Sermons from Rev Julie Wagstaff
Sunday 20th September
When I looked at today’s readings I wondered what on earth I could add to what Jeremiah, James and the Psalmist are saying ....... and the words of Jesus recorded by Mark simply continue to emphasise the fact that to be Christians, followers of Jesus, means thinking and living in a way that is completely contrary to our self-obsessed culture. We are to put aside selfish ambition in all its guises and walk in His way. Although it is a way of living that is the way to true life and the peace that passes all understanding, it involves a constant struggle – a daily – for me, sometimes hourly - taking up of our cross to follow His way, not our own.
So, instead of my trying to clumsily reinforce that message I want us today to focus on the unconditional love of God and think about one of the things that He has given us to sustain us in our walk. The Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper of which we are preparing to partake.
I’m therefore going to share with you the thoughts, written in 1948, by the then Bishop of Durham, The Rt Rev H.C.G. Moule.
He begins .... First of all what is the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? It is a Token of Covenant – one of the two ‘outward and visible Signs’ which our dear Saviour instituted for His people’s use and blessing. In itself it is a most simple thing, but it is meant for a use full of wonder, full of blessing, full of God.
In all ages you find the Lord God using simple, outward things for wonderful purposes in the soul. The rainbow, as a token to Noah, to assure his soul that there would never again be a flood. He bade the Israelites to eat a Lamb’s flesh, once a year, in ‘token’ that He had set them free and would bless them with all blessings in their freedom. And the Lord Jesus took bread from the Passover Table, and broke it, and gave it to His disciples to eat; and He took the ‘cup of blessing,’ gave it to them to drink; and He said that the bread was His Body given for them, and the wine was His Blood shed for them, and that they were to do this in remembrance of Him.
This was a divine ‘Token of the Covenant.’ Like the Rainbow, like the Passover, this blessing, breaking, pouring, eating, drinking, was to speak to our souls, through our bodies, straight from the Lord. It was to say to us, that as surely as you, believing in the Lord Jesus, who died for sinners, eat that Bread and drink that Cup, so surely you, as His believing disciple, have part and lot in His full salvation. So surely are your sins forgiven you, for His Name’s sake.
So surely are you one of His true living ‘members’ that is, a living limb of Him, as it were a little finger to be used by Him the Head. So surely have you the blessèd gift of the Holy Spirit, who makes your poor heart the home of the presence of Jesus Christ. So surely are you an heir of heaven in prospect; He will raise you up again at the last day.
So, when you take the Bread and the Wine, which the Minister of Christ has consecrated (that is to say, set apart for this sacred purpose), what shall you think? What shall you believe? The Bread is in itself just bread still, the Wine is just wine. But because The Lord has told you to take them ‘in remembrance of Him’ and because you, who take them humbly, believe in Him, therefore, that simple Bread, that small draught of Wine, speak straight from Him to you.
They are like the very sound of His Voice, saying: ‘All is true, all is yours. It is no dream that I died for you, and that you are saved by Me, any more than your eating and drinking is a dream.’ They are like the very grasp of His Hand taking hold of your hand, and meaning: ‘We are one, poor believing sinner. I have joined you, I have clasped you to Myself. As surely as you touch and taste that Bread and Wine, so surely you, who believe in me, are one with Me.’
Is it not a precious gift of love, this ‘outward and visible Sign’? It is very kind, very tender on your Master’s part. He remembers that your faith is weak, and He remembers that you are ‘in the body.’ So He strengthens and fixes your soul’s trust in Him and its touch of Him, by giving you something which your body can touch, and feel, and actually take in. The gift to the body gives the soul something which it can almost see and handle. It makes the Word, as it were, solid to it. Or, to put it another way, it gives you a new grasp, a firmer hold, on your Saviour as your own.
He is the same Saviour whom you possess at all times by faith. He is the same crucified Lord, and it is the same life and peace in Him. But your hand is, as it were, clasped in His hand with an almost literal contact, that you may more perfectly always clasp Him.
Remembering this you will go to the precious Communion with simpler thoughts of it than ever, yet with more wondering and worshipping thoughts too. You will not think that there is any mysterious change in the Bread or the Wine. But you will receive them exactly as if you saw, not the minister, but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, standing by the Table and then coming to you, and putting them into your hands to eat and drink.
Yes, for He is there. He is not in the Bread, as if in any mysterious way it were turned into Him. No, the Bread is not Jesus. But it ‘is’ His Body given and broken for you; just as the bank-note, or the signed cheque, ‘is’ the five golden pounds of which it speaks. The Cup is not Jesus, But it ‘is’ the Blood of the New Covenant; it ‘is’ the New Covenant in His Blood which was shed for you, for the remission of your sins.
And just so far as that holy Bread and Wine are His own chosen tokens of His Crucifixion for you, of His sacrifice for you – just to that extent, when you receive them as His believing disciple, He gives them, He is there to give them. It is a personal interview with the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a personal transaction with Him.
Oh what peace and joy will be yours in meeting Him at His precious Table; in seeing Him, by faith, come and give you His divine Tokens there!
In the first place it will be sweet to go, and take and eat, just as an act of obedience. You are His servant, in a bond-service which is perfect freedom.
Then also, it will be a most precious parable to you, a picture lesson from the lips and hands of the Lord, just as if you were sitting at His feet, as they sat of old in Galilee.
You must never forget, as you read the accounts of the Institution of the Lord’s Supper, that ‘the Body of Christ’ at the Communion Table ‘is’ the crucified, broken, slain Body and the ‘the Blood of Christ’ ‘is’ the shed, spilt Blood. The blessed Elements ‘are’ the Body and the Blood as they were on Calvary. So they ‘are’ what literally no longer ‘is’ And so the wonderful words ‘this is My Body’, ‘this is my Blood,’ mean a presentation of the finished Work of the Cross – to faith, and to faith alone.
It is a presentation of that Work to faith through Signs and Seals which appeal to your senses; but it is your faith alone which sees and receives Christ Crucified, while your hands and lips feel and receive the holy Signs of His Sacrifice.
So, when you take and receive the Body and Blood of Christ it means in effect that you receive the Atonement, you get your soul strengthened and refreshed by a new grasp on the Lord as your Sin Bearer your once slain Saviour, through whose Death comes all your life.
Remember too, what you say to others at the blessed Table. One great original purpose of the Ordinance was to bind believers together and to remind them of their part and lot together in Christ. ‘We being many are one; for we are all partakers of that one bread’
So, as you kneel beside another Communicant there, your action will say to them: We are joined together in a wonderful union as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. We each have peace with God by His Blood, and we each have life and power in us by His Spirit, which we have received through faith. Therefore we are one in our Head. Let us serve one another. Let us help one another. Let us bear with one another in Christ Jesus.
I would just like to add one thing – Article 26 of the 39 Articles of Religion states that the unworthiness of the minister hinders not the effect of the Sacrament.