Sunday, May 29, 2016

The Unending Sacrifice of God for Us

Corpus Christi  +  Year C       The Rev Robert R.M. Bagwell+
29, May 2016                                          Pentecost 2
Acts 11:1-18                                                                          Psalm 148
Revelation 21:1-6                                                                   John 13:31-35

In the Church Catholic in the West, this Sunday is often celebrated as "Corpus Christi" Sunday.  Today is a celebration of the Body of Christ.  It mirrors the Maundy Thursday celebration, where we are focus more on the events leading up to Good Friday than: do this in remembrance of Me.

This is most appropriate for us to consider, as holy mystery that we celebrate each Sunday with such varied names as: the Lord's Supper, the Holy Communion, the Mass, the Holy Eucharist and the Divine Liturgy.   As with the other Dominical Sacrament, Baptism (that is a sacrament commanded by Jesus) this Sacrament has a multiplicity of meanings. Some of the meanings overlap such as death and resurrection but both always have the intent of bringing us closer to Christ.

Why then has this sacrament been the point of division among the various Protestant Churches? Why do theologians "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel", (as Jesus put it) when they discuss this sacrament?  The Book of Common Prayer calls it: the principal act of Christian worship. Why for something we do every week of the year do we never talk about that which is so fundamental to our worship of Jesus Christ?
Perhaps this is because it is such a mystery. Yet such mysteries are worth learning even with the questions they may pose.   I want to first look at the collect.  O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth: Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.
Put away from us all hurtful things?  I don't think God exactly does that primarily because hurtful things give us personal growth.  Perhaps Thomas Cranmer thought of more destructive things to the body and soul.  To give us those things which are profitable for us is exactly what he did in the Holy Communion.
The Collect used for this feast of the church customarily is found in the Prayaerbook on page 252 and was composed by St. Thomas Aquinas. God our Father, whose Son our Lord Jesus Christ in a wonderful Sacrament has left us a memorial of his passion: Grant us so to venerate the sacred mysteries of his Body and Blood, that we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruit of his redemption; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen. 
In our few minutes together this morning, I would like to unpack this a bit.   This first thing we will look at is the words of St. Paul in Roman' chapter twelve.  Paul wrote to the church at Rome:  I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual (act of) worship. Do not be conformed to this world[a] but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Transformation is what the new birth is about.  Christ in us the hope of glory (Col. 1:27)  Sacrifice is at the heart of the Christian gospel: Firstly, Christ's sacrifice for us and secondly, our sacrifice for Christ.   Some think going to church is a sacrifice.  Some think we go to church to get; more specifically we go to church to give.  Worship means to give worth to.  Some high churches begin the Holy Eucharistic prayer with the phrase: Pray brothers and sisters that my sacrifice and your may be acceptable to God the Almighty Father.   This doesn't mean just the offerings of the bread and wine which represent the fruits of our labors, but the offering of ourselves, as the Prayerbook says: We offer and present unto you ourselves our souls and bodies.  What we gain from the Eucharist is much more than we give. Christianity retains a living theology of sacrifice that conveys God’s universal truths.
The absolute claim of God on us as He is Creator God and the inability of humanity to meet that need or claim in our own persons tells us that someone has to pay. . Humanity needs an acceptable sacrifice. Indeed even in the very human realm, if we talk about those who made the ultimate sacrifice and if it was by free choice, we are astounded!  Sacrifice is costly even in human love of another person, sacrificial love for children or love of a cause. It is necessary for humanity to express love for God, devotion and worship in outward rite or act because as John wrote:  "God is Love.  In First John chapter four we read: God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.19 We love because he first loved us.
The word sacrament comes from the Roman Empire.  Before the soldiers went out to fight they took an oath to Caesar.  They swore to faithfully execute their charge unto death.  In the case of our sacraments, it is God who takes the oath of covenant with us as we do back to him as we receive Jesus Christ as Savior and in His sacraments.  Each time we receive, we renew our oath and reaffirm that we believe God’s oath.  When we say: "lift up your hearts" and respond "we lift them up unto the Lord" it is called an anamnesis. This is our lifting up of Christ's sacrifice to the Father as a remembrance (anamnesis) of what Christ did for us!
Sacrifice took several forms in the Old Testament: a gift to God of gratitude, a sacrifice to win the favor of God; a fellowship meal consuming of a sacred meal which contained the strength of the god supposedly and gives the god=s strength to the worshippers , or the sharing of table fellowship with the god an offering for sin, acknowledging the nature of sin and its significance. Yet Christianity’s roots of sacrificial understanding began with some different presuppositions.
