One body sharing one bread…

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Sermon for Corpus Christi – St Mary’s Whitkirk

“The family that eats together stays together”

There’s something about the sharing of a meal…something that speaks of togetherness, of unity.

Apparently a key moment in establishing Christianity on the island of Tahiti came with a meal. Warriors loyal to the Christian king fought with those who opposed him. The defeated pagan army fled for the hills. They emerged the next day – expecting their women and children to be dead and mutilated, as tradition demanded – but found them instead with the victors, sharing a picnic.

The Christian King wanted to unite his nation in peace…sharing food with former enemies proved a powerful symbol that unity was possible.

“The family that eats together stays together”

I think that familiar saying hides a deep truth about unity; a truth that is the essence of the Eucharist.

At the heart of who we are as Christians is the sharing of a meal – a meal given to us by Christ. And our Eucharist service reminds us again and again of what this says about unity.

Before we even approach the table we share the peace. We turn to our neighbours and wish that they will always know God’s peace. Our neighbours…anyone sitting near…not just our friends. We’re saying – we may disagree about sport, politics, marmite…but we are one in Christ. We acknowledge how hard it is to be properly reconciled to God if we’re not at peace with our neighbours.

But we also come to God’s table knowing that as humans we’re rubbish at unity. Our idea of unity so easily slips into being ‘us’ by excluding ‘them’. Time and again we find our identity by uniting against a common enemy…

We’re never going to manage unity through our efforts alone…that’s why we need the Eucharist so badly. In this meal we are united because we share an experience of the living God.

This meal, this Holy Communion, is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet where all will sit and eat together, where there will be no division, no ‘us’ and ‘them’.

As the Eucharistic prayer expresses it…”in the unity of the Holy Spirit, with all who stand before you in earth and heaven, we worship you Father Almighty”.

It’s a glimpse of the world as it should be, as it will be, made new and whole. It’s a glimpse of the reconciling power of Jesus.

Then we break the large wafer – a sign that “we are all one body because we all share in one bread.” Becoming, somehow, mysteriously, one with Christ, helps us come together.

We don’t share communion to show that we are one…we become one when we share communion.

And if that unity is genuine, it’s also tremendously attractive.

Bishop Michael Curry (of royal wedding fame) tells of the transforming power it had on his Father. A black American, in the era of separate schools, hospitals, cafes…he watched his black wife drink from the same chalice as white Christians. He reckoned something with such uniting power was worth having.

In the Eucharist though, we are offered communion with Jesus who refused every division into ‘them’ and ‘us’, even though this led to his death. This meal recalls not just the last supper – but the anguish of the garden, and the agony of the cross.

So this precious gift challenges us – not just to become one around this table, but to put ourselves into that place of reconciliation inhabited by Jesus. As the King of Tahiti understood – Christians are called into the risky place of sitting and eating with enemies.

We do that when we pray for reconciliation in the world’s conflicts – but the challenge is to let it spill out into our lives.

Who would we struggle to share a table with? Who irritates, annoys, upsets us? Who do we feel we have a right to be angry with? Are we not sent out from this meal to seek unity with them?

I once had a vicar who ended communion services with “become what you are – the body of Christ”…Christ whose greatest command was that we love one another…love our neighbours as ourselves…love our enemies.

 

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