“ Beloved, I received from the Lord what I also hand on to you” (1 Cor 11:23) - where to begin? Perhaps with meeting someone famous….
Have you ever met anyone famous?
[take answers from congregation]
Once when I was 20 I met a famous person. Well when I say met I mean sat in a crowded room, every seat taken as we listened to every word this woman said. She wasn’t a pop star. She wasn’t a politician. She was a 4 foot 11 [find 4 foot 11 member of congregation for comparison]
a wrinkled old lady dressed in a white and blue sari. There was nothing physically special about her. Her fame came from taking dying beggars into her houses and caring for them in their last days. Washing them, feeding them, loving them. Yet when Mother Theresa spoke you couldn’t hear... [go into long pause mode when saying this].,, a pin drop.
And what was it that gave her the strength to keep going day in day out in this tireless work. It was sitting for an hour a day in front of a piece of bread. Not any old bread. Special Bread. The bread which had become Jesus. The bread of the mass.
You might wonder what God becoming bread has to do with washing the rotting bodies of dying beggars. Before I answer that- turn to the person next to you and give them a high five.
“ Beloved, I received from the Lord what I also hand on to you” (1 Cor 11:23)
What to say next, perhaps another story?
About the Anglican Bishop of Singapore during the 2nd world war, when Singapore surrendered to the Japanese. He was offered a place on the evacuation plane and turned it down. He went into the prison camp with his people. The conditions were indescribable. The Bishop continued to minister to his people, despite a Japanese command to stop, Each Sunday he celebrated the Mass, not with bread and wine – he had none – but with rice and rice water. Under the trees in the jungle he says “At first only a few came – later we have over 200” The Japanese tortured and beat the Bishop to stop him. Finally they broke all his fingers one by one to stop him being able to celebrate, but others stepped forward to help. Following the surrender of Japan he returned to England. Despite the best efforts of the surgeon’s they could not heal his hands. He continued his ministry in Birmingham. One Easter, many years later he met and forgave the Japanese guard who had broken his fingers. He later learnt that the guard converted to Christianity and himself became a clergyman. (1)
Why would a prisoner continue to celebrate this strange ritual with food and drink even though he was being tortured for doing so? Why was it so important to his guards to stop him? And what did it say about God to his fellow prisoners that this bishop had turned down his place on the evacuation plane to stay with them when all he could do for them was offer mass?
I will answer that question - but first please turn to the person next to you and shake them warmly by the hand.
“ Beloved, I received from the Lord what I also hand on to you.that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
‘This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’”
[a teenage member of the congregation reads the following quote]
Do this in remembrance of me: “Was ever another command so obeyed? For century after century, spreading slowly to every continent and country and among every race on earth, this action has been done, in every conceivable human circumstance, for every conceivable human need from infancy and before it to extreme old age and after it, from the pinnacle of earthly greatness to the refuge of fugitives in the caves and dens of the earth. Men have found no better thing than this to do for kings at their crowning and for criminals going to the scaffold; for armies in triumph or for a bride and bridegroom in a little country church; for the proclamation of a dogma or for a good crop of wheat; for the wisdom of the Parliament of a mighty nation or for a sick old woman afraid to die; for a schoolboy sitting an examination or for Columbus setting out to discover America; for the famine of whole provinces or for the soul of a dead lover; in thankfulness because my father did not die of pneumonia; ….. for the settlement of a strike; for a son for a barren woman; for Captain so-and-so wounded and prisoner of war; while the lions roared in the nearby amphitheatre; on the beach at Dunkirk; while the hiss of scythes in the thick June grass came faintly through the windows of the church; tremulously, by an old monk on the fiftieth anniversary of his vows; furtively, by an exiled bishop who had hewn timber all day in a prison camp near Murmansk; gorgeously, for the canonisation of S. Joan of Arc—one could fill many pages with the reasons why [people] have done this, and not tell a hundredth part of them. And best of all, week by week and month by month, on a hundred thousand successive Sundays, faithfully, unfailingly, across all the parishes of Christendom” (2)
“ Beloved, I received from the Lord what I also hand on to you” (1 Cor 11:23)
I am getting to my answer - but before I do, please lightly squeeze the shoulder of the person sitting next to you.
It’s said: to sell a house - bake some bread. As the smell wafts through our bodies are comforted, we feel at home, we buy the house.
… the house…
...The house of bread. That’s what the name Bethlehem means. The house of bread. And that’s where God was born. (3) Mary gave birth to a baby who grow and go and preach “I am the living bread. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever.” (John 6:51)
I don’t know if you know the song by Haile Steinfield “I didn’t know that I was starving until I tasted you”
We live in a world that is starving for love and doesn’t even know it. Mother Theresa said “loneliness is the leprosy of modern society” - we live in a very lonely world. A world of gated communities. A world where most of us will never have had our next door neighbours inside our houses and where many people will never have had anyone inside their house.
This week Teresa May had a bad week because, perhaps unfairly she was seen as avoiding contact with the victims of the terrible fire at Grenfell Tower. Contrast back in the 1980s Princess Di won peoples affection by hugging aids victims. We are physical people.
The reason baking fresh bread sells a house is we are physical people. Physical things affect us. I have had you high five, shake hands and squeaze the shoulders of the people next to you. Little bits of human touch like that release a hormone called Oxytocin - the so called cuddle hormone - that lowers are heart rate and makes us healthier. And yet in our lonely society there are people particularly elderly people who will not have recieved any human touch for days or weeks on end.
So what has this got to do with the mass? What has it got to do with Mother Theresa being inspired to care for dying beggars on the streets of Calcutta. Why was it that the Bishop of Singapore stayed behind a prisoner of war just so he could celebrate the mass with his fellow prisoners and why did that mean so much to them? Why has this service brought comfort to people over 2000 years in the myriad situations that Christina read out? Why?
The Mass tells us what kind of God God is.
Jesus is not a God who stays safely in heaven with a flank of angel security guards between him and us while we sing songs at him from a distance hoping they are loud enough to reach his throne. Nor is Jesus a God who says to the dying beggar “don’t worry about the physical pain you are in- it doesn’t really matter because you’ll be dead soon and then you’ll be with me”
Would you want to worship a God who stayed safe and didn’t care about your physical difficulties? Would anyone?
The God of the broken bread is a God who gets his hands dirty. The God you will touch and taste on that altar is a God giving you a hug. Does it matter whether it is just a symbol or whether God is really present in the bread and wine? Of course it matters! Because a God who didn’t make himself present for you is a God who doesn’t really care - but the God of the bible is a God who hugs leppers and through that bread and wine that you touch and taste - hugs you now.
I didn’t know that I was starving until I tasted you. The more I know you the more I want to . Something inside me has changed. I was so much younger yesterday. Don’t need no butterflies when you give me the whole damn zoo, I didn’t know that I was starving till I tasted you. (3)
Jesus says:“I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread
that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
“ Beloved, I received from the Lord what I also hand on to you”
(1) from a sermon by Prebendary Pam Row http://www.leominsterdeanerysynod.org.uk/uploads/4/6/8/2/46822267/corpus_christi_sermon_-_pam_row.pdf
(2) from The shape of the Liturgy, by Dom Gregory Dix, 1945
(3) Luke 2:1-7
(4)Haile Steinfeld "Starving" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v8ye1cBIP6A