Tag Archives: eucharist

Remember the Acts of Sacrificial Service

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

With this service of Evening Prayer, we enter into the very heart of the Christian Mystery, as we begin what is called in Latin the Triduum Sacrum, which means, “the three holy days.” This evening, we commemorate the Last Supper; tomorrow afternoon, on Good Friday, we contemplate the Crucifixion of Our Lord; then on Sunday morning, we joyously celebrate his Resurrection.

As I just mentioned, this evening, our focus is the Last Supper, in which Jesus instituted the sacrament of the Eucharist. St. Paul’s account in 1 Corinthians should sound very familiar. There we hear a version of the Words of Institution that we also find in Matthew, Mark, and Luke—the words we hear at every celebration of the Eucharist: “This is my body which is given for you…. This is my blood of the new covenant.” These words remind us of the meaning of the bread and the wine that we share in Communion. For through that food and drink, made holy through our prayer and the action of the Holy Spirit, we are mystically united to Christ and to one another.

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But, unlike all these other accounts of the Last Supper, the account found in the Gospel of John contains a unique narrative element. It tells us of Jesus’ washing the feet of his disciples while they were at table. Now, washing feet was no token act in Jesus’ day; people’s sandaled feet got filthy. So, foot-washing was usually the work of the lowest slave in the house. But in a small household that had no slaves, it was the duty of a child toward a parent or of a wife toward a husband.

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Just imagine Jesus the Messiah, Son of God and Second Person of the Holy Trinity, crawling along the floor, half-naked, washing the filth off his followers’ feet. No wonder Peter resisted the idea! But Jesus insisted. He insisted because he had a lesson to impart—a lesson that he could only teach by example. That lesson is to love and serve others in the same way that Jesus loved and served all his disciples.

In this time of pandemic, when we are distracted and frustrated and afraid, it is easy to overlook those whose service makes our life possible. Brothers and sisters, remember, and give thanks for, the doctors and nurses who risk their lives to save others. Remember the mailman, the grocer, the bus driver, the soldier, the bank teller, the policewoman, the fireman, the farm worker. These people go to work and risk their lives, so that the rest of us can stay safe at home. What used to be mundane jobs have become acts of sacrificial service. And we should remember these acts of service long after the pandemic is past.

In more normal times, we would commemorate the institution of the Eucharist with a Eucharist. But this is not possible now. We would gather in the parish hall for a simple meal of lentil soup and pita bread. But this is not possible now. We would silently strip the altar and clear out the chancel in preparation for Good Friday. But this is not possible now.

What is possible is to gather together on a conference call and to pray Evening Prayer. What is possible is to gather at our dinner tables individually and to invite Jesus to sup with us, to be present to us, to abide in our hearts. What is possible is to be still before the Lord, as we sit in confinement, and to wait patiently for deliverance. Amen.

© 2020 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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“Eat My Flesh and Drink My Blood”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Let me start out with a legal disclaimer: “All references to cannibalism in John’s Gospel were made by a professional metaphorist in a particular historical context; taking them literally may result in involuntary commitment to a psychiatric hospital.”

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With that out of the way, let’s do a little review. For the last few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about bread: the bread of life, living bread, the bread that comes down from heaven, and so forth. Today we hear more about bread. But it isn’t any kind of bread you can find on the shelves of Safeway! For today Jesus explicitly identifies the bread from heaven with his own flesh. And he claims that only those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life.

As I mentioned, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, one might even say sacramentally. And latter-day Christian preachers have a tendency to gloss over the repugnant flesh-and-blood metaphor and to start speaking about the Holy Eucharist as soon as possible. But it behooves us to consider for a moment just how disturbing Jesus’ metaphor was for his original audience.

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Miracles of Bread and Water

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

The Book of Common Prayer recommends reserving Baptisms for a baptismal feast day, of which there are four. And today is not one of them! But perhaps it should be, for the appointed Gospel reading deals in an indirect way with both of the Great Sacraments of the Christian faith: Baptism and Eucharist.

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Last week’s reading from the Gospel of Mark skipped over a large chunk of text, the story of the feeding of the 5000. Today, we get the missing story, although from John’s Gospel.