In Genesis 22: 6-14 we read of father Abraham taking wood for a burnt offering and placing it on his son Isaac, and he himself carrying the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, Father? The fire and wood are here, but where is the  lamb for the burnt offering? Abraham answered him, God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son. As they went on, they reached the place God had told Abraham about, (which is now the temple mount in Jerusalem) they built an altar there and arranged the wood on it. Abraham bound his son Isaac and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.  Then he reached out his hand and took the knife to kill his son as God had commanded him, but  the Lord=s angel called out to him from heaven, AAbraham!  Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy@. ADon=t do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son. When Abraham looked he saw in a thicket  a ram caught by its horns.  He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son.  So Abraham called that place the LORD Will Provide.   God provided a sacrifice for sin; yes, it had to be paid for but, God provided the sacrifice.  Such was never heard of in any religion! We see this ultimately in Jesus-I Corinthians 5:7 says: Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeastBas you really are.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Christ our Passover. 
The lambs were sacrificed in commemoration of God=s deliverance in Egypt. Christianity celebrates when the Lamb of God was sacrificed for our deliverance from the penalty of sin. We celebrate this in the Holy Eucharist: a word meaning, thanksgiving used very early in the New Testament church.  They came and we come to say thank you to God and especially Jesus. In the catechism we read: Q. By what other names is this service known? The Holy Eucharist is called the Lord=s Supper, and Holy Communion; it is also known as the Divine Liturgy, the Mass, and the Great Offering. It is called the Lord’s Supper: it was a meal.  It is the Christian family reunion meal, we come to see Jesus in the bread and wine and in one another.  It is called the Holy Communion (I Corinthians 10:15) commune with God and his people, the Eucharist (the Greek word for thanksgiving, participation fellowship (the Koinonia).  We commune in the body the blood of Christ. Paul said to the Corinthian Church: Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ?  It is a way we sacramentally share in the sacrifice for usCunite ourselves to God and one another.  This is an act of worship and one by which we gain strength from God by feeding on the sacrifice.   It is called by the Orthodox Church of the East, the Divine Liturgy: leitourgia, a word that means work.  This is the work of worshiping God!  It is a work of proclamation of Jesus’ death. I Corinthians 11 says: as often as we eat this bread and drink this cup we proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes. Death?  Yes, death we celebrate the death of death and the death of our own slavery to self. Remember what we read in Romans chapter twelve, Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God=s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God‑‑this is your spiritual act of worship. The second question, in the BCP on page 859: Q. Why the Eucharist is called a sacrifice? A. Because the Eucharist, the Church’s sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, is the way by which the sacrifice of Christ is made present, and in which he unites us to his one offering of himself.  Way of Christ’s sacrifice is made present and unites us to His one offering of Himself. 
We become what we eat!  That is why we Episcopalians as well as all of Catholic Christendom receive this communion with the awe and reverence that we do.   ABut I don=t understand it?  Jesus said take eat, not take understand.  Believe and we will receive God’s Blessing!  Expect nothing and we are bound to receive it....The Catechism continues: Q. What is the inward and spiritual grace given in the Eucharist? A. The inward and spiritual grace in the Holy Communion is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith. This spiritual eating and drinking brings to the object of faith into the believer.

The basis of the Holy Eucharist is the Incarnation. God has broken into this world making human flesh into God-flesh. We believe that by the Holy Spirit He makes bread and wine His body and blood we Anglicans do not ask HOW. Paul writes of this in the aorist tense of the Greek language. The aorist tense refers to something that occurs in actual time in history, but which effects continue throughout all of eternity. We participate in a mystery a mystical communion with the Divine a, once and for all sacrifice whose benefits make it according to the Greek text a continual sacrifice and benefit. Paul wrote: Christ our Passover is sacrificed not WAS sacrificed for us. It is as though every minute of every day the benefits of Christ’s Jesus’ sacrifice are given to us.

Today we are united to Christ, priest and victim, the offerer and the offered in the Mass, the Supper of the Lord, the Communion, the Eucharist, the literal broken body signified by the Broken Bread and the blood signified in the cup.  This is the Christian strength: and willingness to follow in Christ’s example, by Christ’s power in Christ’s body.  It is a willingness to be broken for the sake of even those who do not care.  This is the Christian faith. This is catholic, universal religion.  This is Jesus our sacrifice God’s payment for our sins, debt, and penalty.  Today, come and worship the Lamb whom Revelation 13 calls the Lamb who was slain from the creation of the world...  Come let us worship.

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