Since Christianity began, Holy Communion, Eucharist or the Mass, whatever word you prefer to use, has been central to Christian worship. We know from the Acts of the Apostles that the earliest followers of Jesus regularly met to share bread whilst the earliest available liturgies -the liturgy of St. James for example – make it very clear that the early church believed that Jesus really was present with them in the Eucharist.

I too believe that Jesus really is present with us when we take bread and wine together as our communal meal. I can’t really express how strongly I believe this.

                                       

The Eucharistic prayer starts off by proclaiming the real presence of Jesus: ‘The Lord is here,’ followed by ‘His Spirit is with us.’ These aren’t just words included to pad out the liturgy; they are statements of faith. And if they are statements of truth – ‘the Lord is here’ – surely it is right that our fit and proper response should be to ‘lift up our hearts?’

And, if Jesus is with us, touching us and feeding us, surely it can only be correct to accept the possibility that we may be transformed through the simple act of sharing in and receiving bread and wine? Of course if we aren’t open at least to the possibility then all we are left with is an empty, as opposed to a living, ritual.

 

In the Eucharist we look simultaneously in two directions; back into Scripture to the Last Supper and the post resurrection meal encounters and, forwards to the eternal banquet. Again in the Eucharistic prayer it is made clear that we are joined in our earthly communion by the ‘angels, archangels and all the company of heaven.’ Holy Communion, the Eucharist, the Mass isn’t just about the here and now with all its trials and tribulations; it is also about drawing us into a bigger story, the eternal story. That’s why we proclaim ‘great is the mystery of faith.’

But why would Jesus want to feed us? For sure to remind us of our eternal destiny but also so that when the feast has ended we are equipped to ‘go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’

 

At the Eucharist, if we allow it, something amazing happens. We are received, fed, blessed and equipped to live the Christian life. That’s the power of the Eucharist. That’s why St Paul was so keen to stress the importance of handing on the tradition that he had received.  That’s why I am so committed to sacramental worship.

So as we share in the Eucharist lets express our wonder that Jesus is still to this day making himself known to us in bread and wine, feeding us to keep telling the Jesus story in word and deed.

 

Amen.

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

Does anyone here have a favourite actor?

Well one of my favourite actors is Daniel Day-Lewis. I first came across him when he starred in Last of the Mohicans in 1992.

Daniel Day-Lewis is famous for being what is known as a method actor. His method is to totally enter into and inhabit the life of the character he is set to play. Before filming begins he spends months trying to look and feel like the character he is to depict. He literally seeks to inhabit the role. Such an approach is not of course without dangers, for what he risks is losing his own identity as the line blurs between him and the part he is to play.

 

There are, I think, similarities between method acting and the living out of a Trinitarian life. As we celebrate Trinity I would like to offer you one of my core beliefs. The Trinity is not simply a doctrine or article of faith to be believed in intellectually, but a way of living.

In Christianity the Trinity is the doctrine of God. Christians believe in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Another way of thinking about this is belief in God as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. If we are to live as Christians, as people who believe that we are made in the image of God, then we must learn the art of being agents of creativity, redemption and reconciliation and sustainability. This is our earthly role or mandate. We must learn to inhabit these roles; we must find a method or way of allowing them to become not our second, but our true nature.

 

Fortunately we have been given the methods: prayer, studying and absorbing the words of scripture and active participation in the sacraments of the church. Prayer, scripture, and the sacraments; these three are our, as Rowan Williams stresses, the Christian essentials. It is these three that gently teach us to live the Trinitarian life.

When we live as people of the Trinity we become increasingly creative, endlessly forgiving. We learn to both sustain and grow the Christian story. We become capable of fulfilling our mandate which is to ‘go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.’ We become the sort of people who allow others to ‘renew their strength,’ and ‘mount up with wings like eagles,’ whatever hurts and injustices life places in front of them and we become the sort of people who are genuinely capable of ‘living in peace’ and greeting one another ‘with a holy kiss.’

As Christians we have an advantage over method actors such as Daniel Day-Lewis. Through the spiritual methods we have been given: prayer, the study of Scripture and participation in the sacraments, what we actually begin to discover is our true and deepest identity as deeply loved and cherished people made in the very image of God, and I reckon that’s a gift worth finding.

 

Can I encourage you to find your deepest, truest most noble self this Trinity season?

Can I recommend getting hold of a copy of ‘Being Christian’ by Rowan Williams, a book which I think will help you explore what it means to live as a person who believes in the Trinity? Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

 

What breathes lives.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear that Jesus appeared to the remaining apostles and breathed into them the gift of the Holy Spirit. He provided them with a kind of spiritual mouth to mouth resuscitation. He breathed new life into a rather bedraggled and confused set of people and provided them with the means to keep going. Today’s gospel should be a source of great encouragement: Jesus breathed the gift of the Holy Spirit into an odd, confused and no doubt weary group of followers. Of course the contemporary church could never be categorised as bedraggled or confused: could it? Well, the good news is that even if we are a bit odd sometimes, even a bit discouraged, the Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped showing up. God hasn’t simply ceased to give of his very essence. It is really good news that the Holy Spirit is still given to us. But to what ends? Why would God want to provide us with the gift of the Holy Spirit? I think that today’s readings provide us at least two possible answers:

The first is so that we can become peace builders.  In the short  Gospel passage Jesus is recorded as saying ‘peace be with you,’ twice. We can’t, of course become peace makers, without first having received the gift of peace. Peace has two dimensions to it. The first is trust, deep trust, trust in God, whatever else is going on. The second dimension to peace is the ability to build good and righteous relationships; to become agents of reconciliation. If I had to pick out two characters from recent Christian history who have received the gift of peace and, used it to become peace-makers I would nominate Brother Roger of Taize and Desmond Tutu.

Desmond Tutu and Brother Roger also personify a second charism of the Holy Spirit. They are both music makers. They both speak in tongues. Brother Roger set up an international community accessible to all, a place where all can hear the gospel in their own native language.’ Desmond Tutu has managed to speak the language of the gospel to all in a highly disparate and racially mixed country. Pentecost challenges us to present the gospel afresh in and for the sake of our generation, in terms they can understand and relate to. We too are called on to speak in tongues. In fact if we fail to do so, if we fail, to make the right type of music, to say the right type of words, to speak of our faith in a way that resonates, we will have failed to be an authentically evangelistic church. Of course we can’t just learn to speak in ‘native tongues,’ by rote. We must instead allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit. How open our we as church to the work of the Holy Spirit: really?

Pentecost was for the early church, and is for us, both a gift and a challenge. Jesus promised his followers the gift of the Holy Spirit: ‘if you believe in me I will send you another Paraclete.’ They didn’t deserve it, or earn it they were simply given it. There was nothing special about Peter, John. Thomas, and the various Marys, they were simply a disparate and bedraggled group of men and women who dared to believe and because they believed they received. Do we dare to believe in quiet the same way? Its important that we do so that we too can receive.

And because they received they were able to accept the challenge of bringing the Gospel to others. They became peace builders and music makers for their generation. Inspired by the first Christian communities and the likes of Brother Roger of Taize and Archbishop Desmond Tutu our challenge is to become peace builders and music makers for our generation, for the people of this benefice; for this is what it means to be a truly charismatic and evangelical church. At Pentecost the church was given the gift and tools to be an authentically missionary church. The gift they needed above all others was the Holy Spirit; the gift we need above all else is the Holy Spirit. Are we prepared to allow the gift of Holy Spirit to be breathed into us afresh this morning, so that we can breathe new life into the world around us by becoming peace builders and music makers? The Holy Spirit is both the gift and the challenge.  Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew  Lightbown