Word has spread that Jesus is miraculously healing the sick. And in an age when only the very wealthy could afford to consult a physician (much like today!), there were many people who were sick. And they were besieging Jesus. Needing a little respite from the crowd, he climbed to the top of a hill overlooking the Sea of Galilee. When he sees that the crowd is following him even there, he doesn’t get angry. He doesn’t even complain. Instead, he expresses concern that the people will suffer hunger.

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Now, Philip and Andrew, who are there with Jesus, are realists. They know that there is nothing they can do for a crowd of 5000 people. Andrew points out that all they have on hand is five loaves of barley bread and two dried fishes. Philip and Andrew undoubtedly knew the story of how the prophet Elisha multiplied 20 loaves so as to feed 100 people. But for Jesus to feed 5000 from only 5 loaves would require a miracle 200 times more powerful than Elisha’s. Clearly, they didn’t think it possible—even for Jesus. But they were wrong—quite wrong! Jesus took the bread and the fishes, blessed them, and distributed them. All were filled, and there were even leftovers!

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Repent, and Believe in the Good News!

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

Today is the first Sunday in Lent, a period of 40 days of self-examination and self-discipline in preparation for Easter. Those few who were able to attend the Ash Wednesday service heard a lengthy address concerning the origins of Lent. For those here today who missed that, I will read just a brief excerpt: “This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.”

This explains why all three of today’s Bible readings deal in some way or other with the sacrament of Baptism. The first reading from Genesis gives us God’s covenant with the remnants of humankind, those who were saved from the Great Flood. As you may recall, God was disgusted with the sinfulness of his people, and he decided to “reboot the system.” He drowned all the creatures on Earth, with the exception of eight members of one family and the animals that they had collected into the ark. God then made a covenant with those eight survivors, and with their descendants, never to do such a thing again.

Now, if we take the story literally, it is horrific. Millions of people must have been drowned. But our ancestors in the faith, including St. Peter, sought a deeper, more spiritual meaning in this tale of mass destruction. And they accomplished this by reading the story of the Flood as a kind of allegory. The waters of the Flood were understood as symbolic of the waters of Baptism. In their understanding, the drowning of the Earth’s many sinners symbolically represented the drowning of our sins in the holy font. Noah’s ark of wood was understood as a symbol of either the wooden Cross of Christ or his salvific Church. Lastly, the covenant of the rainbow that we heard about in the first reading was seen as a prefigurement of the baptismal covenant.

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Be Known to Us, Lord Jesus, in the Breaking of the Bread

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

How many here remember the film Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray? It was about a man who was cursed to relive the same day over and over again until he learned to love others more than himself. I feel like we are in that movie, reliving the same day. For it is now two weeks since Easter Day, and we are still hearing a Gospel reading that takes place on the evening of the Day of Resurrection. Maybe the editors of the lectionary think we still have a lesson to learn from that great day. And maybe they’re right!

Today’s Gospel reading is the familiar story of the meeting on the road to Emmaus. It’s so familiar that we are tempted not to pay close attention. But we should!

It is early evening on the day of Jesus’ Resurrection, when two dispirited disciples decide to give up and head home. One disciple is a man named Cleopas. The other disciple is not named and could possibly be a woman. The two are discussing Jesus’ death when they are joined by a stranger. The Gospel says that their eyes were forcibly restrained, so that they might not recognize the stranger as Jesus. And unlike Mary Magdalene, neither do they recognize Jesus’ voice. We can only assume that Jesus was the source of this restraint. No reason for it is given. But I suspect Jesus’ plan was to open their minds and their hearts before opening their eyes.

Jesus inserts himself in their conversation, asking them what they are discussing. They go on to tell him, speaking of Jesus as a prophet who had been handed over by the Judean authorities and crucified. It is telling that they do not profess Jesus as the Son of God, but only as a prophet. They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah, sent from God to free Israel from Roman rule. They had hoped that he would be a great warrior-king. But now all their hopes are dashed. They go on to relate the story of how some women in their group claimed to have had a vision of angels, but it is clear that they think this but an idle tale.

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“Come and See!”

