The Holy Eucharist – Part Ten

The Communion of the people and completion of the service.

After the Prayer of Consecration is completed and the Great AMEN is proclaimed the faithful pray the Lord’s Prayer and prepare to come to the Altar rail for holy Communion.  The breaking of the consecrated bread takes place as the final prelude to the reception of holy Communion.

Our catechesis this morning will reflect on this precious moment between Christ and your soul when you partake of the mystery of Christ’s living Presence.  When you receive the Body and Blood of Christ you are made one with the saving acts of His dying and rising.  Initiated into the Paschal mystery at baptism we are united with this mystery at every Mass.

The Prayer of Humble Access (BCP: 337) is one of the most treasured prayers in our Anglican patrimony.  This prayer beautifully explains what has just happened upon the Altar and what we are about to receive.  It reads:  “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 are 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, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen.”

The basis of this prayer is our Lord’s own words: “So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in me, and I in him. (Joh 6:53-56)

As we come forward to receive the sacrament we come to give our self, our soul and body to Jesus that He may “dwell in us and we in Him.”  This is truly a sacred moment of “holy” communion.

The Holy Spirit cleanses and heals our soul in the precious blood of the Lamb poured out for us on the Cross. Our heavenly Father loves us and He desires to be united with us in the bonds of the Spirit where love knows only joy.

So I ask you now.  Do you thirst for God like He thirsts for you?  “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to Me and drink.  He who believes in Me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’ ” (John 7:37-38)

On the Cross, as He was dying Jesus said, “I thirst.” (John 19:28)

God thirsts for us. Every time we go to the Altar rail we should be thirsting for Him. If so we shall be satisfied!  By thirsting for Jesus we are giving to Him what He really thirsts for… our life and our soul. We give Him our broken and frail humanity; He gives us His divinity. We give Him our nothingness; He gives us His all.  What more do we need!

Holy Eucharist – Part Five

The Prayers of the People of God.

After the reading of Holy Scripture and the sermon and Creed are completed we enter into prayer.  We pray for the ministry of the Church world-wide, for her members and mission.  We pray for our nation, our government, and the local concerns of Fort Worth, Texas where we minister the Gospel.  We pray for the sick, the suffering, the lonely and the needy and for the repose of those who have died.

As a community of faith we invite Jesus into our soul and entrust ourselves to His Way. This is a moment of exercising our faith. Faith means to put our trust in God.  We know that the prayers and intentions of our heart are used by God to work His good and peace in the hearts of others.  We should never under estimate the power and importance of our prayers.

Following our prayers we offer our confession of sin to God.  Sacramental confession is placed in the holy Eucharist to be a “reflective moment of decision” if one is ready to go forward and receive Christ in Holy Communion.  Confession must emerge from a contrite heart. If our heart is “hardened” the grace the Holy Spirit offers in absolution has little opportunity to help us. But with a contrite heart we are in a position to receive God’s mercy.

Sacramental absolution can only be offered by a priest or bishop. Jesus left power to His Church to absolve sinners who truly repent and believe sincerely in Jesus Christ.  Absolution is the mercy of the Father given to us through Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.  It fully restores to our soul baptismal grace or “sanctifying” grace and readies us to receive all the benefits of our Lord’s Passion in Holy Communion.

Following confession and absolution is the offering of the peace of Christ, or sometimes called the “exchange” of peace.

By offering the peace of Christ we are acknowledging from where that peace comes.  We acknowledge to one another that each Christian is meant to be like Jesus. With Him we are nailed on the cross, with Him we are laid in the tomb, with Him we are raised up to accompany lost travelers on their journey.

Becoming like Christ, leads us to deeper conversion. It ushers us deeper into the Kingdom. There the old distinctions between happiness and sadness, success and failure, praise and blame, health and sickness, life and death, no longer exist. There we no longer belong to the world that keeps dividing, judging, separating, and evaluating. There we belong to Christ and Christ to us, and He is our peace.

Holy Eucharist – Part Four

God’s Word Proclaimed!

After the choir and ministers are in place we exchange the ancient greeting “The Lord be with you.” This is done with the whole congregation and begins the central portion of the liturgy of the Word of God and introduces the Collect of the day. The word “collect” comes from the Latin “collecta,” and it means the “gathering up” or the “collecting” of something. In the early Church, as the service began the members of the congregation would offer petitions of prayer. The priest would silently listen his people and from their needs would compose in his heart a short “summary” prayer. Over time many of these prayers were written down. The collection of collects in the Prayer Book cover the full 2000 years of the Church’s liturgical history.

Now the people sit for the readings from Holy Scripture. The Prayer Book as a Lectionary (BCP: 887-931) and follow a three-year cycle of A, B, and C.  Each cycle uses a specific Gospel: Matthew, Mark, and Luke, with John’s Gospel interspersed each year for certain days and feasts. The Lectionary for Sundays is composed of four readings.  They are the Old Testament, the Psalms, the New Testament and the Holy Gospel.

