(Modified 2021-08-08: Added audio recording of this sermon)
St. Mary the Virgin Anglican Church, Regina.
Tenth Sunday after Trinity – August 8, 2021
Rev. Nathaniel Athian Deng Mayen
What comes to your mind when you read this promise from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? I immediately think of the Holy Communion, where we break the bread and share the cup of wine in accordance with the Lord’s institution until He comes again to establish the kingdom prepared for us from eternity through the plan of our loving and merciful God to sustain us in Christ.
As you might have realized, we are continuing with the bread of life discourse from the Gospel of John. It has been a greatlearning about who Jesus Christ is in meeting our human needs.
When we talk about the bread, most us think immediately about the internally displaced persons, the refugees, the homeless, and everyone who has nothing to eat and whose requirements for food and other basic human needs have severely been limitedaround the world.
A parishioner once asked the rector how the churches in the West may share limited resources with brothers and sisters who are suffering from poverty in developing countries, in the refugee camps. The rector responded, “By sharing the Holy Communion with them and with each other.”
When I think about this Eucharistic answer, I am reminded ofwhat the Lord’s Supper means for the Christian community. In the Holy Communion, we have a glimpse of heaven. We celebrate the mystery that unites us with God, irrespective of our cultures, social, economic and political classes, abilities, careers, nationalities, races, and other social location identities. We eat the Body of Christ and drink his Blood. We join in the mystery of divine union for new identities.
When you come to St. Mary, know that your identity is “a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven” (BCP 544). This identity, which you acquire through baptism and membership in the church of Christ, is your passport to join with others in union with Christ, the bead of life and who feeds us with the bread of everlasting life.
This bread is readily accessible to whoever comes to Christ and believe in Him. When Christ promises, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty,” He gives a hint about our response: turning from our old life through repentance from sin and belief in Christ. We respond to Him in faith to come to Him.
Such faith is the requirement in taking the bread. As a result, when the priest holds the bread in her or his hand during the celebration of the Holy Communion and proclaims the following words, “The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was given for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life: Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart by faith with thanksgiving” (BCP 84), the priest is reminding us who Jesus Christ is, the living bread whose providential grace satisfies our needs and quenches our thirst.
What then do we make of the Eucharistic elements of the bread and wine real in our Anglican tradition? What are we talking about when we talk about and celebrate the Holy Communion?
Queen Elizabeth I, at the tender age of 12 years old, set the classic Anglican Eucharistic theology when she affirmed the Real Presence of Christ in the Holy Communion: “He was the Word that spake it, he took the bread and brake it, and what that Word did make it, I do believe and take it.”
The Anglicans believe Christ’s body and blood are really present in the Holy Communion, and Christ is received by faith. Christ’s presence is also known and present in the gathered eucharistic community that makes up the church – we are at St. Mary. The 1991 statement of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission notes, “The elements are not mere signs; Christ’s body and blood become really present and are really given. But they are really present and given in order that, receiving them, believers may be united in communion with Christ the Lord.”
The Anglican belief in the Real Presence does not require an attempt to explain how Jesus Christ comes to be present in the eucharistic elements of the bread and wine. We believe the unpacking the mystery of the presence of Christ in the Holy Communion is the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of the faithful community. The Anglicans, therefore, find unnecessary and limiting both the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that during the Eucharistic Prayer the substance, or essence, of the bread and wine is fully changed into the body and blood of Christ, while the outward appearance of bread and wine remains the same earthly materials, and the Lutheran doctrine of consubstantiation (the belief that the fundamental substance of the body and blood of Christ are present alongside the substance of the bread and wine presentbefore us).
The Anglicans celebrate the Paschal Mystery – the mysterious workings of the Holy Spirit that changes the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ for the faithful community, the church. Consequently, “we pray that by the power of thy Holy Spirit, all we who are partakers of this holy Communion may be filled with thy grace and heavenly benediction” (BCP 83).
The actions of the priest do not affect the efficacy and validity of the Holy Communion because the Holy Communion is Jesus’s own body and blood present to us through the Lord’s word of institution and Spirit’s witness (taking our prayers upwards to the Trinity) and mediation (bringing blessing downwards tofaithful community). We acknowledge our union with Christ.
When we gather each Sunday for the Holy Communion, we follow a rich apostolic tradition. As you know, the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, is the principal act of Christian worship. The term “eucharist” is derived from the Greek word for “thanksgiving.” Jesus instituted the eucharist on the night when he was betrayed. At Last Supper, he shared the bread and cup of wine at a sacred meal with his disciples. He identified the bread with his body and the wine with his blood of the new covenant, and commanded his disciples to “do this” in remembrance of him (1 Cor 11:23-26; Mk 14:22-25; Mt 26:26-29; Lk 22:14-20).
Christ’s sacrifice is made present by the Spirit. We are united to Christ’s only one oblation of self-offering to “suffer death upon the cross for redemption” (BCP, p. 82). The process of taking,blessing, breaking and sharing is the “perpetual memorial of that his precious death, until his coming again”. We also pray to the Father that “we receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine, according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution, in remembrance of his death and passion, may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood” (BCP 82).
While we break the bread and share the cup of wine, we remember not only the historic death, passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, but also his coming again in glory to establish the kingdom prepared for us. We also give our praise and thanksgiving to God so that “by the merits and death of thy Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in his blood, we and all thy whole church may obtain remission of sins, and all other benefits of his passion” (BCP 83).
Jesus repeats the phrase I am the bread of life to emphasize thatthe same way the bread is necessary for satisfying our physical human needs, Jesus is present as the sole provider of himself to those in need, that is, all of us. Through faith, we put our confidence in Jesus, instead of in material bread, and live for his remembrance in thanksgiving for everything in our lives.
Today we are celebrating the dedication of the new altar bookfrom Mark and Tammy Rollins to the glory of God and in honour and celebration of the 70th birthday of Susan Rollins whose family has a great connection to St. Mary. Susan and her husband Jim, and their children and friends, are present here today with us, praising and giving thanks to God for different things. Those who know Susan and Jim remember they wedded at St. Mary, in the blessed hands of their dear parents Dunstanand Veronica Pasterfield. Susan and Jim also lived in Khartoum, Sudan, my former country, before Sudan was divided into twocountries, giving birth to my current country South Sudan. In their travel, Susan and Jim, and all the Christians who visit Sudan and other African countries, might have learned about the significance of bread during inadequacy.
How sweet it is to find food when you have craved for it for a long time? Christ is the bread of life. He feeds us every day in his body, and joins us into the communion with God. Our various cultural and other identities no longer matter when we celebrate the Holy Communion because we are partakers in a rich history that celebrates eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus.
Jesus Christ is the bread on whom our relationship with God and with each other is built. May our breaking of the bread of eternal life and the cup of salvation keep our hearts and minds in the love and fellowship of God and with each other now and forever. Amen.