Disciples of Jesus do not fast
Ordinary Sunday 8, 26 February, 2006
Brother Christopher John SSF
Preached at St Peter's, Eastern Hill
This morning at Mass we delight in the sounds of Mozart. Truly Mozart is the music of heaven and listening to his music opens a doorway to the divine.
To quote from a recent editorial in the Tablet (31 Dec 2005). "The warp and weft of a Mozart composition speaks of creative spontaneity in the presence of order, echoing the Creation itself. It may have no formal dogmatic message, but it is incompatible with the notion that life is meaningless and humanity is alone. That is why it can still reach parts of the modern mind that institutional religion does not. It is a shared experience of spirituality surviving long after shared bonds of doctrine and worship have evaporated."
Today we are re-connecting this music once again with its rightful place reconnecting it with the liturgical setting from which it sprang and for which it was written. Even though this music can stand outside its origins and still speak to us in the concert hall or in our home, today we are re-hallowing it and keeping alive the memory that this music is indeed music of the Real Presence of Christ and proclaiming that life does have meaning and that humanity is not alone.
This "reconnecting" is also what we do in this sacrament of the holy Eucharist. It is a sacrament of reconnecting in various ways.
We reconnect ourselves with God. Through times of silence, personal prayer and the glimpse of heaven in the many ways we adorn and beautify our worship we "tune-in" once again to the awareness of God's presence. As we feed on the Sacrament we once more acknowledge that we are uniquely loved by God and in fact are loveable because of the love with which God looks on us.
We also reconnect self with self. We renew our relationships with each other in the body of Christ. These are our relationships of community, of sisterhood / brotherhood. This we do through gathering together, sharing our concerns with each other, praying for one another, sharing the peace and supremely above all else by receiving the sacrament of Holy Communion together communion not only with God but also communion with each other.
Another reconnection is that we reconnect the fragments of our individual selves and find healing for the soul. We integrate the pieces which perhaps our lives fall into through busy weeks. Sometimes it can feel as if our prayer life, our work day life, our home life, our social life and so on are all unconnected. We run from one to the other only half aware of our true selves. These fragments can be brought into one through this sacrament of unity. At a deeper level we can see that this sacrament unites the different parts of our individuality memory, desire, will and so on.
And lastly there is a reconnection with the world and this is what I would like mainly to speak on today. The Eucharist is a reconnection with the world and not an escape from it. The Holy Communion we receive is our energy and food to live in the world and enables us to be and to become part of the body of Christ.
The world. No doubt we've been brought up to fear the three great enemies of the spiritual life; the world, the flesh and the devil; and we certainly are called to resist evil. We vow this at baptism. Yet we must not let this lead us to fear the world or to see evil when there is none or perhaps only an absence of good.
The world is around us in so many ways when we pray. The sounds of the homeless and needy being fed while we celebrate the early morning Eucharist here. The other sounds of the city. The tram bells which every time I hear them I think are the church bell and a call to prayer or even the sacristy bell and I find myself automatically standing up! Sometimes these things may seem like distractions but I believe they are wakeup calls from God. They remind us that God's presence is not confined to sacred walls.
Our former friary in Brooklyn, New York had a chapel on the first floor overlooking the street corner. The windows were in a turret above what had previously been a corner store. Sitting in this chapel you could not ignore the city since the altar was right in front of the window. The sights and sounds of a broken world, people fighting, people meeting, people hanging out were the background to the altar. And conversely they could see in. They could see the brothers at their work of prayer. They could see the candles glowing on the altar. They could see the presence of Christ there in the midst of their world.
We cannot avoid engagement with the world because the Eucharist is the feast of the Son of Man who engaged with the world in so many ways and especially in feasting. As we heard in today's gospel reading, Jesus and his disciples did not fast, unlike the disciples of John. In Christ a new era had dawned. We cannot fast while the bridegroom is with us, Jesus answered, and so we follow the Son of Man who creates a new world and who leads us by the hand as we dance into it.
The law of the Old Testament stresses so often the need to ensure justice and to share one's food with particular groups of people who otherwise had no one to provide for them "the alien, the orphan and the widow". Christ fulfils that law. He comes eating and drinking and invites us to his wedding banquet. We are no longer aliens, for we are approaching our true native land. We are no longer orphans, for Christ adopts us as his children. We are no longer widows, for Christ, our true spouse, is risen from the dead.
This Holy Communion is communion with the Divine and communion with each other and communion within ourselves and communion with the world for all are holy encounters. Christ invites us all good and bad alike.
The Son of Man came eating and drinking. Calling us to the table. Inviting us to come and drink of the invigorating waters of grace; to come and be intoxicated with the wine of God's love. This medicine is for all who are prepared to receive it. It's a feast at which we are the honoured guests. A feast at which the host feeds us with his own body and blood. A feast at which the wine and food never give out.
The Eucharist being an act of re-connection is also an act of solidarity against the powers of destruction or in other words, dis-integration. In the Eucharist we stand against the forces which create barriers and which exclude. We resist the false gods, which although they may glitter seductively and offer a too-easy certainty, do not nourish us with a life-giving banquet. This is the feast of radical inclusion. In the words of the biblical scholar, Walter Bruggeman, "The radical inclusion of sinners is a sign of the nearness of the kingdom".
How do we respond to this invitation? We come as the guests, but we also become the servants. Our response to God's loving generosity is to become loving and generous ourselves. We are the servants who will go out and not only share the amazing great news of this banquet, but also invite others to come and taste.
One of the ways which Francis used to answer those who asked him who he was, was to say, "I am a herald of the great king." He saw that he was a messenger, sent ahead, to proclaim the approach of the king.
In the words of the Sri Lankan theologian, D T Niles, "Christianity is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find rice". We have found the rice, the bread of life, at this banquet. Do we keep that good news to ourselves? From our position of power do we perhaps sprinkle around a few leftover grains of rice satisfied that we are "doing good"? No we go out and we invite others to come to this banquet so that they can be welcomed and fed as we ourselves are.
Is mission an option for the person who has found the good news of life and hope and healing? Is mission an option for our church once we've attended to all the other stuff? Indeed not! Mission is the very essence of the life of the Church. Someone has said that "the Church exists for mission in the same way as a fire exists for burning." A fire which is not burning is of course no longer a fire and a church which is no longer active in mission, is no longer a church.
And what is that mission? Our mission is to rise from this banquet, filled with the wonderful news that here grace abounds, sinners are welcomed, the sick are healed, the rejected are included and to take that wonderful news into the world. The world is not an evil place from which we escape for a brief respite for a few hours on Sunday mornings. The world is full of many good things and strangely the best of these is the hunger and thirst people have. The best of these is their struggle for meaning. These, and all the other forms of angst, of boredom, of tedium and so on all the things which eat the human soul and leave it dry and lifeless these are what is good because these are the signs of the hunger which only God can fill. People are thirsting for God; their thirst is a struggle to find meaning. They are the beggars searching for rice. We are the beggars who have been filled.
It has been our privilege this last week to be part of the parish. Thank you for the opportunities to meet and worship and for what you have shared in discussion. You have enriched my own faith and I am sure the other brothers would say the same for themselves. I think you should consider re-naming the parish to "St Peter's and All Saints". St Peter the Apostle and you who are All Saints!
Let us be heralds of the great king and proclaim the Good News of the Son of Man who comes eating and drinking and who invites us all to this most wonderful of banquets.
May we see the glory of God the Father, sustainer and creator.
May we accept the invitation of God the Son, feast-maker and companion.
May we be filled with the Holy Spirit, comforter and life-giver.