Sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 18)

For a First Communion service

Text: Matthew 26:26
Jesus took a piece of bread, gave a prayer of thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples. “Take and eat it,” he said; “this is my body.”

God’s gift to you

At various times during the year, classes of students from both St Paul’s School and Grace College come into the church here to see and understand what makes a church building different to any other building.  Now St Paul’s is no cathedral nor are its walls dripping with ancient tales of days gone by compared to many other churches around the world.  For many of the students who have no church connection or come from churches that have a auditorium-like quality, one thing that catches their attention is the symbolism here in the church. 

Those of us who come here every week probably take the symbolism for granted but the students are intrigued by it and want to know the meaning behind each symbol.  And so they ask about the prominence of the cross; about the sanctuary furniture – the baptismal font, the lectern and the altar and what they represent and the symbols on each of these. 
What is the meaning of the pictures in the stained glass windows,
why do churches have windows like this (I tell them where possible these usually face the east and of course they ask ‘why’),
why do churches have high ceilings,
why do pastors wear ‘dresses’,
what do the different colours and banners mean? 
Why is there the altar rail and why do people kneel? 
Why do we put flowers in the sanctuary? 
The questions are endless and the students soon learn that this is not a stage but the sanctuary.

As we talk about these there is a realisation that each of these pictures and symbols help us remember something important about God. 
They remind us that God is the creator, all powerful and present everywhere and loving and gracious at the same time. 
They tell us how God comes to us in his Word and the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.
They tell us something about the relationship between God and us.

When we come here to worship we gather to remember and celebrate the goodness and mercy and love that we receive from our God every day of our lives in a far greater way than we deserve.  Now I could go on a very long time about this but since we have some of our young people coming to the Lord’s Table for the first time, I will narrow my focus to Holy Communion and remind ourselves what this is all about.

1. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives himself
As we come to the Lord’s Table, Jesus gives himself to us in bread and wine.  As you take the simple piece of bread and sip the wine, Christ is giving himself to you.  He is here, with you, in you, joining with you in all the joys and sorrows of your life.  He is the living Christ who forgives, supports, carries and walks with you every day whether you realise it or not.  Christ is really here in the bread and the wine.  “This is my body.  This is my blood”, he says.

 

It’s not a matter of, “I believe that this is Jesus’ body and blood therefore it is his body and blood”.  Your faith or my faith do not give the sacrament meaning or make Jesus present or not present.  Out of pure love for us, Jesus gives himself to all who come to this altar and all our faith can do is receive this gift with empty and thankful hands. We receive with faith the forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus gives through his dying and rising. 

As a distinguished retired pastor in our midst says in an audible whisper as he takes Christ’s body and blood in his hands: Deo gratias – thanks be to God.  In truth, that’s all we can do.  With thanks, with nothing in our own hands, no worthiness on our part, our faith grasps what God is offering.  At times even our faith is faltering and weak and yet placed in our hands is Jesus himself for us to eat and drink.  Deo gratias.

 

2. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us friendship with God
As we take into our hands the bread and wine and the body and blood of Jesus himself he is once again calling us “My friends” – “My brothers and sisters”.  We have received again the cleansing that he achieved for us on the cross.  Our sin has been wiped away. He loves us unconditionally. 

When we receive the bread and we hear the words “given for you and receive the wine and hear “shed for youthere is no doubt that God is speaking to each of us personally and individually and including us among his friends.  It’s as if at that moment when we are holding in our hands and taking into our mouths the body and blood of Christ, God’s forgiving and gracious love is beaming down focussed directly on to each of us and God is saying to us individually, “You are my beloved child.” What can be more personal and deliberate than that?

 

3. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us friendship with one another
Since we share together in the same body and blood of Christ and we are joined together in the one body with Christ through Holy Communion, we share a special bond.  We are all forgiven sinners.  We have all been made new through the blood of Jesus.  We are all saints in the family of God.  Any private wars and differences that we have are wiped out.  Differences of opinion or misunderstandings no longer divide those who have communed.  We are one in Christ even with those people we don’t feel particularly close.

That oneness in Christ says a lot about what we say about one another to others and how we support one another. We share in the life of Christ; we have him really present in us and with us through the sacrament of Holy Communion and that gives us every reason to seek reconciliation even if we think we are the ones who have been wronged, as we heard in the gospel reading today (Matthew 18:15).

4. In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us hope
As we eat and drink at the Lord’s Supper Jesus reminds us of his continual presence in our lives.  He is our living Lord and Saviour who is truly travelling with us through every trouble that confronts us.

During the terrible genocidal civil war in Rwanda, a Catholic priest was sheltering hundreds of refugees in a school.  Hundreds of men with machetes and guns surrounded the school with deadly intent.  Everyone was terrified.  What did the priest do?  He gathered the people together for the Eucharist – Holy Communion.  After receiving communion the priest referred to the danger that was threatening them saying, “We have been strengthened in this Eucharist.  … Go in peace.” 

Isn’t something similar said at the end of our Communion service, “The body of our Lord Jesus Christ and his precious blood make you strong in body and soul to life everlasting.  Go in peace”. For those people that day in Rwanda that communion meal brought into their hearts once again God's love and peace and reminded them that Christ was with them in the face of so much hatred, anger and violence. 

It is no different for us.  Christ gives himself to us in this meal and becomes part of us and reminds us of his baptismal promise, “I am with you always”.  He goes with us into the turmoil that we call “our lives” and gives us peace and contentment knowing that his love and his presence will get us through it.  Even if this week will bring our dying day, we face it with Jesus, knowing that he will take us to be with him into eternity.  In fact, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we are looking forward with anticipation to the day when we will celebrate the great feast in heaven with all those who have gone before us.

Someone once made this comment as he was comforting a grieving friend.  It went something like this: At the moment when we kneel at the communion rail and receive in our hands the body and blood of Christ there is a link between the saints in heaven and the saints on earth as we share together the very presence of Christ himself in the sacrament.  A thought worth some more consideration.

Sometimes this meal is called the Eucharist – a Greek word meaning ‘to give thanks’.  As we receive in our hands the body and blood of Jesus we have much for which to give thanks.  We have a God who came to earth that first Christmas and became flesh and blood for you and me.  He gave his body and shed his blood for our sin and rose again from the dead to free us from the power of death. 
At our baptism he made a covenant with us and affirms that covenant every time we commune – “I will be you always”. And when this life is over we have the certainty that we will celebrate the greatest feast of all in heaven in the presence of our Saviour. All of that is not to be taken lightly.  It is something worth celebrating.

My final word is to S, M, S and C – today you are receiving a very precious gift for the first time.  It’s not the kind of gift that costs a lot of money at the shops though it was very expensive because Jesus gave his life so you can have it.
It’s not the kind of gift that is so precious that you tuck it away somewhere and only bring it out on special occasions like Christmas and Easter. 
This is a gift from Jesus himself. It’s a gift that is given to help you along the way.

Who knows what the journey ahead will bring?  Jesus knows and he is giving you a gift that will remind you of his love;
that he is always with you;
that he will keep on loving you regardless what happens;
that he is always ready to help and support you. 
Even when you are the weakest or you feel the least worthy or the most rebellious Jesus is always ready to come close to you in Holy Communion. 
God bless you as you come the Lord’s Table today for the first time.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
7th September 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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