Reading the gospel accounts it is clear that Jesus spent a fair amount of his ministry eating. Whether he’s having private meals with his disciples, picnicking on a hillside with a few thousand listeners, inviting himself or getting himself invited to dinner, or barbecuing fish on a beach, the gospels record a substantial number of mealtime occasions. Clearly there must have been many, many more meals which are not specifically recorded, but which are part of the same pattern.
For Jesus some of these meals were teaching opportunities, occasions to share with his fellow diners a story or parable or some other teaching. But they were more than just this. Quite a few of the meals are in the houses of outcasts — tax collectors, collaborators, the ritually unclean, adulterers, and other sinners. Jesus preached the good news of joy, peace, social justice, freedom from our slaveries; that in God’s kingdom our sins can be forgiven, are forgiven.
Jesus taught his disciples to pray: ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us’ (Matthew 6.12, Luke 11.4); and he also taught them: ‘if you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven’ (John 20.23). Forgiveness and reconciliation happen when people forgive each other. When other people forgive us for the wrongs we have done to them then we are forgiven; and when we forgive others for the wrongs they have done us, they are forgiven. Jesus, in his life and death, in his teaching and in his actions, lived a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, even at the last, and inspires us to try and emulate that life: living in the kingdom, forgiving and being forgiven. In this way we are reconciled to one another and are at one with God. In God’s kingdom such forgiveness is freely available: all citizens of the kingdom will willingly and freely forgive the people who have wronged them, and no one will bear grudges or hurts. And everyone will be forgiven. (Of course, in God’s kingdom everyone will strive not to do wrong or cause hurt, but that’s another part of the story.)
So when Jesus sat down and ate with outcasts he showed — to everyone who was prepared to see it — how near God’s kingdom was, how it was already here among us. He showed how it was possible to live in God’s kingdom of social justice and reconciliation. Forgiveness was actualized. In the social aspect of sharing a meal together and being prepared to accept one another, to give and to receive forgiveness, to be reconciled to one another: in doing these things we can glimpse the kingdom, and indeed not just glimpse it but enjoy a foretaste — the kingdom in action, right here and now.
And that brings us back to the liturgy. Jesus’s disciples continued to share their meals as an enactment of the justice and peace of the kingdom of God, and in doing so they recognized the continuing presence of Jesus as they broke bread together. This meal continues to this day, whenever Christians gather together and share bread and wine in remembrance of Christ: Christ is present, forgiveness and reconciliation are given and received, the kingdom is brought into existence.
This then is our vision of the Eucharist. It is a vision that the Church sometimes seems to understand only very dimly, perhaps because the Eucharist — and Christianity in general — has become overlayed with so many ideas and practices that add ‘religious’, ‘ceremonial’ and ‘ideological’ complexity. Some of those layers can be helpful, and others may be less so. Here we are concerned primarily with liturgy, and how the kingdom of God is proclaimed and lived through the liturgy. How does the Eucharist exemplify the kingdom? What kinds of practice are useful? What do we need to recover, in our language and our ceremonial? What do we need to preserve, or enhance, what do we need to lessen or jettison? How has the liturgical revision of the last hundred years helped or hindered? Quite likely we shall conclude that there is no single answer, but different emphases in different contexts, with some limits, and suggestions for a range of ‘normal’ usage.
But this is our starting point: the proclamation of the good news and the recognition of the presence of Christ in the shared meal where all are welcome, where the hungry are fed, and where sins are forgiven.
‘Your kingdom come on earth, as in heaven: give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.’
illustration by Leigh Hurlock, from Gathering for Worship, Canterbury Press, 2005, 2007; used with permission.
It’s been a while since I posted here. That’s because life is busy, and time to write detailed articles is limited. Rather than wait any longer I’m going to sketch out another piece, and at some future point I will add more detail.
Under the provocative headline “Should church introduce transgender baptism?” the BBC reports that the Revd Chris Newlands, vicar of Lancaster, has
asked the Church of England to debate introducing a ceremony akin to a baptism to mark the new identities of Christians who undergo gender transition.
The idea came after a young transgender person approached him, seeking to be “re-baptised” in his new identity. Similar ceremonies are already happening in some other Anglican churches.
This weekend, Nick Benn and his friends gathered at his church for a service to mark one of the most significant events in his life so far: the transition from his previous identity as a young woman, to a new life as a man.
At Lancaster Priory, Chris Newlands is keen for the Church to have an official liturgy to guide the clergy on such occasions. He wants the Church to be able to demonstrate its acceptance and love, and to help mark a milestone for someone transitioning from one gender to another.
Susie Leafe, director of Reform, is quoted, commenting on the question of ‘baptism’.
“The Bible gives us the notion that there is one baptism, so the idea of ‘re-baptising’ people is certainly something that would go against a lot of the deep theology of the Church and would be confusing.”
The General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in York, yesterday gave final approval to the additional baptismal texts. The texts are authorized from 1 September 2015.
The synodical report reads:
Article 7 business Final Approval
The Bishop of Sodor and Man (Chair of the Steering Committee) moved:
‘That the liturgical business entitled “Christian Initiation: Additional Texts for Holy Baptism in Accessible Language” be finally approved for a period from 1 September 2015 until further Resolution of the Synod.’
The final vote was approved after a division of houses, with the voting figures below:
House of Bishops: For - 23, Against - 1, Abstentions - 1,
House of Clergy: For - 114, Against - 6, Abstentions - 5,
House of Laity: For - 126, Against - 10, Abstentions - 6,
The Synod also approved new regulations on the authorization of people to assist in the administration of Holy Communion. The rules allow the bishop, on the application of the incumbent or priest in charge, to authorize named individuals. The bishop may also give the priest general authority to allow people to administer (with PCC agreement), and this may include children who have been formally admitted to Communion before Confirmation. Children in church schools may be authorized with the agreement of the head teacher rather than the PCC. The full rules are in the linked file. The new regulations come into force on 1 October 2015, and revoke the old 1969 rules.
ADMINISTRATION OF HOLY COMMUNION REGULATIONS (GS 1992)
Regulations under Canon B 12 Article 7 business
The Bishop of Sodor and Man (the Rt Revd Robert Paterson) moved:
‘That the Administration of Holy Communion Regulations be approved.’
which was approved.