Summary: A sermon for a mixed congregation (adults and children) trying to get across why it matters that Jesus became flesh and why it matters that he still makes himself present to us now in bread and wine.
“ 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)