Sermons from St Faith's   

Taken, Blesssed, Broken, Given:  three addresses in Holy Week 2016

Rev Sue Lucas

Holy Tuesday

Taken, blessed, broken, given. It is instantly recognisable to Christians in the catholic tradition; it is the fourfold pattern of the Eucharist – at least according to that classic of liturgical theology, Dom Gregory Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy. 

But it is also, of course, the pattern of our Lord’s ministry: called, by his Father; blessed, as the beloved at his baptism; broken, in his passion and crucifixion; and given, for the life of the world.  And it is the pattern of our Christian calling too, unfolding in a particularly intense way in Holy Week, which culminates in the institution of the Eucharist itself, and the saving acts of Jesus’ death and resurrection that it embodies.

These resonances are, directly, found in scripture; for, the New Testament speaks of the Body of Christ in three related senses; sometimes, the human being, Jesus, the embodied, anointed, Son of God, his good news yesterday, today and forever; sometimes, it means the living bread of the Eucharist; and sometimes, it means the Church, with its many limbs and organs, we who are linked to Christ in baptism, and fed on him in the Eucharist.

In each of these senses, the body of Christ is taken, blessed, broken, given.

Of course, we are taken – we are called; we are God’s priestly people, anointed – ordained, we might say – in our baptism.  As our OT passage reminds us, it is we through whom Israel is renewed; even though we’re not particularly wise, or smart, maybe – more like St Paul’s Corinthians, often foolish, often frightened – nevertheless called, taken, desired, even – for the privilege of being God’s people.

And to be the Body of Christ begins in blessing, in abundance  - begins with God’s limitless generosity, God’s relentless mercy, enduring purpose, abundant grace, unfathomable love.  It is not that we have enough – but we have too much  - it is all overwhelming,

We are blessed with more than we could ever desire or devise.

Yet, surely, we live amongst scarcity: the constant news at the moment is of austerity and deficit.  And, of course, we’re not immune to it in the church: Growth Agendas and the like are things that properly and seriously need to be addressed.  But the problem is that they borrow the clothes of austerity, deficit and not enough…not enough bums on pews, not enough new people, not enough children, not enough money, and, if we have rather too many buildings, not the right sort of buildings –another kind of scarcity.

So I'm going to suggest we start from a rather different operational theology, if you want to put it like that – that God has blessed us with abundance.

And in case you think I’ve gone soft, and it’s all about ‘good strong positive thinking’ -  well, today's Gospel is pretty unequivocal: we start by dying.  And this does not undermine or alter or compromise the God who blesses us – for the God of blessing and the God of judgement is one – and the witness of scripture is that those who are blessed by God will face great challenge and demand – think of Isaiah, writer of our OT lesson; of Jeremiah, remaining faithful to God amongst humiliation and exile; of Elijah, speaking truth to power, and Mary, blessed among women, who bore our Lord from the scandal of his birth to the scandal of his death. Those who are blessed will also be broken.

And it's nothing less than our calling to die – for we are baptised into the death of The Lord.  And Jesus was crucified because religious people were unable to accept his way if showing who God is.

It's hard for us to die; hard to let go of our way of being the church, of a repeated cycle of past events, whether triumphant or disastrous, that stops us from embracing an emerging future.  So it needs to be given time; time to acknowledge the liturgies, clerical characters, traditions and buildings that have nurtured and shaped people’s lives, to give thanks for all that has been and to acknowledge our sadness at what is passing.  But we can't stay here for too long, and there is a need to recognise that the inherited practices of a church are often just a few generations old – over two millennia, patterns of church life have died, sometimes painfully and violently, sometimes organically and naturally, and made space for resurrection.

So, we are taken – out of our comfort zone into God’s future; we are blessed, with God’s abundant life; and we are broken – called to let go of what is most dear to us to fall into the ground and die.

And to undertake this difficult vocation needs 3 things: community, conversation and imagination.

