Summary: An electric toaster, monopoly money and the gift of the Eucharist
Because of Corona Virus all sorts of things have changed in society. Instead of being a few feet away from me as I deliver this sermon from the front of church, you are watching this sermon on your computer. One of the other things that has changed is that we are becoming an increasingly cashless society. If I send my daughter to pick up a little bit of shopping for me, I can no longer send her with bank notes, I have to give her my debit card. Because to avoid infection the shops are trying to persuade everyone to pay by contactless card.
An unforeseen consequence of this is it could undermine one of my favourite illustrations of what goes on in the bread and wine of communion - which involves a bank note.
Would you rather be given a bank of England Five Pound Note - or a Monopoly Five Pound note, And of course you say “I’d rather have the bank of England one thank you very much”. And I say “Why?” “errr… because it’s real money?” “But they are both pieces of paper that symbolise £5…” “Yes but it’s real money…” And when I try to pin you down to what you mean, eventually we get down to it. The monopoly money only has value because we the players of the game give it that value. No one else will accept it’s value. But the “real” £5 not is different because although it is equally a piece of paper that symbolises £5, it is not us who has given it that value. An outside power - the government, the bank of England has put it’s value into the piece of paper - such that it has value not just for a group of people who choose to give it value but for everyone.
“My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them” John 6:56
The bread and wine of communion are not like monopoly money. They are not something that a small group of us human beings give value to while we are playing our religious game in church. Rather they are like the bank note. An outside power (in this case God) put’s his value into them. He says this is my presence among you - this is my body.
God knows that we are physical beings, bodily beings. So he meets us in a physical bodily way in bread and wine. That’s what the bible says, and that's what all the earliest Christians for at least 8 centuries believed.
Sadly - even though we don’t realise it, we are often influenced more by Plato than by the bible. Plato thought that physical and spiritual were opposites and that physical was inferior to spiritual. It’s a view that has crept into society as a whole and particularly since the 16th century has crept into the Church - but it is wrong.
Let me use the analogy of electricity.
You can’t see electricity and you can’t touch electricity - a bit like the Spirit.
And yet I can talk about an electric light or an electric toaster or an electric car. How says Plato can they be electric because they are things you can touch and we all know you can’t touch electricity? You can touch an electric light bulb (and it might hurt!), you can touch an electric toaster (and put toast in it). You can even climb inside an electric car.
So what do we mean when we talk about an electric lightbulb or an electric toaster or an electric car? We mean a physical bulb or a toaster or a car that has electricity flowing through it, electricity powering it.
In the same way when the bible talks in 1 Cor 15 about a spiritual body it means a physical body that has the Spirit flowing through it. When the bible talks about Spiritual food it means physical food that has the Spirit flowing through it.
The French Christian Irenaeus, writing only three generations after the Apostles writes “For we offer to him his own fittingly proclaiming the union of flesh and spirit. For just as the bread from the earth, when it has received the invocation of God, is no longer ordinary bread but Eucharist consisting of two things earthly and heavenly, so also our bodies, receiving the Eucharist , are no longer just things that will one day rot, but have the hope of the resurrection”AH 4:18:5
St Ignatius of Antioch, trained by the Apostles themselves, describes the bread of communion as “the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death”
Or as Jesus puts it “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 this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:50-51