I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’ John 6:50
As I see it, we human beings we deal with two realities. One reality is the world we can see and touch with our eyes and with our senses of hearing, feeling, smell and taste. The other world, the other reality we deal with is the world of the spirit. The world which deals with matters of hope, faith love and spiritual awakening.
Some of you who have heard me preach before might remember my telling you of the journey I had coming to an awareness of the presence of God in my life. That was the reality that accompanied my coming into the Episcopal Church. My family was at least nominally affiliated with a church of another Christian denomination, a church in which I had attended Sunday School, taken organ lessons and sung in the choir. Most of my contacts there were very pleasant and I know that there were many wonderful and faithful Christians around me there, but I found that I could not escape the feeling that there should be more to it, that something I needed was missing.
There was something about the spirituality I felt around me there that seemed well intentioned, sincere, and yet fell short of the mark. For me, I felt that there was something missing.
From the lessons I had learned in Sunday School, Jesus Christ seemed like someone I would want to have in my life, but his real presence I was not yet really capable of feeling. I had developed a kind of close relationship with a girl in the same Sunday School. She also felt something to be missing, and she tried to get me involved in one of the more fundamentalist type of churches, but I did not find the sense of spirituality that I was looking for there either.
I kept on praying, asking God to let himself become real to me, helping me to find a way to find a feeling, an awareness, some confidence in his real presence.
Attending college, a study buddy invited me to join him in joining the choir of one of the local Episcopal Churches. I went with him one evening to his choir rehearsal and as soon as I entered the building, there was something about it that made me feel at home. I did agree to join the choir and it was there, as I received my first Holy Communion in that Church, that I felt the loving arm of Jesus touch me. I reached up and there were tears coming from my eyes. From that moment on the presence of Jesus as my friend, my brother, my Savior and my God became a reality for me, a living presence in my life. Hearing that, I think you can then understand why the Holy Eucharist became so important to me, why it has become the very center of my spiritual life.
When it became known in my rather small home town that I had become an Episcopalian, some of the people with whom I had been close seemed to act as if I had left them behind. I harbored no ill feelings and my mother was still a member of that church, so when I would return for summers or vacation or holidays, she would come with me to the 8 AM Eucharist at the Episcopal church and later that same morning, I would go with her to her church. Many of my friends were glad to see me, but there were still a few who would turn their backs on me. I did try to explain why I had left to some of them, but I remember a few saying things like, “O come off it. The communion service is just a memorial service. Jesus isn’t really there. We have it here quarterly and that is enough.” I remember trying to reason with them by saying something like, “But isn’t a memorial service something you have for someone you feel you have lost through death? I can feel the living presence of my Lord Jesus Christ with me.”
Some people point out that our own English liturgies of the Eucharist use the word “memorial,” and that is true, but any misunderstanding of what that means is a failing of translation, of language, not theology. The word which Jesus uses when he seems to refer to the action as a memorial has no exact English equivalent. The word in question is the Greek word “anamnesis”. When he had gathered his disciples at the Last Supper, when Jesus had washed their feet, showing them his desire for them to honor, serve and be served by one another, it was then that Jesus broke the bread and blessed the cup saying, “This is my Body,” “This is my Blood, do this for the anamnesis of me.”
In a wider sense, the word anamnesis is a key concept in our liturgical theology: in what is the very center of our worship, the faithful recall God’s saving deeds. The memorial aspect of the word anamnesis is not simply a passive, external process outside of ourselves, but an active internal process by which the body, soul and spirit of any person, any human being can actually enter into the Paschal Mystery which is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ himself. In the Eucharist, in this Holy Mystery, the past, present and future all become present, around and within us and it is Jesus Christ at our center who feeds us with his very life.
It is in the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that our two realities come together. The world of the Spirit of God enters into our material world and lifts it up with the promise of a realized, hope, love, joy and fulfillment for all. The presence of Jesus Christ in our lives through the power of the Holy Spirit makes the reality of God our Father’s kingdom a reality in our own material lives right here as we continue with our own lives here on earth.
As we then one day come to our own entrance into the nearer presence of God through the sweet blessing of a Godly death, we shall find the peace which passes all understanding. We shall see our Lord as he truly is, and we will behold someone who is not a stranger at all but a dear, loving, familiar, welcoming Father, Mother, Sister, Brother and friend with whom and with all those we love we shall share all the joys of a glorious eternity.
The Holy and Saving Body and Blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Given in divine love. Given for you and for me to fill us all with his divine Presence.
The food which lifts us up and carries us forward. The Bread of Heaven which never fails or fades.
O Saving Victim, opening wide the gate of heaven to Man below, our foes press on from every side, thine aid supply thy strength bestow. All praise and thanks to thee ascend for ever more blest One in Three: O grant us life that shall not end in our true native land with thee.
Let me close with a 13th century Collect from the Sarum Missal of the old Salisbury Cathedral for an observance which would later become the feast of Corpus Christi.
“O God, Who under this wondrous Sacrament hast left us a memorial of Thy Passion, grant us, we beseech Thee, so to reverence the mysteries of Thy Body and Blood, that in ourselves we may ever sensibly have fruition of the redemption which Thou has wrought. Who with thine only Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen.”