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel reading

Echoes of the Epiphany resound in today’s Gospel reading. Last Sunday was the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, and we heard St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ baptism. As I stated last week, that account is the principal reading in the Eastern Church on the feast of the Epiphany, whereas in the Western Church the story of the Magi is proclaimed. Today we get a second echo of the Epiphany in John the Baptist’s account of Jesus’ baptism—or to be precise, in his remembrance of that recent event.

mural_-_jesus_baptismIn Matthew’s account, Jesus sees the heavens open up and the Spirit descend like a dove. It isn’t absolutely clear if anyone else sees what Jesus sees, or hears what he hears. St. John’s Gospel answers that question. John the Baptist also saw the descent of the Holy Spirit at Jesus’ baptism. And for him this was the sign he had been waiting for that the One who was coming into the world had arrived.

lamb-of-god-stained-glassThe Baptist announces to all within hearing distance that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” One wonders exactly what he means by this curious expression. Elsewhere, Jesus is proclaimed as the great Shepherd of the sheep, a reference to his status as the Messiah. But here, he is not the shepherd, but the sheep, and a baby one at that! The most common interpretation of this metaphor is that John is equating Jesus with a paschal lamb, the animal that was slaughtered, roasted, and eaten once a year in commemoration of the Exodus. The blood of a paschal lamb was a symbol of redemption. Recall that at the first Passover, the Israelites smeared their lintels with the blood of a lamb, so as to be spared from God’s wrathful visitation upon Egypt. While the killing of a paschal lamb was not originally a sacrifice, by Jesus’ day, when only the priests in the Temple were permitted to slaughter the lambs, the slaughter and communal sharing of a lamb was commonly thought of as a Temple sacrifice. We see this sacrificial understanding of the Passover when St. Paul writes, “Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us,” a phrase that should sound rather familiar.

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Eating Christ’s Flesh, Drinking Christ’s Blood

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel reading

Let me start out with a disclaimer: I’m a vegetarian, and a rather squeamish vegetarian at that! So right off the bat, I have some personal issues with today’s Gospel reading from John and its references to cannibalism. Be that as it may, I’ll do my best to give a fair assessment of Jesus’ teaching.

For the last few weeks, we’ve heard a lot about bread: the bread of life, living bread, the bread that comes down from heaven, and so forth. As a lover of bread, I was right on board with that metaphor. Today we hear more about bread. But we ain’t talking Oroweat! For today Jesus explicitly identifies the bread from heaven with his own flesh. And he claims that only those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life.

Of course, Jesus is speaking metaphorically, once might even say sacramentally. And latter-day Christian preachers have a tendency to gloss over the repugnant flesh-and-blood metaphor and to start speaking about the Holy Eucharist as soon as humanly possible. As a squeamish vegetarian, I too am tempted to take this route and bypass dealing with the disturbing metaphor of cannibalism. But my training in biblical studies just won’t let me do that.

So, just for a brief while, let’s consider Jesus’ metaphor, as well as the original context of his teaching. Jesus at the temple in CapernaumJesus had just finished feeding the 5000 and then walked across the Sea of Galilee. He then entered the synagogue in Capernaum and started preaching a lengthy discourse about bread—but not just any kind of bread! For this bread is Jesus’ own flesh. He tells the faithful Jews in that synagogue that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have eternal life. Now, this speech might have made some sense in the context of the Last Supper, but the Last Supper is a full year in the future. Not surprisingly, the congregants have no idea what he’s talking about. Even Jesus’ own disciples are confused, and some are so shocked and repulsed that they leave off following him as disciples.

Frankly, their dismay is understandable for a variety of reasons. Let me enumerate just a few. First, the very idea of cannibalism would have been as repugnant to first-century Jews as it is to us today. Second, the consumption of any kind of blood is expressly forbidden in the Law of Moses. Third, Jesus’ suggestion would have had satanic connotations, for in Jesus’ day a common nickname of the Devil was “The Eater of Flesh.” And finally, the word that Jesus uses when he instructs them to eat his flesh is not the normal Greek term for eating; it is the word used when animals feed. In other words, Jesus is telling them to devour his flesh like an animal. So, it’s not surprising that some of Jesus’ disciples fell away. What’s surprising is that any stayed!

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