we are brought into relationship with the triune God and we offer worship as the body of Christ in the Holy Spirit.

In worship, we speak to God in a direct way in praise and adoration, confession and lament, intercession and thanksgiving. It is the primary speech of the community to God, rather than speech about God, the secondary speech of reflection and discussion. It is also God’s speech to us – for example, in the word of grace at the declaration of forgiveness, in the proclamation of the Scriptures, in the blessing that rings in our ears as we leave. The speech of worship is nonverbal as well as verbal, including such things as gesture and movement, colour and sacrament, silence and music.

The nature of worship gives rise to the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day, just as the shape of the Service of the Lord’s Day helps us to appreciate the nature of worship. Knowing the structure of worship gives space for creativity.

The liturgy should give expression to the life of a local worshipping community. It may be enhanced by such things as drama, dance, the visual arts, music and the use of multimedia. A whole congregation may be involved e.g., through the use of percussive music and/or movement. Readings and prayers may be offered by more than one voice. Creative presentations may be helpful; they should be well-prepared and thoughtful. They should be a vehicle for the worship of the people, rather than a performance. Participatory worship is always the guiding principle; the congregation is not an audience.

The ministry of the leadership of worship is crucial; the leaders simultaneously lead the people in worship and worship as part of the body of Christ.

The Service of the Lord’s Day

The Service of the Lord’s Day has four parts, which could be briefly characterised as: gathering, hearing, being fed and being sent.

The Gathering of the People of God/Gathering as God’s People

The leader greets the people in God’s name, and calls them to worship. Here, we cross a threshold – we move into a sacred space, and a sacred time, a space and time ‘set apart’ for the purpose of communal praise.

At this point, we pray in particular ways. Some of these ways may include:

• asking for God to be present with us in a prayer of invocation;

• praising and adoring God for being God in a prayer of adoration;

• confessing our sins in a prayer of confession, and hearing the declaration of forgiveness;

• pouring out our hearts to God in a prayer of lament.

This is honest conversation with God; God’s greatness and God’s care for us bring our response into being. In worship, we are formed as a people of faith, receiving our identity as people who call for God to come to their aid; who praise God in adoration; who confess their sins to the God of mercy and grace; who cry out to God for justice.

The Service of the Word/Receiving God’s Word

People are shaped by story, by narrative. When we want to get to know a person, we listen to their story. When we hear stories again and again, we are shaped and re-shaped as the stories are told and re-told. As Christian people we are shaped by the story of Jesus, the Incarnate Word; the story of God’s dealings with Israel; and the story of God’s people through history. As we hear this story, we are formed by an alternative perspective on life – the perspective of the gospel.

The story is told through proclamation of the gospel. This includes a reading or an alternative presentation of the Scriptures, preaching or another form of reflection on Scripture; it may also include drama/movement, symbolic action, art, multimedia resources, and silence. We hear Jesus Christ, the Incarnate Word of God, in the ‘unique prophetic and apostolic testimony’ of the Scriptures (Basis of Union, 5).

Hearing the story requires a response, for it is God’s Word addressing us. The immediate response is often one such as ‘In this is the Word of the Lord/Thanks be to God’. Yet the response does not end here. It can take various forms, such as a time of silent reflection or some form of action. It may continue in saying together the Nicene Creed or another statement of faith, which is a corporate re-telling of the story. It also includes making an offering (of ourselves, our gifts, our money, and our prayers for others); and the notices and concerns of the community.

The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper/Celebrating the Lord’s Supper

Baptised into Christ in his death and resurrection, we are invited to share in the meal of thanksgiving. An invitation to the Lord’s table is given. This invitation requires pastoral sensitivity; all baptised Christians are welcome to share the meal, but not all may be permitted by the laws of their Church to receive communion with the Uniting Church. This needs to be respected as we continue to pursue the unity to which Christ calls us.

The various names given to this meal by our traditions show something of its meaning: it is the Lord’s Supper, instituted by Christ on the night of his betrayal; it is the Holy Communion, a sacrament of union between Christ and believers, and of the union of the believers themselves; it is the Eucharist, from the Greek word meaning ‘thanksgiving’. Indeed, its primary note is thanksgiving – honouring God for all that God is, and giving thanks for all that God has done in the work of creation and salvation.

We use bread and wine which are the work of human hands. More than this, they are the gifts of God for us in the sacrament. They are the signs of God’s work for our salvation in Jesus Christ. They are most fitting for the purpose when they are used boldly: a single loaf of bread and a common cup are most appropriate. After the service, what remains of the elements should be consumed or otherwise reverently disposed of. Respect for these means of grace, as well as sensitivity to our ecumenical sisters and brothers, require this care.

The centrepiece of this part of the liturgy is The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving. The origins of this central Christian prayer lie in Jewish prayer at Passover and in the grace at every meal. Jesus built on these at the Last Supper. Our present sacrament also derives meaning from other meals hosted by Jesus – e.g. after the resurrection at Emmaus (Luke 24), or by the seashore (John 21). Its essence is thanksgiving to God for the mighty acts of God. It is a ‘Great’ Prayer because it is the expression of all the gifts of God for our salvation, above all in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is important that the significance of the prayer is not diminished, and that it is offered prayerfully.

Here, we remember Christ; indeed, we are ‘re-membered’ in Christ, ‘re-joined’ to him as he is present with us in the action of this meal.[2] We are ‘re-called’ to the presence of Christ in our midst. This meal anticipates and makes real the reign of Christ; in sharing it we are reconciled to one another. This part of the liturgy often begins with the greeting of peace. This action is about being reconciled in Christ, and with one another in Christ, rather than exchanging a personal greeting.

We tell the narrative of the institution of the Sacrament at the Last Supper by Jesus, whether in The Great Prayer of Thanksgiving, or before it; this is part of the story that shapes us as a people of Christ.

We invoke the Holy Spirit,[3] that the bread and wine may be the body and blood of Christ for us, and that we may have a deepened awareness of and participation in the reign of Christ. As we pray for the fullness of the Spirit, the hope of the full reconciliation of all creation with God is enacted.

Having given thanks, we break the bread and lift the cup and share the meal as the community of Christ.

The Prayer after Communion has similarities to a grace after a meal; it is also a self-offering, and a prayer that God will continue the blessing.

The Sending Forth of the People of God/Being Sent on God’s Mission

Having heard the word and shared the meal together, we are sent forth on mission; we are again on a threshold. We typically sing a hymn/song of mission. The act of singing helps to confirm our identity as a community.

The leader gives a blessing to the people in the name of the triune God; this is a blessing for the next stage of the journey, a proclamation of the Word of God, an assurance that God’s promises are always made new.

This part of the liturgy encourages us to continue the worship of God in our witness and service; in the words of the Iona Community, we see that ‘worship and work are one’; or as the Eastern Orthodox tradition has expressed it, we go to ‘the liturgy beyond the Liturgy’. We go in peace to love and serve the Lord in the name of Christ.


[1] ‘Liturgy’ (Greek leitourgia) literally means ‘the work of the people’, which was understood to be public service to God.

[2] The Greek term for this ‘remembrance’ is anamnesis.

[3] This ‘invoking of the Spirit’ is the epiclesis in Greek.

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