Community – that’s not a club of the like minded, of course, but rather like the Corinthians, a kind of unruly ragbag of the great and the good alongside the great unwashed, of those who are our best friends and those we frankly can’t stand.  In fact, a community not unlike the unlikely twelve Jesus himself gathered.

Conversation – conversation not discussion.  For discussion literally means to cut to pieces – to slice up someone else’s argument.  Of course, that has its place – I’m a philosopher by training after all!  But it is not the way we build up and renew that body of Christ.  Con-versation is something different – it’s a little like, con-version – turning round, which in turn is like metanoia, the Greek word often translated as repentance.  We need to repent, by being in conversation with one another and with God.  And that might mean letting go of our most treasured stories about ourselves and learning to accept that many different accounts, different, even contradictory stories, hold between them the ‘broken middle,’ fragments of a complex reality. It is hard for us sometimes to learn to let go of habits of just waiting for others to stop talking then we can say our piece, and to believe we can do so without being doormats. But once we realise we do, and we can, then new and alternative stories can emerge about the future that are not thought of as a betrayal of the past.

And then, perhaps as the church, we can begin humbly to recognise how limited our understanding is of God’s world and God’s ways, and be released to know in our own hearts and to proclaim in word and sacrament  the God who comes in the humility of Christ incarnate, crucified and risen, and who constantly remakes us, the church, in the outpouring of his spirit at Pentecost.  Amen.

Holy Wednesday

Taken, blessed, broken, given. 

Yesterday, we reflected on what it meant to be the Body of Christ, taken and beloved, and blessed; and that those who are taken and beloved have a demanding calling, a calling to be willing to be vulnerable, to enter into brokenness.  And in today’s Gospel, we are surely in the midst of brokenness.  Betrayal. One of the most challenging forms of brokenness is finding out that we have been betrayed, let down by one closest to us, who we trusted and loved.  For if it was an enemy that reviled me, I could have borne it – but even you, my companion and my own familiar friend.

When we feel betrayed, let down, how easy it is to lash out – to blame and to revile.  Yet, part of what it means to be blessed and broken is here – amidst the worst forms of overwhelming, it takes maturity and discipline not to blame, but to wait patiently for God.

And what of the betrayer themselves?  The story of this week is full of betrayal – there is Peter’s, of course – vehemently denying his Lord, even when his Northern accent betrays his real identity.  And the disciples whose gossamer commitment rapidly evaporates in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Perhaps one of the worst forms of brokenness also is realising how we can ourselves be the betrayer, the one whose faith lets them down, or whose self-righteousness gets the better of them, often through lack of awareness or patience, sometimes even through perversity and deliberate hurt.

The first, is the disciples and Peter; what we see in them – and often in ourselves too, of course – is failure of imagination – failure to see what God is up to, wanting signs and reassurance.  This is, in one way, failure to see ourselves as blessed.  We find, like Peter, that our minds cannot stretch to the enormity of God – and we try to reduce God to a size we can understand, perhaps put him in a box, and genuflect when we walk past.  We might have to run away and flee a few times before we get what it means to be taken, and blessed and broken.

The second is perversity – turning away from God, and trying to make a life for ourselves using our own resources.  And here, perhaps, we encounter Judas.  Wherever we encounter Judas in the Gospels, there is invariably a reference to the economic – in the story of Mary anointing Jesus, he is quick to point out the exchange value of the ointment she used.  And in tonight’s Gospel, we are reminded of his role keeping the common purse.  Judas lives entirely in the world’s economy – the economy of scarcity, not enough, austerity – of bigger walls, not bigger tables.  And the story of his betrayal is told in economic terms, of course – 30 pieces of silver.

Some scholars think that Judas was a violent revolutionary – a member of the sect called the ‘sicarii’ or dagger carriers – who were looking to overthrow the hated Roman rule from Palestine through guerrilla tactics, and who perhaps saw in Jesus a revolutionary figure around whom insurgency could gather.  I suppose nowadays we would call them a terrorist organisation.  And that way lies death, as we know from our own times, even the news of recent days, but also from Judas’ own story.  And Jesus, of course, explicitly renounces that temptation – it is the temptation of the Kingdoms of the World that we heard read at the very beginning of Lent.  And, of course, the kingdoms of the world are all about scarcity, not enough, protecting what you have, building walls.  The generous excess of God in Jesus would never be enough for Judas.  A disappointed revolutionary perhaps explains his betrayal, as Peter’s lack of imagination explains his.

