Homily by Mother Delia+
Today is the second Sunday in a row of what are called “feeding miracles.” Last week was the feeding of the five thousand; this week we have the children of Israel being fed manna -- the bread of heaven -- and Jesus proclaiming that he is the Bread of Life. For us, all of them prefigure the Eucharist where we meet Christ in the Bread and Wine.
There are a lot of stories that we use to prefigure events that are meaningful for us. When we hear the story of Noah and the flood or the birth of Israel as a nation through the waters of the Red Sea in the Exodus, it prefigures our baptisms.
Meaningful events are made more meaningful by the stories we tell. Because God is present in the stories, we can more easily discover God’s presence in our events that we celebrate.
Stories help us discern the truths that may be hidden in day-to-day life. Our old folk tales helped us with truths about life, although we seem to be losing them. They are thought to be too scary for little children, where in fact children of a certain age love to be scared by big bad wolves and evil stepmothers.
Evil stepmothers aren’t particularly evil, by the way, but they do intrude upon a child’s life and take away some of Dad’s time and energy, and take the place of your REAL mother, and aren’t your real mother no matter what they do. And never mind that your father made you do chores, SHE makes you do chores and who is she to tell you what to do, anyway? Stepmother doesn’t really stand a chance, does she? So, whether she is or not, she turns into the bad guy.
The old folk stories were told from the child’s point of view, and from their point of view the world is now a very different place than it used to be.
Hansel and Gretel, Snow White, Cinderella, there’s a long list of stories that have meaning for children.
You are no longer the center of Dad’s universe. Good deeds are rewarded. You have the ability to take care of yourself. Sometimes seven strangers are nice people who will help you.
Our stories have meaning for us. They all point us towards the Eucharist, which itself is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet we are invited to by virtue of our baptisms.
It all fits together -- Baptism and Eucharist.
It’s important to renew both our Baptismal Vows and our understanding of the Eucharist.
We’re supposed to renew our baptismal vows four times a year at least:
At Easter Vigil
At All Saints
And at the Baptism of our Lord (2nd Sunday of Epiphany)
We also renew our vows whenever there is a baptism and sometimes when the Bishop is visiting.
Doing this reminds us of what these vows are and what we’ve promised to do. It helps us reflect on how well we’ve done since last time we renewed our vows, about our place in the church we were baptized into, and what gives us strength for the journey ahead. Our baptismal vows call us to the love of God and the service of others. We are to refresh ourselves and help our fellow Christians to find refreshment for their souls through prayers and fellowship and breaking of the bread with them.
To fulfill our baptismal vows we need to meet as a group for Eucharist.
So what is Eucharist?
The Greek root word -- charis -- means “grace.” So the Eucharist is grace incarnate in the bread and wine and in the community gathered. Both the bread and wine and the gathered community are important because both embody the Body of Christ.
The Bread and Wine are the Body and Blood. The community as the Church is the Body of Christ. Both are necessary for us to be the community God envisions for us.
Some churches, when they send out Eucharistic Visitors, have the congregation send them out by saying,
“We who are many are one because we all share one bread and one cup.”
The Body of Christ sends Eucharist to those who for some reason couldn’t make it to church so that the Body may be whole with all its members.
So what is this Eucharist that binds us into one Body? What is it that is prefigured every time there is a feeding miracle? What miracle is it that turns bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ? What gives us that grace we crave?
There is a mystery here too deep for words, but we can poke on the surface a little bit.
The Eucharist is one of two Dominical Sacraments -- a sacrament that was instituted by Christ himself. The other is baptism.
A sacrament is for us an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace, given by Christ as sure and certain means by which we receive that grace.
In the Eucharist, grace is certain. Neither how good or bad the priest is, nor how good or bad the receiver is, grace is there. There is nothing that can block people from receiving that grace. Nothing separates us from the grace of God.
The bread and wine become the Body and Blood at the invocation of the Holy Spirit. Before the invocation the Eucharistic Prayer speaks of Bread and Wine. After the invocation it speaks of the Body and Blood. This is when we believe the Real Presence happens.
The Real Presence is our belief that Jesus is actually here in the Bread and Wine.
It’s not transubstantiation, which we don’t have time to go into, but it’s a mystery we believe and live into.
Now, we know Christ is present wherever we go, so what makes the Eucharist so special?
Think of it this way:
Yes, Christ is present always, but sometimes we feel his presence more than other times. The Eucharist is like a magnifying glass that lets you see Christ no matter what you are feeling or thinking. It focuses Christ’s presence so that without fail we can be in the presence without any more effort on our part. Eucharist does the work for us. All we have to do is show up and participate. That is the promise of a sacrament.
The only thing that is required from us is that we show up and do our part of the liturgy. The service is structured so that we know Christ is present. We listen, we respond, we pray. This is how we live into this mystery we believe in.
Episcopalians believe that they meet Christ not once or twice in a lifetime but every time we celebrate Eucharist. That is the grace embodied in the Bread and wine. They become for us the Body and Blood of Christ.
They are our meeting place with Jesus.
They are our bread of heaven and our cup of salvation.
And thanks be to God, it is not of our making but by the grace of Good.
That grace that never fails.