After the reading of God’s Word is complete the sermon follows. It should be said here that sermons are not meant to be inspirational talks or motivational talks but they are meant to break open the Word of God so people may be spiritually fed. Sermons are not interruptions of our worship but they are an integral part of it. St. Paul teaches that our faith grows as we hear and inwardly digest the Word of God. (Rom 10: 17)

At the close of the sermon the congregation stands for the corporate recitation of the Nicene Creed. This Creed is used at every celebration of the Holy Eucharist with a few exceptions when the Apostles’ Creed is used. The Nicene Creed is the summary of our biblical faith and was composed by the councils of Nicea and Constantinople in the 4th century. (BCP, p 852)

The Creed’s “theological progression” moves us from the Book of Genesis to the close of the Book of Revelation. At the heart of the Creed is our faith in the mystery of Jesus Christ as true God and true man and the truth of our redemption in Christ. Its liturgical use on Sunday and major feasts (BCP, p 358) is a sign of the unity of the Church and a renewal of our covenant with God.

Amen

The Holy Eucharist – Part Two

Those who visit St. John’s on a Sunday morning discover that our worship is provided from the Book of Common Prayer.  Much of the liturgies it contains can be traced back at least to the middle of the second century AD.  With regard to the Mass there are two interrelated parts that make up the Eucharistic liturgy:  (1) the liturgy of the Word of God (BCP, p. 355) and (2) the liturgy of the Altar of God or the Holy Communion. (BCP, p. 361)

(1)  The liturgy of the Word of God contains an introductory portion, extensive reading of holy Scripture, the sermon, the Nicene Creed, prayers, confession of sin and sacramental absolution, and the exchange of peace. Anglican worship is rooted in God’s Word proclaimed and taught. When it is time to read from the Holy Gospel we actually carry it out to the middle of the congregation to proclaim the words of Christ.

The choir sings a gradual hymn, our acolytes carry torches and the processional Cross all to lead the Holy Gospel into the midst of the people for the proclamation.  This is done to share our belief of the presence of the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, in the midst of His family gathered.

(2)  The second half of the service is the liturgy of the Altar, or Holy Communion.  This consists of the offertory, the Great Prayer of Consecration, the communion of the people of God, the post-Communion prayer, and the blessing and dismissal.  Through the ministry of the priest we gather with Jesus at the “Last Supper.” This liturgy of the Mass enshrines our Lord’s actions of taking bread and wine, blessing both, breaking the bread and pouring the wine to give His sacred Body and Blood to the Church.

During Holy week on “Maundy Thursday” night our Lord commanded the apostles to preserve these four sacred actions of taking, blessing, breaking and giving. What is preserved in the Church is our Lord’s holy death on the Cross and His resurrection to glorification.

But we must follow the details has He laid them out.  The Mass is not something that we can compose afresh on our own.  Why is this all so important?  Every soul depends on the Mass.  In this holy sacrament any person in any era can feed upon the divine mystery of our Lord’s Passion and glorification. Holy Communion is just that!  It’s intimate union with Jesus Christ who said, “He who eats My Flesh and drinks My Blood abides in Me, and I in him.” (Jn 6:56)  Our supernatural life in Christ has its foundation in the Eucharistic banquet: “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me will live because of Me.”  (Jn 6:56)

The lasting value of Anglican worship using the Book of Common Prayer does not depend on the clergy or anyone present. It depends solely on Jesus Christ who is the true Priest and Victim. With Him we are united, in spite of our nothingness.  We offer Him our intellect and our will, our heart and our soul, our body and our blood, so we may be filled with grace and heavenly benediction, and made one body with Jesus, that He may dwell in us, and we in Him.

Our heavenly Father knows us not so much due to our imperfections, but rather He knows us in His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased.  At St. John’s our worship lifts high the Cross between Heaven and earth so Christ may bestow the fullness of forgiveness and the supernatural life.

Amen

Who is a disciple of Jesus Christ?

The word disciple in the Greek New Testament appears 27 times.  The word means to be a “pupil” or a “student”.  Jesus Christ is the headmaster and the disciple is His student.  The goal of a student is to learn Jesus Iconwell enough from their teacher that in time they become like him; someone capable of teaching others.  Jesus expects His disciples to become like Him, a teacher of God’s love and mercy: “… and whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” (Mat 10:42 RSV).

To be a teacher carries great responsibility.  And before we can disciple others in the faith we must be active disciples of Jesus ourselves.  A disciple of Jesus Christ must learn the faith and understand the cost and lifestyle involved in being a Christian if their aim is to be like Jesus.  “Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after Me, cannot be My disciple“. (Luke 14:27 RSV)

Today Jesus calls men and women to discipleship, just like He did when He call the Twelve and many others.  He calls to us “come and follow Me“.  (Matt 4:19).  His calling involves embracing a life of holiness.  Holiness here means intentionally separating oneself from secular ideals and standards in order to freely embrace and live under God’s Providence.

Jesus gives us a beautiful example of this, “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O men of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, `What shall we eat?’ or `What shall we drink?’ or `What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day“. (Mat 6:25 RSV)

St. Paul compares the life of a disciple to that of an athlete.  (1 Cor 9:24-25).  An athlete who seriously competes must be involved in rigorous and focused training.  They must discipline their mind, body and soul towards the goal of winning the game.  In a similar manner to be a successful disciple of Jesus Christ we must be focused on growing deeply in our understanding of the theology and the application of the Christian faith.   This will allow us to be effective teachers of the Gospel.  We are reminded in Acts 2:42 the method a person must be involved in their whole life if they are to graduate from being a student and enter into the world of discipleship.  Here’s the method: “And the disciples devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread (the Holy Eucharist) and to prayer.”  (Act 2:42 RSV)

At the font when we were baptized God called our soul to “come and follow Me.”  His voices continues to echo from the center of our conscience.  Let us become disciples and teachers of the faith!  Amen