Luke 19.1-10 Zacchaeus, End of Creation Season, All Saints.
+ May I speak in the name…..
The story of Zacchaeus meeting Jesus offers such a vivid image; a many-layered drama that speaks to us through the ages. I wonder if you are like me and ponder on what this scene would have really looked like? What if we could travel back in time? Did it really happen like that? What did people think, just what did look like, how did he speak, what did he say?
Today we are back into our 21st century Christianity series, which aims to connect the life we live through the week into the rituals of the Anglican Church; asking what does it mean to be Anglican; what is the church doing in its worship and how do we understand and participate in it? And today we are looking at a massive subject.. the Eucharistic Prayer.
Today also marks the end of Creation Season.. yet Creation goes on all the time; the patterns of life, death, renewal ever repeated in the cycles of nature and in our own lives; we see it so vividly at this autumn time, as the loud symphonies of creation soften into a russet-coloured hum. The cycles of life, death and renewal are in this Eucharistic ritual too.
Thinking of passing seasons, today is also the feast of All Saints/All Hallows, just before All-Hallows eve, (Halloween) and All-Hallows day. The pagans mark it as ‘samhain’, when the veil between the living and dead is thinnest. The church marks something similar; when we recall the lives of those we have loved and lost. All saints… means all of us, through history and alive today. We will see a little later how we join our Eucharistic prayers with all the saints.
Eucharist is a huge subject, and can get pretty complex.. but I will try to deftly sidestep the complexity and instead offer a portrait of wonder; an open window where time is compressed and a single moment transcends history and meets us here today with the same intensity
I will get a little ‘jargony’, as I go on, but hopefully in a way that illuminates. . a suggestion if you like…
First things first, for clarity; The Eucharist is the celebration and sharing of the bread and wine. Sometimes called Holy Communion, sometimes called The Mass, it is what exists right at the very heart of the worship of the Anglican church and indeed most of the Christian church throughout the world, and … throughout history.
But the Eucharist is the strangest of things, my old tutor at college called it ‘fundamentally weird‘. Every week we build up to a point where we come up for a small piece of bread and a sip of wine. What is going on?
Well clearly we are following the words of Jesus when he celebrated the last supper with his friends, “this is my body, this is my blood, do this in remembrance of me…”
But there is more to it that that.. This isn’t simply a memorial of something that took place 2000 years ago. For Christians, despite all their different theologies, (and when it comes to Eucharist–there are many; ). Despite their differences Christians acknowledge there is something profound taking place here today.
We have inherited the Eucharistic Prayers through history…
Different churches celebrate different forms of liturgy for Eucharist, and the prayers we say today are Anglican, (one of a set of eight). However as far back as we can tell, (and this goes all the way to a piece of early Church writing called the ‘Didache’, around 1/2nd century), each of these elements of the Eucharist prayer have remained consistently ‘there’.
“The Lord be with you…. “
The start of the Eucharistic prayer.. but where are we?.. the beginning of the Eucharist or the beginning of the service?
In many respects this whole service, the whole of what we are doing today, is part of the Eucharistic rite. From our opening welcome, our worship frames the drama of Eucharist; a rising swell of prayer and worship as we reach a crescendo of … intimacy.
Our service has three core elements which frame the Eucharistic drama;
1, Gathering – bringing our whole selves
2a, Liturgy of Word
2b, Liturgy of Sacrament
3, Dismissal/Mission – sending out / (otherwise pointless)
So I invite you to see if you can identify the elements of the service; and hopefully explore why they are here….
Prayer of Preparation Setting our hearts on G-d
Penitence / Absolution – Brokenness understood and restored.
Gloria – Universal praise
Collect – collecting our prayers together with the universal church.
Liturgy of the Word
Readings (OT, Psalm, Epistle)
Gospel Reading – Standing (bodies) to face the Gospel “Praise to you oh Christ”, (no longer ‘good to praise Christ’). Small crosses, (thought word,heart).
