Summary: A sermon about the sacrament of the Eucharist
Some of you will know I am a football supporter. And I’m talking about proper football, the type you actually play with your feet. (Although I do also like some of the oval ball offshoots, in which you are allowed to carry the ball.) The club I support is West Ham United Football Club (or West Ham for short) from East London.
One of the problems with supporting an overseas based sports team is that you rarely – if ever – get to see them play live. So I could not believe it when I found out last year that West Ham was coming to New Zealand, and that they would be playing Sydney Football Club in Wellington. This was something I could not miss. So I got tickets for Maria and me, in the West Ham fan zone of course, and off we went to the Westpac Stadium.
We lost the game 3-1, but that did not really matter. We still had a great time. What mattered was being at the game with other fans, getting to belt out the club’s anthem and a few chants, seeing players like Winston Reid, whom I had only previously seen on TV, and having an experience that I otherwise could only have had in England. What mattered was being there.
For the last four consecutive weeks, our gospel readings have come from Chapter 6 of the Gospel according to St John. We have heard about the feeding of the five thousand, the bread that came down from heaven, and today, the words of eternal life. And we have been told the bread that came down from heaven was Jesus himself. Not only did he teach that he was the living bread and that whoever ate this bread in the form of his flesh would live forever, but that they should drink his blood as well.
The concept of eating human flesh would have been as horrific to Jesus’ Jewish audience as it is to us today. ‘Eater of flesh’ is how we would translate the Aramaic title for the devil. And drinking blood was an absolutely abominable act, so Jesus’ teaching was not merely difficult, it was outrageous. “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” 1
Of course, we now know what he really meant. Very soon, his body would be broken for us and his blood would be spilled for us in what would be the most revolutionary act in history. This extraordinary sermon that Jesus preached at Capernaum described what would happen to him and also anticipated the inauguration of the sacrament of the Eucharist, or Holy Communion.
The Eucharist re-enacts what happened at the Last Supper on the night before Jesus died. On the day of his resurrection, Jesus met Cleopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus. They invited him home, where he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to them2. These four actions re-enacted what he had done at the Last Supper and are repeated at every Eucharist service to this day.
So, what actually happens at the Eucharist? Different churches hold different views.
The Roman Catholic belief is that the bread and wine change completely into the actual body and blood of the Christ. You may have heard the word Transubstantiation, which is the proper term for this.