Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week's video.
30 years ago, I was in the selection process for ordained ministry. I did one of my pre-selection conference placements in a small rural benefice in Wiltshire. Most of the congregation seemed to be retired senior army officers and their wives. That was apart from the sidesman who was a labourer on one of the local farms and had a broad Wiltshire accent.
At the offertory, he would bring the people's gifts to the priest and discreetly say 20 Communists or 30 communists, or however many Communists there were in church that day. No one had ever had the heart to tell him that the word was communicants. Visiting priests looked bemused as they scanned the Congregation for Russian Infiltrators. He had served the church for many years and was a deeply valued member of the congregation.
It was a congregation that was socially diverse. It wasn't an especially lively place, and people's spiritual experience was not something they would have talked about. But it was always a solemn moment when everyone received communion kneeling at the rail. It always is, whether you celebrate in a huge cathedral or the smallest parish church, it is so because Jesus promises he will be present when we gather around his table together.
How He is present is a bone of contention, less so than it once was, but nonetheless divisive. The theology of the Book of Common Prayer encourages us to focus our understanding of Jesus' presence in the reception of the elements by faith. The Catholic tradition, both in its Roman and Anglo-Catholic manifestation, sees it more in the words of consecration themselves.
Fortunately, we don't burn one another at the stake over this issue anymore. Wisely, in the Church of England, we allow significant latitude in our understanding. A wise old priest once said to me as we contemplated what to do with a spilled chalice of consecrated wine, Well, the Lord can get himself into it. He can get himself out of it as well.
The regular weekly celebration of Communion is a comparatively recent Anglican development the child of the Anglo-Catholic Revival and Parish Communion movement. 150 years ago, the main worship diet would have been matins and evensong, with perhaps a monthly celebration. Our Presbyterian friends in Scotland still only celebrate a few times a year. Such infrequent celebration does, I suppose, stress its singular importance.
However, I would miss it if that was all I was restricted to. It was a lack of receiving communion in lockdown that was one of the things many of us found the hardest. We even celebrate a festival on the day this video is being released, Corpus Christi, in which we give thanks for the gift of communion to sustain our spiritual lives.
The genius of it is that all our senses are involved. Our faith is not just intellectual or acts of the will. God in Jesus Christ inhabited a genuinely human space. He ate and drank. He gave thanks in the Jewish way for all of God's good gifts. Our celebration has its root in the Passover meal, in which Jewish people remember their deliverance from Egypt.
That meal is not just a memorial. It's a way of entering into the history of their people and making history their story. The communion element is part of our celebration, but we listen to and reflect on God's Word and express our solidarity and fellowship through the peace and pray for the needs of the world. The meeting in bread and wine is part of a wider ritual and rhythm that recalibrates us as we enter into it.
We're reminded that the world revolves around God and not around us. We are reassured that the story of Christ's life, death, resurrection, gift of the Holy Spirit, and promised return is a story God is telling in which we are invited to participate. Just as in music practice, the frequent repetition of similar things eventually creates musicians. So the regular meeting with the Lord in Word and Sacrament helps create living Christians.
One of the things that is becoming apparent, post-COVID, is that church attendance is less frequent. I can understand the reason for this, it's easy to get out of the habit and even I'm drawn to the idea of online worship with a nice coffee in my jimmy jams. But we need each other. Jesus promised that where two or three are gathered, there he is in the midst.
He promised that we would meet him in bread and wine. He promised that when the Bible is read and preached, lives will be transformed. I realise worship is a discipline, but then everything worthwhile always is. I am weekly reassured that Anglican worship to a large extent insulates congregations. From my own liturgical and preaching inadequacies. God's promise to meet us is not dependent on the qualities of the precedent.
So I encourage you: get back into the habit if you've slipped. And more importantly, why not invite others to join you? Let's meet the Lord together.