Sermon – Sacrament of Word . . who speaks? a mystery?
Creed – Affirming our faith together
Liturgy of Sacrament
The Peace – Ensuring there is no division between us and our lives
Preparation of the Table. Jewish ritual feast
Money? or our selves? and these gifts. All from God, statement of devotion.
Eucharistic Prayer; Prayer E
Intro/ Dialogue – ‘The Lord be with you’…. ‘Lift up your hearts’… pointing us towards God (Orans position)
Preface – Praising God for his mighty acts / Doxology
Sanctus – ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’ joining the host of heaven (Isaiah 6.3, Merkevah Mysticism)
Epiclesis – Come Holy Spirit, (change of movement), on all – not just bread and wine
Words of Institution – Narrative of Jesus’ supper.
Anamnesis – ‘and so remembering… ‘ / Entering the Mystery
Oblation – Offering to God
Acclamation – ‘Christ has died’
Intercession – ‘and so with St john & St Stephen’ joining with the Prayers of the Saints
End of Eucharistic Prayer
Breaking Bread – Didache ‘scattered on the mountains’
Agnus Dei – Lamb of God (position, offering to God)
Prayer of Humble Access, (only say the word, I shall be healed)
Dismissal – mission
So the drama does indeed unfold.. worship working towards this moment of connection, sacrament, presence and provoking mission.
So is this more than a symbol?
Through this prayer, through the ritual, and through the mystery of God the sacrament is made real.
‘Sacrament’ refers to a moment where heaven and earth meet; it’s what all-saints day reminds us of too, the thin veil, and what the Eucharist embodies; a moment of presence, where God meets us in these elements of Bread and Wine… and sends us out to live the Eucharist .. daily.
So what on earth does that mean? How can that be? It’s simply not logical.
Maybe a way it to think of it is like a piece of art, music or poetry.
Poetry is simply markings of ink on a piece of paper, simple and of no significance; and yet, what emerges from the ink and the paper is something which can inspire, provoke, comfort and reduce us to tears; a lyricism which cannot be easily grasped or contained, yet moves us to our core….
The truth is Eucharist cannot be explained… it can only really be experienced….
Eucharist is like a multi-faceted diamond, light comes in and is then reflected out in many ways. Eucharist is therefore always changing, always different; in much the same way that we also change, we evolve, grow in newness. The Orthodox word for this evolving into God is ‘theosis’, (but that’s for another day!).
Which is why I started by asking about time travel. Dare I suggest that in poetic – yet deeply real – way; we don’t need to, time is transcended here—the Eucharist breaks the window.
We saw that Zacchaeus was met by the strange and beguiling person of Jesus. Interestingly Zacchaeus was welcomed by the host of all life to be a host himself; and discovered his humanity both embraced and restored.
The same thing happens today. Eucharist is not about an event in the past. It is happening right now. This Eucharist is the Christ of the cosmos, all time, all space, all things drawing us together right now with the same intimate embrace.
So we might suggest then, that in following this liturgical prayer each week, we are certainly not limiting ourselves; Instead we are entering into a Divine Drama; we are carried, we are confronted, we are comforted. A holy mystery as the presence of Christ is made tangible even in a point of total absence. In our ritual, in symbol, in offering and in our ‘sending out’ God is made real. Our faith is met .. something happens. (Epiphenomena).
Augustine says we offer ourselves to God, and it is ourselves we receive back. All are invited to this table, liberal, catholic, conservative, gay straight, poor rich, broken or strong, oppressed or longing for freedom; though different, we are all are united, connected in a moment – an instant of presence, a moment of awe. Zizoulas speaks of receiving the gift of the other; each of us as an other and a reflection of God the w/holy other.
So come – all you Saints; you are truly welcome; God meets us all – like Zacchaeus, knowing our weakness, our doubts, our shadows and yet welcomes us fully – embracing us in material things transformed.
It’s a mystery we share together. Devouring God, consuming God, even as God consumes us.
30 October 2016