Acts 2:42-47; Luke 22:13-20
St Barbara’s 26.03.2023
Rev Tulo Raistrick
Over the last few weeks during our sermons we have been looking at the liturgy, the words written in our service books that we say each week. Today we have arrived at the communion or Eucharistic prayer, the prayers that are always said prior to us receiving communion.
Communion, alongside baptism, is one of the few things that Jesus explicitly instructed his followers to do after he had gone, and is his only instruction regarding worship. If his followers were to do anything, it was to break bread and remember him.
Today and next Sunday we are going to be thinking through what communion means and why it is so important, and to do so we are going to think about it in three different time-frames:
- The Past: remembering what God in Christ has done in the past
- The Present: experiencing Christ’s presence with us in the here and now; and
- The Future: looking forward to the coming of God’s kingdom in the time to come.
The words we say and pray as we prepare to receive communion express these three different facets, and today we are going to focus on the past and future.
When we participate in communion we are remembering a past event, or indeed, a number of past events. Most obviously we are remembering the events of the Last Supper, the meal Jesus had with the disciples on the last evening before the crucifixion. We are reminded of that meal in the Gospel reading we heard. One of the things we do each Sunday is to place ourselves back into the events of that meal. So as part of our Eucharistic Prayer, I will say the words: “On the night before Christ died he had supper with his friends, and taking bread, he praised you.” We are deliberately and intentionally reminding ourselves of the events of that last meal. Indeed we use Jesus’ very words: “Take, eat; this is my body which is given for you… this is my blood which is shed for you.. do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.”
Two things to say about that. Firstly, we use very similar words every week. When stories are read to young children, often a book becomes a favourite that ends up getting re-read again and again.. For us, as for many, when our children were growing up one of those was The Gruffalo – I can still recite the book almost word for word, “A mouse took a stroll through the deep, dark wood. A fox saw the mouse, and the mouse looked good.” Familiar words said or heard regularly become part of us. They shape us. Maybe less the Gruffalo, but certainly words such as the Lord’s Prayer. When we say the words of the communion prayer each week, they begin to take root, transforming us.
Secondly, we are invited to re-enter the story. The word Luke uses for “Do this in remembrance of me” could also be translated “Do this, experiencing anew my presence”. We are invited to step into the story, to imagine that we are there with the disciples in that upper room, that Jesus is speaking directly to us. It may help us to appreciate again the depth of his sacrifice, the vastness of his love, that led him to die for us. With all the focus and attention we can give, we are remembering and re-experiencing that meal.
And that meal was indeed remembering another meal, the Passover. Just as we remember, 2000 years on, the Last Supper, so Jesus and his disciples were remembering another meal that had been celebrated for a 1000 years before them. One of the most central stories in the whole of the Old Testament is the people of Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt. Indeed we referred to it in one of the prayers over the water in the baptism part of our service when we prayed “through the waters of the Red Sea you led your people out of slavery to freedom in the Promised Land.” Its a story that the Jewish people returned to every year, remembering in a meal how they had to eat flat, unleavened bread, because in their haste to flee they had no time to wait for the bread to rise. The Passover meal was a special way of reminding them of how much God loved them and how he had set them free. In eating the meal they re-entered once again the story of God’s liberation.
Jesus takes the meaning and symbolism of that meal and turns it on its head, focusing the act of remembrance on himself. So he doesn’t take the bread and say: “Eat this, remembering the time when God helped us escape Egypt”, but instead he says: “This bread is my body; eat it remembering me and the freedom I will win for you.” In the same way, he takes the cup and focuses it on himself: “This is the cup of the new covenant, the new start, that I will make possible for all people through my sacrifice.”
Christ has become the Passover lamb, the sacrifice by which all of us may be saved. Its why we will say after Easter as part of our communion prayers, “Christ our passover is sacrificed for us” and why we will often sing, “Lamb of God, have mercy on us”. Communion takes us back to Christ’s life-giving sacrifice, to the giving up of his own life that we might know God’s forgiveness. Communion is a reminder, lest we ever forget, of God’s immeasurable, unlimited, infinite love for each of us.
But communion also takes us forward. This is not just a reminder of a past historical event, no matter how significant and world-changing that is. It is also a foretaste of the future. Posh restaurants I am told will offer a taster menu – rather than a full meal they will offer small tasters of a huge range of different courses. What you eat gives you a real sense of excitement and anticipation of what is to come in ordering the full meal. If this is how good one little taste is, how much better will be the full meal!
Well, communion, the meal of bread and wine that Jesus gives us, acts like that. It is a taster, a foretaste, of what is to come. We often say the words at communion, “Look with favour on your people, gather us in your loving arms, and bring us with all the saints to feast at your table in heaven.” One day, we will sit down at a banquet in heaven, to rejoice with all the saints, in the glory of God. What we experience today is a tiny foretaste of that heavenly banquet.
Communion looks forward not just to that feast, but to the coming of God’s kingdom, that Jesus talked about at the last supper. And so we will often pray, “help us to work together for that day when your kingdom comes and justice and mercy will be seen in all the earth.” We will “proclaim his death and resurrection until he comes in glory”
Communion roots us in all that God has done for us through Christ in the past. It also envisions us with hope and desire for all that God will do in the future through the coming of his kingdom. And, as we will see next week, it helps us to experience Christ present with us now, today. For all of us, what more can we desire, than to know the love of God – past, present and future.