Word AND Sacrament

eucharist

So I have this new app on my Iphone that fills me in on the news that the major news outlets have totally ignored. It’s like getting let in on a secret. I will give you two examples. Last November a New York billionaire, who has never been in politics, was elected the President of a major western power…………. What? You already knew that? Well how about this one. This insane leader in North Korea, with his very bad haircut, is threatening to blow up the world with nuclear bombs.…………so you’ve heard about that one too? Of course you have. Unless you had to be living under a rock you could not have missed these two events.

I studied Hebrew so I am pretty sure that doubt that they did not have the expression “living under a rock” in Jesus’ day. But if they did, the two companions on the road to Emmaus would have asked Jesus that very question. They were amazed that He seemingly had not heard the news. Cleopas asked Jesus, “Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there these days.” Actually it would have been perfect if they did ask Jesus if He had been living under a rock because Jesus could have replied, “Just for three days.”

On the surface it looks like Jesus is toying with them, but I don’t think that is what is going on here. Rather I suggest that Jesus is using what Beth calls good interviewing techniques. A good interviewer gets the person to open up about themselves and disclose information that they might not have intended to offer. In responding to Jesus’ question the men show their true feelings, their disappointment and their confusion. “But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel…………..Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see.” Evidently they had lost hope, felt defeated and were simply going back home.

Jesus rebukes them and calls them foolish men who are slow of heart to believe the prophets. But at the same time He does not want to leave them foolish and slow of heart to believe, so beginning with Genesis He shows them all through the Old Testament concerning Himself. What kind of things did He show them?

Perhaps He spoke of the serpent on the staff that was lifted up in the wilderness and all who looked to it were healed. This was a foreshadowing of Jesus being lifted on the cross to bring salvation to all who would look to Him.

Perhaps He spoke about that fourth man in the burning furnace with Shadrack, Meshack and Abednago that saved them from the flames who looked like the Son of God. Or maybe He spoke of the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream, connecting heaven and earth, a symbol of Jesus connecting God and man.

Maybe he spoke of the king and priest to whom Abraham tithed. This King of Salem, which means peace, is another foreshadow of Jesus who is our King and High Priest. There is no telling how many hours Jesus spoke with them but they said later that their hearts burned within them as He opened the Scriptures to them.

But notice that even though He opened the Scriptures to them they still did not see who He was. When was it that their eyes were opened and they realized that it was Jesus? It was at the breaking of the bread. That is why we as Anglicans emphasize both Word and Sacrament. But I need to warn you. Once you see that connection it will ruin you for anything else. At least it does for me.

Several years ago, while on vacation, Beth and I attended a Presbyterian church with a friend of ours. The people were friendly and the sermon was right on the money but since there was no Eucharist, to be honest, I didn’t feel that I had been to Church. It was more like attending a lecture.

Jesus is revealed to us in Word AND Sacrament and it is artificial to think that the two can be separated from one another. So even when I take the sacrament to someone who is sick or a shut in, I always include words from Holy Scripture because it should be both and, not either or. That is why it has been our tradition that you are not supposed to receive Communion if you show up after the Gospel has been read. To put it in historical perspective, it was not until the 16th century that Word and Sacrament were separated from one another and to this day they never have been in the Roman and Orthodox Communions.

Of course this is hardly a new idea with Anglicanism. We read in the Book of Acts the pattern of worship in the early Church. It says, “And they devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” All four of these components are necessary for the health and growth of the Church and it is through all four that our eyes are opened and Jesus is revealed to us in a more intimate way. If we drop off or conflate these components then we are no longer following the biblical pattern. I will give you a couple examples of problems that follow.

When we first moved here and were gathering folks to plant a church, we did not have a Sunday Mass so we attended other churches around the diocese. In one particular church the priest would give chatty and informal announcements right after the peace, like it was a 7th inning stretch, and then he would always say, “Well let’s shift gears now and go into Communion…”

This made an artificial break between Word and Sacrament and implied that everything done up to that point didn’t really matter because now we were getting to “the real stuff.” It was so jarring to my worship to have Word and Sacrament broken from one another that we went there only a couple of times.

