Notes from the sermon by Dr Jan Betts 3rd November 2019 – The Eucharist (Part 5- Forming an Alternative Community)
We ask that all that I say and all that we hear be filled with God’s guiding spirit of truth.
At All Hallows we have spent the last four weeks journeying through some different aspects of God’s fellowship meal which we call the Eucharist. We have heard some fascinating bits of its history, and how it relates to a divine economy of sharing and we have had a meal together. Today, just after All Saints’ Day, we come to why the Eucharist is a huge shout out for us to be part of wider communities than St Chads, St Michael’s or All Hallows or even all of those together.
As Angela reminded us last week, Eucharist means ‘thanks’. it is a thanks giving for the love, the life the death and the resurrection of Jesus. If you go to Greece on holiday ‘efkaristo’ is still how you say ‘thank you’. So we come to this holy event to meet Jesus our God giving thanks for all that he has given me, you and most importantly, and sometimes lost, us.
We often focus on the personal and individual in the Eucharist. One of the ways in which I came to see how deeply transformative and healing this individual personal meeting with God in the Eucharist is was long ago. I had still born twins, and didn’t know how to grieve for them but one day, several years after, someone said to me ‘did you have names for them?’ When I said yes, she said ‘take them with you to communion’ so I did, and it has been my practice ever since to bring very difficult situations, either mine or others’, to that moment of receiving bread and wine. Situations can be healed and transformed by the reminder and experience of the hope that is in Jesus.
That’s us personal, the blinding object usually at the front of our consciousness.
However here at All Hallows, in our communion, our community meal, we have a circle, which emphasises that we have a Eucharistic fellowship, a community of believers. We are together as people who want to follow Jesus, the Way the Truth and the Life. To do this is to take a political – with a small p – stance, as has been pointed out by Tim Gorringe (in the book which was the starting point for this series) and many others over the history of the church. What we do here is to say that we are one with Jesus in his desire to be against all injustice, all exclusion, all hatred and all scapegoating. It was not for nothing that the first Christians were known as People of The Way. Jesus sets out a very particular Way, and our first reading from Acts showed the early Christians in fellowship together and caring deeply for each other. We all together as well as individually bring our whole messy lives, social, emotional and behavioural to this reminder of the Way of Jesus and we ask to be changed by it as part of the body of Christ and not just individually.
However…..Our churches are one part of our community but the alignment with the love of Jesus, which we affirm by coming to communion, leads us into many others.
Within our own community here at All Hallows we welcome to the Lord’s Table anyone who has a heart open to the way of Jesus and we define it no further and no less than that. We also welcome other communities here, not just to worship but into all sorts of other activities. LGBTQI, ecology, asylum seeker support, refugees, people suffering from addictions of all sorts, people who are hungry and marginalised, our interfaith brothers and sisters, are all our concern, and I’m sorry but I know I’ll have missed loads. And in case that sounds like a whole heap of hard work, we also take our Jesus shaped attitudes into less tough places, our places of work, fun and relaxation. Jesus wasn’t averse to eating out, he just unashamedly took his attitudes with him.
These communities are all good and right to be involved with. However today I want to share with you a passion of mine for another community of saints, as we are all saints.
Around the world, and especially now in the global south, there is probably no single minute when someone somewhere is not coming to this same feast of life that we share. There are Christians all over the globe: Paul on his journeys to spread the Way of Jesus founded many of the first communities, and he loved and kept in touch with them and nurtured them. I chose the reading from Corinthians because in it Paul gives thanks for the prayers of those who stand with him as his brothers and sisters through hardships of all sorts.
We have a community of worldwide brothers and sisters in Christ’s family, part of Christ’s body as we are part of Christ’s body, many of who have paid or are paying a great price for their commitment to the way of Jesus. In December 2018 the Archbishop of Truro was asked by the then Foreign Secretary, (one Jeremy Hunt….) to produce a report on the scale of religious persecution around the world, and more specifically persecution of Christians, and it was published in July this year. You can find it very easily online. https://christianpersecutionreview.org.uk/report/ It’s really sobering reading. I’m not going to harrow you with stories but they are legion, from Boko Haram to Syria to N Korea and China.
