Why do we share the peace? What is confession? What is communion all about? (Teaching Communion Addresses)
Address 1 – Confession
If we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves. The writers of the Prayer Book loved a bit of Sin, and telling us how awful we all are. But is confession about beating ourselves up? What are we doing when we confess our sins? Actually, are we doing anything? Is it just our sins we’re confessing?
We have confession because even though we’ve been baptised we still sin. We come because we’re people who believe in repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, it means changing one’s mind, turning from a destructive path. The whole of Jesus’ ministry was focussed on repentance. ‘Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand.’ So when Jesus talks about repentance, he doesn’t mean just being sorry. He means turning from an old path to a new one, converting our lives to be in right relationship with one another and with God. Baptism is the ultimate sign of repentance, turning away from our old life and into a new life, but even though we’ve turned around, we can still wander off the path, like an errant child in a National Trust property, we sometimes touch the things we shouldn’t
When we stand together here confessing our sins we’re holding ourselves to account before God, and each other as a community. It’s not just our personal sins we’re asking forgiveness for, but our corporate sin too. When we participate in the injustice of our society, for example through what we buy, or using fossil fuels. Sometimes our sin is unavoidable, sometimes it is preventable, sometimes personal, sometimes societal, but we bind all that up together when we say sorry as a community.
I prefer the term reconciliation, turning back. When we’ve done bad things, an adult acknowledges it, and does their best to repair the damage done. Confession is not about beating ourselves up, but acknowledging our sin and seeking to do better. When the priest pronounces absolution, It’s not some kind of magic wand that takes away our sins, but it’s there to remind us not that God doesn’t hates us, and that when we come before God in good faith, say sorry, attempt to turn around from our Sin, God will and does forgive us, because God has reconciled us through the cross.
God forgives you. That’s what the absolution says, God wants you.
Address 2 – The Peace
Many people think that the peace is a modern invention, brought in by the Church of England when Common Worship was introduced at the millennium. Let’s do a straw poll, who thinks that’s true? Who thinks that’s false?
It’s actually false, the peace is a very ancient Christian practice that has its origins in the New Testament.
In Matthew 5, during the sermon on the mount Jesus talks about being angry with people, and how it’s destructive to the common life. ‘Therefore,’ Jesus says, ‘if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.’
Moreover, St Paul says over and over again ‘greet one another with a kiss.’ The peace is all about reconciliation. For Origen and Tertullian, two late first, early second century theologians, they saw it as a seal at the end of the intercessions. A way of putting into practice all that we’ve prayed about, by reconciling with one another. So even back then the peace was Important.
Why does the peace matter so much?
Like our beloved venerable ex incumbent says, church is about people. The peace is not about a weak handshake, a fake smile and chatting with your mates, but reconciling with one another, and recognising each other as fellow children of God.
When you look into the eyes of the person you’re shaking hands with, particularly those who you find difficult, try to see Christ looking back at you.
The peace recognises and reminds us that we are the body of Christ together in this place, we choose to be a community, and that you choose to treat others as if they matter to you personally. It prepares us to be in the right mindset to receive the sacrament. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. If we refuse to greet those around us, what does that say about us as the body of Christ? What does that say about us as a community?
Through the peace it is God’s peace we’re sharing to one another, because we’re here to try and love each other. The peace is a start of that metanoia of turning to a new life.
Friends, brothers and sisters, when we exchange the peace from now on, let’s all remember that It’s a sign of the type of community we are, a community of love that reconciles to each other, that forgives as we are forgiven, we are the body of Christ, and greet each other in Jesus’ name.
Address 3 – The Eucharist
A banquet, a memorial, a place where God is really present. Take, bless, break, share. These are the four elements of the Eucharist. We take the bread, we bless it, we break the bread and then share it.
These four things follow the pattern of the last supper, and the whole of the Eucharistic Prayer is an Anamnesis, that’s the posh theological word for remembrance. Jesus commands us ‘do this is remembrance of me.’ We remember all that Jesus did, and is, through this prayer and re enactment of the last supper.
But I believe there’s something more going on here, something bigger and greater. For me the Eucharist isn’t just about remembering Jesus and all he did, but I believe that Jesus is truly present with us in this sacrament. This is the bread of heaven, the bread of life that gives life and light to the world, which we share together as a community.
In the Eucharist, as in his life here on earth, Christ comes to be with us, the Son of God chooses us, and through his presence seeks to unite us to God and to one another. He comes to teach us, to be our food, to be our sacrifice, to make us friends of God.
It’s slightly mystical I think, that God is present in this bread and wine when we partake of it. Sacraments, and particularly the Eucharist are about God reaching for us, God who goes the distance and is seeking always to bring us into greater relationship with himself. Communion is just that, we commune with God, we attempt to reunite with God when we take communion, we try to allow God to reach for us in the bread and the wine.
We remember His sacrifice, we thank God for Her abundance to us. That regardless of how many times we go wrong is still there, is still reaching out to every one of us here saying, come to me.
Now time for another straw poll! Who thinks that it’s only the priest that prays the Eucharist? Who thinks that all of us do?
Well, this is where the answer is a bit confusing. Some people believe that only the priest does, now that’s not wrong, but It’s not what I personally believe.
You see the problem with this is that it creates a separate priestly class, and in Christ there is no male or female, slave or gentile. IT proposes priests do the magic bits up here, while everyone else watches, which I think is wrong. I am not magical, though I do have a dazzling smile. My hands are not more special than anyone else’s. They are ordinary hands.
What I have is the authority of the church to preside, and that authority is given to me by God at my ordination through the people, and through the Bishop of Norwich. The people and the bishop have recognised my calling from God, and given me the authority to preside, to pray the Eucharist on their behalf. Not instead of them, but as a conduit of grace.
The president and the people preside, together. We pray the Eucharist together, because the whole people of God are gathered here, past, present and future. This is why we have the greeting right at the beginning ‘lift up your hearts’, we lift them to the lord. Let us, us give thanks to the lord Our God.
We share one bread, we are united together, we don’t take my communion, but our communion. We pray it together, we share it together, just as God reaches for us and shares with us in this most Holy Sacrament.
Isn’t it beautiful, it can become really ordinary when we come here every week, when you take communion today, perhaps pray on your way up. Pray the Eucharist with me. Pray that the Holy Spirit will be present with you, pray that you might feel God’s presence within you, and also pray for me as I preside, pray the Eucharist with me, because we all share in this great and beautiful feast together.
Perhaps our prayer should be like the disciples’ ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’
Address 4 – Going Out
And so we turn to the back, we face the exit, we face the final curtain. We turn to face the back of church not just to scare the people standing outside the glass doors, but because it represents where we should be facing, outwards.
We are sent out by God to be the bread of life in our communities. To go out and try to love God a little more, and let other people know that God loves them too. We are the body of Christ, out there and in here.
Here at the end, we pray for God’s blessing on our lives, and are sent out renewed by Him, and to be together in fellowship after the service.
It has been such a joy to worship with you this morning, May God bless you all this week.