Another example. When I was in seminary I invited a friend, who had never been to an Anglican service before, to go to church with me. No sooner had we taken our places in the pew when two young women behind us started chatting and they chatted through the first half of the service, only to stop for the prayers, confession and absolution. Then came the peace and after granting one another the peace, they started chatting again. At that point my friend turned around and said, “The peace that you just gave me is being taken away because of your incessant talking.” Do you see what they were doing? They were melding fellowship with worship and consequently not only were they not truly worshipping but they were ruining worship for others around them.

So when is the right place for fellowship? How about when the offering is being taken up and there is a lull in the service, is that a time for fellowship? No. We should still be in prayer. And like with those girls I just mentioned, talking will disrupt someone else’s prayer. How about when the playing of a prelude or an offertory, is that a time for fellowship? No. These are not played to entertain us. These are musical offering to the Lord and so they too are a form of prayer that should not be interrupted by fellowship.

None of this is to say that fellowship is unimportant. In fact, just the opposite is true. It is the glue of the Church.

One day I read on Facebook that one of our members was leaving the church so I drove over to his home to find out what was going on. He told me that he was not getting anything out of our service and didn’t feel connected so he was going on to greener pastures.

The whole idea of coming to Church “to get something out of it” rather then coming as a royal priesthood to minister to God, is a whole other story that I chose not to address at the time. But what I did point out to him was that his pattern was to come to Mass and then hit the door. He had neglected fellowship. He didn’t participate in Sunday School or Bible Study or Men’s Group. He didn’t attend parish gatherings nor seek out opportunities to serve, so it only made sense that he did not feel connected and wasn’t getting anything out of it.

Clergy often call coffee hour the 8th sacrament of the Church and they are not far off. There is a vast difference between dining at a restaurant where everyone around you is a stranger and sitting at a Thanksgiving table with family and friends. Fellowship makes Holy Communion become the latter.

I don’t want to make more out of this than I should but I have played in my mind with the idea of what would have happened to those companions if they had not begged Jesus to stay with them. The text says, “So they drew near to the village to which they were going, He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him saying, ‘Stay with us for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent.” It was because He remained with them that they had supper together and it was at supper that He broke the bread and their eyes were opened. But this would not have happened if they had not done their part and invited Him.

This part of the story reminds me of so many other gospel stories where a miracle involved, if not required, the participation of the recipients of that miracle. Think of the boy who brought Jesus his few loaves and fishes which Jesus used to feed the multitude. Or the friends of the paralyzed man who lowered him down through the roof so that Jesus could heal him. Or the Syrophenician woman who pleaded on behalf of her daughter or the Centurion who sought healing for his servant.

Martin Luther said we are not to pray “Give us this day our daily bread” and then expect God to fly a chicken into our mouths. Just as artificial as it is to separate Word and Sacrament, so it is artificial to separate faith and good works. I think that is what St. James is arguing in his epistle when he says that faith without works is dead.

The act of kindness from these men, inviting a stranger to stay with them because evening was at hand, resulted in them seeing the risen Lord. It makes me wonder how many times have we missed seeing Jesus because we have rested on the laurels of our faith and not been diligent in good works? Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

There is a story of a monk who while on a journey happened upon a very valuable piece of jewelry. When he did he simply put it in his bag and continued his journey. Later he came across a fellow traveler who was hungry and as the monk opened the bag to give him some food, the traveler saw the piece of jewelry and asked the monk to give it to him. Without hesitation the monk did so and the poor man went off celebrating that once he sold the piece of jewelry that he would be set for life. A little later the man returned to the monk with the piece of jewelry in hand to return it. He said, “I want you to give me something even more valuable than this piece of jewelry. I want you to give me the ability to share with others as freely as you have shared.”

I believe that the ability to be able to freely share with others increases the more we understand the free gift of salvation given to us in Christ Jesus. I further believe the understanding of this incomparable gift is best increased as we become united with Christ in both Word and Sacrament.

 

 

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