22 Jun 2014
“Because the loaf of bread is one we, though many, are one body.” (1 Cor 10:17) (+)
Today we celebrate the gift of Holy Communion. From outside of the church, the front of the church is down there, but as soon as you enter, perspectives change. The front becomes the back, and the back becomes the front. Your left is the church’s right because our perspective is from that of the tabernacle and the altar. Back becomes front and left becomes right, and that’s all because the mystery of Holy Communion starts up here. The only aspect of church that doesn’t fit this mold is that the good seats seem to be the ones way in the back where people tend to sit while the front seats are often left lonely. But other than that singular glitch, it is the mystery of Holy Communion that orientates the church differently than would be expected from the outside.
To me that’s a meaningful analogy of the church’s place in the world. Jesus said it with some memorable words: “The first shall be last and the last shall be first.” The church upsets the world’s order, and she does so intentionally. She doesn’t accept the logic of might makes right or that success is gauged by stuff. But even so the church isn’t as peculiar as she once was. And I see some of that in the way we treat Holy Communion. It’s going to be a beautiful afternoon to read a book. Try this one – the Gospel of Mark. It’s the oldest Gospel we have. And once you get up to chapter 14 tell me what you think. It’s the Last Supper. Jesus warns His closest followers that one of them will betray Him, but the betrayer is not named. Then we immediately read the words of institution: This is my body; This is my blood. And Mark says Jesus shared the bread with them and the cup with all of them. Then they head out to the Mount of Olives. Jesus foretells that they all will abandon Him and then they all deny it. So it seems to me that they all are there in the Upper Room; they all share in the bread and the wine; and they are all still together when they leave the Upper Room. You can read chapter 14 for yourselves, but it seems to me like Jesus shared the institution of Holy Communion with all of them, even though Jesus knew that one of them was a traitor.
Why would Jesus do that? Well, for those of you who will be reading Mark’s Gospel this afternoon, pay attention also to chapter two. It seems as if Jesus has just called the last of His twelve disciples, the one sometimes called Levi and at other times Matthew. These are the same twelve of the Last Supper. Levi is a wealthy tax collector. He was one of the tools that the Romans used to stay in control as Israel’s conquerors. Because of this he was despised by most of his neighbours, and yet Jesus went and sat down to dinner at his house. Levi was so excited about Jesus that he invited all of his friends. Since he was hated by most everyone, his friends were people in the same boat as he was. They were also despised. And in this house filled with traitors and tax collectors sat our Jesus.
When the religious establishment saw this scandalous behaviour, they complained: What kind of religious teacher would associate with such people as this? Then Jesus said something extremely profound: “‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.’” (2:17) This was the first meal shared by the twelve. I wonder if at their Last Supper they reminisced at all about that night together in Levi’s house. I wonder if Jesus shared His Holy Communion with all of them because it wasn’t only supposed to be a reward for the righteous. It was also supposed to be the spiritual medicine for those in need. Maybe Jesus was hoping that sharing in Holy Communion would give pause to His betrayer. Even though there was slim hope, the Communion was offered as Jesus reaching out to help a person in desperate moral need.
This is an important revelation on Jesus’ part and one that the church needs to respect still today. Holy Communion is not only the ambrosia of the godly. It is the real presence of Jesus reaching out to saint and sinner alike. This doesn’t entail any disrespect for the sacrament. It instead respects the power of Holy Communion. If we protect it too much, where’s the power? You know, I’ve seen the flag that inspired the composition of our National Anthem. It is a proud symbol of our nation not because it is pristine, but because it stood up to everything the British could throw at her. I treat Holy Communion with the greatest respect. That’s because I believe Holy Communion is a mystical link with Jesus Himself, but that’s also the Jesus who came to heal the sick and the Jesus who shared the first Holy Communion even with His betrayer. There’s a power in the sacrament that we don’t need to overly protect.
Today the head of my Masonic Lodge is with us. He’s here because Tuesday is the Feast of John the Baptist and John is important in Masonry. One of the things that impresses me about Masonry is that it is a place where differences are minimized and shared goals are emphasized. Jimmy is of Jewish descent. Next year’s head of the lodge is an economics professor at UMass who is a Muslim. I’m the chaplain who is a Christian. And we come together. So much in the world wants us to emphasize our divisions. Holy Communion is the opposite. It is us, “though many” as Paul writes today, becoming one. It is always to be respected, but part of that respect is to see Holy Communion as Jesus reaching out to both saint and sinner alike. It is the longed-for union between Christ and Christian, and it is also the much needed spiritual medicine for those who feel morally exhausted.
On this Feast of Corpus Christi, in a world that would love to have us point out every difference among us, let us turn things around and be the people who follow the peculiar example of Jesus who came for both the healthy and the sick, and who shared His Holy Communion with both His closest followers and His betrayer. Let us honour this sacrament in the way it was given by allowing it to help us come into a holy communion with Christ and with others. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen. +
Fr. Randolph Calvo