Sermon by the Associate Vicar, The Rev'd Rachel Hawes
Sunday 18th September 2011 - Trinity 13
Readings: Exodus 16: 2-15, Philippians 1: 21-end, Matthew 20: 1-16
This is the second of our sermon series in our Autumn Creation Time programme and I have entitled it Eucharistic Liturgy in Creation Tide. You will be aware that we have just started a 4 week study course exploring Eucharistic Theology and everyone is most welcome to that. In addition, as a clergy team, we have been reviewing the detail of our Eucharistic practices – what we do in terms of liturgical movement and why. We have done this in the context of study and discussion, asking ourselves at each stage what the theological basis for our action is. As result of this you may notice some small changes over the coming months in terms of the detail of what we do in this service. This sermon is intended as a link to all of this.
It is particularly appropriate that we are looking at the Eucharist during this period which the church has set aside as A Time for God’s Creation. Although we have many other services during the week, this 10.30 Parish Eucharist is our central act of worship. For Christians, Sunday is the first day of the week and in this Parish we come together in communion with one another, to begin our new week with an act of worship which celebrates God’s presence with his people throughout salvation history and His power to re-create and renew our lives. The word ‘Eucharist’ derives from the Greek word, eucharistia, meaning ‘thanksgiving’. This is what the Eucharist is all about – it is the sacrament at the heart of the Church’s life. We meet together in grateful acknowledgement of all that God has done for us and to give thanks for all His gifts to us.
When Common Worship was introduced many church goers, especially those brought up with the Book of Common Prayer, were bewildered by the variety of alternative forms of text it seemed to offer. The ancient and beautiful language of the Book of Common Prayer was unchanging and much loved and, for many, was an expression of the unity of the church in liturgy. A commonly expressed fear was that, with Common Worship, it would be impossible to recognise a Eucharistic service between one church and another because they would all be so different. But the draftsmen described their aim in this way: they said they wanted to provide a deep and unchanging underlying structure to Eucharistic liturgy so that, even if the words varied, the shape remained the same and was always recognisable. One commentator, Mark Beach, writing in 2000 summed up the intention of Common Worship as follows: “Where as once we had prayer in common because we used the same texts, we can still have prayer in common because the underlying structures of the service are familiar to us.”
I would want to say that if we have some understanding of this deep underlying structure it will enrich our experience of worship. So what is it? Well if you look at the Form of the Eucharist in Common Worship you will find that it always has 4 sections each of which is given a heading. These headings are: The Gathering, The Liturgy of The Word, The Liturgy of the Sacrament and the Dismissal.
These headings are important because they express for us what we are doing in this service of Holy Communion. You might sum it up by saying that the service has three stages of experience: “Gathering, Transformation and Mission”.
So firstly: ‘Gathering’. We each come to this service as private individuals but when, at the start of the service, we assent to the President’s Trinitarian greeting (‘In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’) we are making a statement about the kind of gathering this is. We have become the gathered people of God – separate individuals no longer but linked together in communion with God and through him with one another.
Together we step into His sacred space, together we confess our sins and together we are absolved through God’s unending mercy and love. This enables us to move forward into our act of worship, lighter in heart and freed from the cares and faults that we all of us carry and which we have brought with us into the gathering. And so we praise God – for the natural instinct of a forgiven people is to praise – we do this in the words of the Gloria. (Those who come late and who miss this essential first part of the service miss something profound.)
Secondly Transformation: In this service we encounter God in two ways: firstly through the Liturgy of the Word and then through the Liturgy of the Sacrament. This encounter feeds us and has the power to transform us if we will let it.
We read aloud from the Scriptures and our encounter with God’s Word is an encounter with a living thing. ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’ (John 1:1) Jesus was the Word, and he also preached the Word – he told vivid stories which expounded the Word and made it resonant and accessible for his hearers. Jesus understood people’s need to be fed in this way. Christians believe that the Word of God is something active, capable of transforming the hearer. For this reason preaching the Word is also an integral part of the Liturgy of the Word. Preaching means taking up this active process; interpreting, expounding and applying Scripture, so that those who hear it may make connections with their daily lives and be moved and changed as the Holy Spirit works in them.
And then we come together around the Lord’s table in the Liturgy of the Sacrament, to share in the bread and the wine as he commanded us: ‘Do this in remembrance of me’. But what we do in this Eucharist is more than simply a remembering of an event that happened in the historical past; it is something dynamic. We bring this past into the present. We remember that Christ died, was raised and ascended and we look for his second coming. Thus past, present and future are linked together in a solemn moment of re-membering, literally of putting things back together in the present time. In this act of re-membering the people of God, together, “make the memorial of Christ”. We are co-celebrants in this mystery not bystanders. As we receive the bread and the wine of the sacrament the distributor says “The Body of Christ”, “The Blood of Christ” and we say “Amen”. This is an important response – we are saying ‘Yes I agree’. It is our assent to the statement and to all that that implies in terms of our faith.
And so thirdly and finally – Mission: This final part of the liturgy is the briefest. It is called the Dismissal in Common Worship. We have been fed by God’s Word and by His sacrament and now with a blessing we are dismissed with the instruction: “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord”. Sometimes churches alter this heading (I think we have, in some of our Service Orders) probably because they fear it sounds a bit terse. But it is meant to be. It is saying, in effect, ‘Go and get on with the job’ As a Gathering of the people of God we have been Transformed by Word and Sacrament. We have participated in a liturgy which is both mysterious and life giving . However we came to the Lord’s Table, whatever cares or burdens we brought with us, in some way we are now different people. We have been granted a glimpse of the face of God and of his eternal grace and now we are Dismissed into the world with a Mission - to do God’s work and to try to live out the unity which these holy mysteries embody for us. This is the mission of the church and one in which we are all called to participate. Let us pray for grace to live up to our calling.
8.00 Holy Communion
10.30 Sung Eucharist
12.30 Tagalog Mass
17.30 Evensong (Last Sunday includes Healing)
Monday - Friday
8.45 Morning Prayer
17.00 Evening Prayer
12.30 Holy Communion
17.30 Tagalog Mass