We are what we eat

Loving Father, pour out your Spirit upon us, your people, the Body of Christ, that as we break open your word to us in scripture may we hear your Living Word speaking to us, that we might be transformed by his grace to a truer likeness of him. Amen.

While preparing this sermon
I had the image of two people
in my mind.

The first
was my tutor
for the class
on sacraments
at Cambridge.

The second
was a steward
at the church
where I joined the Methodist Church,
trained as a Local Preacher,
and from which I candidated for ordination.

Why the first?

Oonagh O’Brien
is an
Irish
Roman Catholic
laywoman,
the principal of
the Margaret Beaufort Institute of Theology,
which specialises in preparing women for lay ministry,
and quite possibly the person who
most profoundly impacted
my understanding
of what it is we do
when we gather with Christ and his Church
at the Table
and break bread together.

She did so in the space of
one
simple
sentence,
uttered amid the myriad goings on
of a sacraments class
full of students
from across the full theological spectrum:
from Anglo-Catholics more Catholic than Roman Catholics
to those who were so Reformed as to be
almost entirely formless.

“We are what we eat.”

Think about that,
just for a moment.

“We are what we eat”

In Holy Communion,
the Eucharist,
the Divine Liturgy
the Mass,
the Lord’s Supper,
the Breaking of the Bread,
we declare that in some way
we are eating
and drinking
the Body
and Blood of Christ.

What we each think we mean by that
will differ,
and I do not come here
tonight,
as we celebrate God’s gift of this most blessed sacrament,
to argue which ways are right or wrong.

What matters is that we do it.
What matters is that,
together,
we eat and drink.

And we are what we eat.

In declaring that we eat the Body
and drink the blood
of Christ,
so we declare that we are
to be shaped by him,
to be changed from glory into glory
in the form of the one who came
that we might have life.

We do this by remembering that last meal,
and other meals he shared
with friends
and strangers
alike.
We do this by receiving
and consuming
in the here
and now
something of that past event
and something
of what we are walking towards:
the Kingdom that is not yet fully here,
of which this meal is a foretaste.

Tonight we eat
and
we are what we eat.

Yet what is it we eat?

Let me turn
for a moment
to that second person.

Jim Beacom,
who would no doubt
be surprised,
and possibly thoroughly embarrassed,
to hear himself name-checked
in a sermon
is an Irish
evangelical
layman,
a former steward of Coulsdon Methodist Church,
and the man who,
along with his wife,
has possibly most challenged
my understanding
of what it is
to be
Christ
to others.

Each winter
Jim and his wife, Kathleen,
volunteer
at the temporary Night Shelters
set up around London
during the coldest
and darkest times of the year,
often,
but not always,
based in church buildings.

Volunteers are needed
for all kinds of tasks:
admin,
food and drink preparation,
security,
advice and guidance,
simple companionship
and a listening ear.
Jim and Kathleen,
however,
volunteer for a very particular task:
they volunteer,
each and every year,
to care for the feet
of those
who come
seeking shelter.

I will not describe for you
the sights that causes them to see,
the smells that causes them to inhale,
the surfaces that causes them to touch.
But I will tell you
that when I think
of this service
and the ritual act
we conduct tonight,
I always think of Jim
and Kathleen
as they kneel at the feet
of Christ the stranger
night after night,
week after week,
and I see that
which we will eat together.

Now,
we may not all
have a calling
to do
as Jim and Kathleen do
in a practical sense,
but tonight
we will proclaim
that we eat the body
and drink the blood
of Christ.
And we are what we eat!

In the coming weeks
we will hear
and see much
as folk seek to persuade us
that they should represent us
in government,
that they should be enabled to lead us
into an unknown future.

Yet we declare this coming weekend
as Christians
that the future is known,
that love wins,
that sin is defeated,
that captives will be released,
the blind shall recover their sight,
the oppressed shall go free,
and the prisoner released;
that the lowly shall be lifted up,
the hungry filled with good things,
the powerful brought down from their thrones,
the proud of heart scattered in their thoughts,
the rich sent away empty;
that there will be a new heaven
and a new earth,
in which the waters of life
shall flow between the tree of life
which shall bear much fruit
and the leaves of which shall bring healing for the nations.

And not only do we declare this shall be so
but in our eating tonight,
in our washing of feet,
we declare that we have seen it
and tasted it,
and that it is both now and not just not yet,
and that we are being nourished
by the one in whom it is found,
and that in this world
we ourselves
shall be the signs of these things.

Tonight we celebrate the gift
of the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.
Tonight we see in ritual act
what it is that we are fed to become.

In the days that are to come,
at the ballot boxes of 5 weeks’ time,
and in what lies beyond,
dare we declare
to the poor and the rich,
the hurt and the unconcerned,
the confused and the certain,
the voiceless and the powerful,
in words and actions
that
“We are what we eat”
to the glory of God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Amen.

Sermon preached at the Saltash Churches Together Maundy Thursday Eucharist with Washing of Feet, St Nicholas & St Faith Church, Saltash on 2nd April 2015.

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About MendipNomad

I'm a nomad both physically and denominationally, but I'll always call the Mendips home. Currently a Methodist Presbyter (Minister) in Cornwall. I love sport, film, tv, socialising, politics (both US and British), and, yes, being part of the church.
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