The academic in me needs to say that his report is based in large part on the work of organisations such as Open Doors, the Pew organisation and Aid to the Church in Need in the US, all longstanding world watchers in this area.
It concludes among much else that ‘approximately 245 million Christians…suffer high levels of persecution or worse, up 30 million from 2018’ and that ‘in some regions the level and nature of persecution is coming arguably close to meeting the international definition of genocide according the that adopted by the UN.’ And that 80% of all religious persecution is directed at Christians.
Now we know Christians who are fleeing persecution because we meet them as asylum seekers in our churches. We have some here. And we used to have a brother from the Philippines who would ask us to pray for those who were being persecuted there, his friends…not some random statistic but his friends. How would we feel if Heston or Tony were imprisoned for being our ministers? If our Christian children were not allowed to apply for university places? If we knew that the eradication of Christians was one of the main objectives of an extreme group in the UK, as it is in Iraq, Syria, NE Nigeria and The Philippines? if we were persecuted as Christians for standing against illegal activity by the government as in Central America? Would we not want Christians from other countries to stand with us and pray for us?
But almost the most telling comment in this report comes from former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in the house of Lords: ‘The persecution of Christians throughout the much of the middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and Asia and elsewhere is one of the crimes against humanity of our time, and I’m appalled at the lack of protest it has evoked’. This echoes the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Fouad Twal ‘does anyone here hear our cry? How many atrocities must we endure before someone comes to our aid.?’ Archbishop Nicodemus Dawood Sharaf of the Syrian Orthodox Church, said that “there are many diplomatic missions only seeking to inquire of our situation without actually providing any assistance.” Against this backdrop, academics, journalists and religious leaders (both Christian and non-Christian) have stated that, the global persecution of Christians is “an urgent human rights issue that remains underreported”. The report speaks of the “paucity of awareness of the challenges facing the Christian community” and highlights the lack of religious literacy among Foreign Office staff.
I wonder if any of you are thinking that this sounds like a political comment and here we are in church thinking about the Eucharist. What has the Eucharist got to do with this?
Well, we take the bread and wine as the Body of Christ, we describe ourselves as one body and surely we are part of the body of Christ who we don’t see, with those who have the courage to wear a Jesus T shirt in public when they know there will be more consequences than a raised eyebrow. I feel so strongly that they need our support as fellow believers. You might argue that all persecuted people need our support: yes of course, and the Report is at great pains to say that, but again as the report states, this is not about special pleading for Christians, but making up a significant deficit in world attention – and our attention.
Paul wrote that he was grateful for the prayers of his fellow believers who clearly knew what was happening to him and we can at least keep ourselves informed and pray.
I have felt stumbling and incoherent as I write this sermon, because I feel increasingly deeply about this subject and that I cannot ignore the body of Christ outside my little boundaries. We make our memorial of Jesus’ death together with all Christians: is that part of the body which suffers not part of our community as well? In their brokenness can we not be part of their hope? This community of persecuted saints, who take Jesus body and blood as we do, is rarely mentioned among us and they are inspiring and inspired by the same Spirit who inspires us.
Jesus’ body was broken for us and for all, to transform us into channels of his love in the communities to which God invites us. Thanks be to God, Efkaristo.
Find out more.
https://frrme.org/ Fellowship for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East. An amazing organisation based in Iraq, who do everything from building football fields in Irbil, medical support throughout Iraq, contributing to peace talks with leaders of all faiths throughout the Middle East… check them out, support them
https://www.opendoorsuk.org/ another fantastic organisation both helping on the ground and being a source of data through their World Watch work.
https://acnuk.org/ Catholic based organisation, who again do brave and inspiring work on the ground and through data gathering.
This one was kindly brought to my attention by Bob Shaw from ST Michael’s. Thank you Bob.
If you would like to find out more about this series then please visit Phil Gardner’s site.