The Long Fast

Trinity 5 St James, Colwall July 12th 2020

Isaiah 55: 10-13; Matthew 13: 1-9, 18-23

To listen to the recording of the sermon as you read:

Our enforced exile from public worship and fasting from the Eucharist has lasted 4 months – I think that probably does merit the use of the much-used adjective ‘unprecedented’.

I wonder what you have missed most?

I think for me that it has been about being physically together and able to celebrate and receive communion together, because that’s the way in which Christians express their commitment to each other and to the one they serve, and the way in which that commitment is built up. It’s about the connections with one another’s lives and with those of the community. It’s about being with each other in the presence of God. Watching a service on television or computer is really not the same, helpful though it may be in other ways.

Some of us have been able to meet up for a short act of prayer and worship on Zoom, though that too has its limitations. But it would be wrong to suggest that we can only know the presence of God with us when we come together to worship. One of the positives to have come out of our enforced isolation may well be the ways and places in which we have discovered afresh God’s presence with us – maybe in a renewed discipline of reading scripture or praying; maybe in the opportunity to enjoy nature through the prescribed daily exercise, maybe in serving and caring for the vulnerable, maybe in receiving that help. But the church has always taught that the physical act of sharing the sacrament of communion together does make Christ present to us in a very particular way and forms us into one body: the body of Christ here on earth.

Even though we’re together again in church, we still feel the restraint of the precautions we have to take to limit the spread of the virus. It still feels counter-intuitive to realise that we love one another best by maintaining a physical distance and refraining from touching, let alone embracing. Singing, which helps us to unite us in worship, is still not considered safe; and although we can receive the bread of communion, we cannot share the common cup at this time. The risk from this deadly virus is too great.

But perhaps all this helps us to focus again on our understanding of the Eucharist and what it means to us. The service itself is in two parts: the liturgy of the word followed by the liturgy of the sacrament. The first part is, in a sense, a foretaste of the second in which we encounter Christ and his love for us most deeply. The second builds on what we have experienced in the earlier part of the service.

So, we begin with the opportunity to come before God and know his presence with us as we reflect on our failure to get things right and receive God’s forgiveness. Then through the scriptures and, hopefully, the sermon, the word of God is broken open for us so that we hear of God’s love for us and his desire and longing for the world.

Today, for example, we heard the parable of the sower in which the seed is sown abundantly regardless of the type of soil on which it lands. Where the soil is good, God is able to multiply the harvest richly. Likewise, Isaiah speaks with confidence in the certainty that God’s word will achieve God’s purposes, as it is freely given without restriction or boundaries just as rain and snow fall to the earth without discrimination.

When we come to the second part of the service, we turn to giving thanks for all that God has done for us, in the words of the Eucharistic prayer. We recall Jesus’ words to his disciples as he shared the bread and the cup of wine at the Last Supper and, in obedience to his command, we take, bless, break and give the elements which we have offered, that together they might signify for us his sacrifice made once for all on the cross. We share in this sacramental meal to receive Christ’s abundant and generous love, to know his presence with us, to express our unity with one another in and through Christ and to be sent out in loving service to the community.

During the time that we have been unable to meet together some of you may have taken the opportunity when praying or when taking part in an online service to make a spiritual communion. The Book of Common Prayer instructs us that if we cannot receive the sacrament physically in ourselves for whatever reason, then we may offer ourselves in penitence and faith, giving thanks for the redemption won by Christ crucified. To do so is to truly ‘eat and drink the Body and Blood of our Saviour Christ.’

Today we may receive the bread but not yet share the common cup. While the threat from the Covid virus remains, some may still prefer to make a purely spiritual communion. The Church assures us of grace received in this way and a unity with Christians everywhere and the one who said, ‘I am the Bread of life.’

Though we suffer the constraints and restrictions of the moment, we thank God that his generous love and all the benefits of Christ’s passion are always freely available to us. It is nourishment for the soil of our lives so that the word of God may grow in us, bear much fruit, and accomplish God’s purposes. Praise God that today we can once again rejoice and share communion together.