Sunday, August 02, 2009

Pentecost 9B

Hi Folks, since I'm on an airplane between Denver and Edmonton right now, and because you see the communion elements on the table, and no one with the word “Reverend” in front of their name here at the church, you're probably wondering what's going on.

Well, we're going to try something new. Actually, its very old. We're using pre-consecrated elements for Holy Communion. In other words, the bread and wine were consecrated – blessed – at a previous worship service for use in later eucharistic gatherings.

Before you get all uptight about this (I'm looking at you, Torben), let me say that this was NOT my idea. It was Bishop Ron's idea. So, if you have trouble with this, take it up with Bishop Ron.

I had breakfast with him at last month's National Convention and he mentioned that this was a practice that they used when he was the pastor at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Red Deer.

I've handed out an outline of his reasoning with the bulletin. I draw your attention to number 2:

We are under obligation to provide access to Word and Sacrament for God's people.  We are also required to do everything decently and in order. What would "decently and in order" look like if we pre-consecrated elements for use at a future Eucharist in a congregation?

• Those who will be receiving these elements at a future time need to see them being consecrated; i.e. pre-consecration is done with the knowledge of the people and in their presence as a worshipping body.

The people who will be receiving these elements need to be witness to each of the 4 Eucharistic actions: i.e. taking, blessing, breaking, giving.  I am not aware that there is any specific prohibition of taking and blessing - before the face of the people - and then a week later, breaking and giving - to those same people.  They have been witness to, and partaken of, the Eucharist in its fullness.

Taken literally, only those who were here on July 19 would be allowed to take communion... since, according to Bishop Ron's suggestion that the elements need to be consecrated in the presence of “those same people” who would later receive the pre-consecrated bread and wine. Assuming that I remembered to pre-consecrate the bread and wine. Which I didn't. And the deacons didn't remind me. Shaaaaaammmmme.

But of course, by “people” we could mean “this community” and not necessarily the individuals present two weeks ago, we could just as easily consecrate the elements with “the community” - the people, since Ben Stewardson, a member of our church family, is here filming me. Remember that Jesus said, “wherever two or three are gathered in my name there I will be in the midst of you.”

Words of Institution. Amen.

We have to remember that those are not magic words. They're called the “Word of Institution” but they are really words of promise. Promise that Jesus will be truly present in, with, and under the bread and wine. Jesus is present, not because of some fancy theological formula or dogmatic reasoning. We know that Jesus is fully present in the bread and the wine because he promised he would be.

But more importantly, Holy Communion is a reminder that we are be joined to God's Great Salvation story in Jesus. The story of liberation and forgiveness, justice and mercy. The story of death and resurrection.

We're connected once again to the story that promises that God is still in the business of saving the world.

Personally, I think that God is moving the church in new – and old! - directions. I think God is asking people to re-claim their biblical mandate to be priests – God's representatives in the world. I think each one of you is ordained to preside at the table. You were ordained when you were baptized, and God named and claimed you as God's child, taking you by the hand and leading you into God's kingdom. I think that God asking you to remember the authority that you've been given in Jesus.

In a time when clergy numbers are shrinking, to say that only clergypeople can preside at the Lord's Supper means that a lot of churches will be going without the sacrament. It means that many faithful Christians will be denied the opportunity to partake in the bread of life and cup of salvation.

It means that YOU will go without the sacrament because I go on vacation. No other clergy was available to serve communion today. We checked. So, it doesn't seem right that YOU are denied God's visible blessing because all other clergy are kicking back at the cottage. I think Jesus wants us to do better than that.

I have to admit, I was a little hesitant to preach about this practice, mainly because it draws your attention to the bread and the wine themselves, and NOT to the story – or person – they incarnate. In other words, in just talking about whether a non-clergy type can pray over the bread and wine, the emphasis is on the elements themselves, and NOT on the salvation story we have in Jesus.

But that's where we find ourselves now. Luther would have a few choice words for us today. When Luther railed against the Roman Catholic practice of the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, where Catholic stare at a wafer, believed to be transformed into the true bodily presence of Christ, he did so because he knew from today's gospel reading that Jesus – the Bread of Life – was not to be adored, the Bread of Life was to be eaten. The point of Holy Communion isn't that the bread has been transformed. The point of Holy Communion is that Jesus is our food for Christian living.

Those who remember their catechism may recall the question:

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

That is shown us in these words: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins; namely, that in the Sacrament forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us through these words. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

It is not the eating and drinking, indeed, that does them, but the words which stand here, namely: Given, and shed for you, for the remission of sins. Which words are, beside the bodily eating and drinking, as the chief thing in the Sacrament. (Sacrament of the Altar)

The bread and wine, joined with God's Word and God's Promise make Holy Communion. Ultimately, it's Jesus who presides at the table, bring life and forgiveness, salvation and healing, to all who receive.

It's Jesus who bled, died, and rose again so that YOU might have life. It's Jesus' story we celebrate. It's Jesus' story that becomes our story as we join with him in the banquet of new and everlasting life.
May this be so among us. Amen.


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