Saturday, August 1, 2015

All Who Hunger Gather Gladly--A Sermon for the Season After Pentecost

Season after the Pentecost
Propers 13B, scripture can be found here

My father was a lapsed Roman Catholic and my mother an unchurched Episcopalian.  I'm still not entirely sure what led them to insist that my sister and I (both baptized as infants at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Makawao) attend catechism classes in preparation for our first Holy Communion.  

As part of preparing for receiving our first communion each of us was required to make our first confession. So, scapular around my neck with laminated pictures of Saints and a glow in the dark rosary in my hands, I entered the little booth and confessed the only sin I could think of.

I was mean to my sister...

I’m sure I was given some task, some number of penitential prayers to perform. But, being only 8 at the time, my awe and fear of the priest seemed more than penance enough and I scurried out of the booth when I ran out of sins to confess (I think I may have confessed cruelty to my younger sister multiple times because I couldn’t think of anything else to say!).

Second only to the priest in their ability to inspire awe were the nuns who taught the classes. They were adamant that partaking of the bread and the wine was to be done with intentionality and solemnity--that in our first Communion we would be participating in something beyond ourselves and in that first taste we could begin to comprehend the intermingling of the human and divine.

Or, at least that is my understanding now!  At the time, I was awestruck by my new glow in the dark rosary and the possibility that I might somehow prove negligent in receiving that sacred bread.

Because, on one point in particular the nuns were clear--one was not to chew the holy wafer.  Do not chew! Whatever you do, do not chew the body of Christ! And so, as I opened my mouth to receive that first holy bit of wheat and water condensed into it's round cracker form, I felt a sense of dread and panic.  How does one go about eating the body of Christ without chewing?!

Gummed to the roof of my mouth, the wafer eventually grew sodden enough to be swallowed and I left the chancel steps with relief. I had survived this encounter with what seemed the holy of holies and the faded picture which remains from this moment is of a solemn little girl in white dress and veil standing before the altar.  

And, so, today as I stand here in this gathered company, this community of faith, I can only imagine what my 8 year old self would have thought of my genuflection and my elevation, of the consecration which I am privileged to perform as priest. 

The awe which I feel as I consider the stretch from 8 year old self to the self that serves as Priest can be summed up most beautifully in the prayer of Humble Access.  
We do not presume to come to this thy Table (O merciful Lord) trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We be not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, in these holy Mysteries, that we may continually dwell in him, and he in us, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood. Amen.

This prayer appears in the Book of Common Prayer on page 337, and has been part of our common liturgies since 1548. 

And, while it is a prayer rarely said, it is the prayer that centers me in the sanctity of our action at the table we call the altar. It is the prayer that reminds me that mercy and grace are not earned but granted. It is the prayer that reminds me that we dwell in God and God within us. It is the prayer that holds me to my conviction that this is God’s table and all are welcome--regardless. This is the table where sinner and saint stand alike and as one.

As the letter to the Ephesians offers, there is, one body and one Spirit, one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Each of us given grace in according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 

And, how to measure the love gift of Christ? There is no measure for such generous love. There is no measure that does no overflow with the abundance of that love.  

And in response to that love, all that we have and all that we are is brought to this table.  And, it is enough.  That is the gift of grace in the Good News we hear today...that who we are and what we have is abundantly, generously and unstintingly given. 

Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and so we too shall be fed from a body that broken is resurrected and reunited through our own feasting.  The bread baked by our fellows and shared from this table binding us into a wholeness that fills the empty and opens to us a world beyond self.  We partake and in that partaking become more fully who we are called to be.

The supplemental hymnal, Wonder Love and Praise offers the following hymn sung to the tune of Southern Harmony that stands as a summation of our Gospel text today--

All who hunger, gather gladly;
holy manna is our bread.
Come from wilderness and wandering.
Here, in truth, we will be fed.
You that yearn for days of fullness,
all around us is our food.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, never strangers;
seeker, be a welcome guest.
Come from restlessness and roaming.
Here, in joy, we keep the feast.
We that once were lost and scattered
in communion’s love have stood.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

All who hunger, sing together;
Jesus Christ is living bread.
Come from loneliness and longing.
Here, in peace, we have been led.
Blest are those who from this table
live their lives in gratitude.
Taste and see the grace eternal.
Taste and see that God is good.

Text: Silvia G. Dunstan, 1991
(1) Bob Moore (1993)
(2) HOLY MANNA, from The Southern Harmony, 1835

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