Who do we identify with, I wonder?  Judas, with worldly ambition and anger?  Or Peter, full of enthusiasm, but not – or perhaps rather not yet – understanding the depth of what his calling asks of him.

Yet, in the midst of this, we have Jesus who does not lash out and blame; who is not self-righteous, or violent in protesting his innocence; but he certainly isn’t a doormat, either – he is quietly in control – do what you have to do quickly – and at the end of today’s Gospel, seeing the bigger picture – now is the Son of Man glorified.

So this is what it means, to be blessed, broken, given.  Even in the face of the worst overwhelming, the worst brokenness the worst betrayal – to stand in blessing; it is God, not we, that is in control; to absorb the violence of that betrayal and to return it in a form it can be processed, understood and transformed.  This is one with turning the other cheek – which is not, of course, passivity, or even non-violent resistance – but a positive insistence that the Other recognise our humanity, even in the face of the worst forms of betrayal.

And it is one with the Cross, on which violence was borne – and overcome; not with triumph, or vengeance; but with a new and totally unexpected iteration of blessing, gift and generosity.  Even the worst of our betrayals, our perversity and lack of imagination become, through the Cross, the instruments of grace and renewal.

So, in this Holy Week, can we answer the call to be reconciled?  To repentance – to metanoia – to turn –to recognise the humanity even in the worst of those we perceive to have betrayed us, and to dare to see clearly, confident in the love of God, in our own humanity the potential for betrayal through failure of imagination and perversity?  And can we, even in this, dare to see ourselves as blessed?  For, in the Cross and Resurrection – nothing – not even the worst that we can do to ourselves and one another – can finally fall out of God’s sense for the world.  Amen.

Maundy Thursday

Taken, blessed, broken and given.

This is the pattern of our sacramental life and our Christian calling. 

It is the pattern of the Body of Christ – Jesus – in his incarnation, passion, crucifixion and resurrection – given for the life of the world.

And it is the pattern of the life of the Church – the Body of Christ with its many limbs and organs, incorporated in Christ in baptism and fed on him in the Eucharist, in which we see the fourfold action of taken, blessed, broken, given.

Tonight, this comes together; before he is broken and given for the life of the world, Jesus washes his disciples feet – in preparation for the demands of the life of discipleship; unlike Mary, who anointed Jesus’ feet in preparation for his death, they do not yet understand what it means; not just an act of humility in the washing, but a preparation for death in being washed.

And if there is an echo of our baptismal drowning in this, this is the night on which Jesus gives us the sacrament in which we are fed until all sacraments will cease.

Why will they cease?  They will cease because the world has recovered its sacramental vocation – the more bread is broken, the more it is shared, and all creation will be renewed in the great eschatological banquet.

The Fall was the loss of our sacramental vocation – a fall, if you like, from God’s economy of generosity and justice into an economy of scarcity and violence. 

We live between two meals – the meal that was about scarcity, primal humanity noticing the one thing they cannot have amidst the plenty that they can – and the eschatological banquet in which all are fed.  We live in the in-between time, the time of the Church, the time of sacraments; and most particularly, the sacrament the Lord gives us this night.

And as the meal in-between, it has elements of both the Fall and the eschatological feast; it proclaims God’s generous love, God’s enduring purpose, God’s relentless grace; yet, it is proclaimed in the face of the worst kind of failure, hurt and betrayal – ‘on the night before he died.’

The Church – and one recent writer has described the Church as simply the plural of disciple – is the in-between community, nourished on the in-between meal – the body that is taken, blessed, broken and given.  For, we are called, through the grace revealed in Christ, taken, blessed, broken, and given, and nourished on the sacrament – taken, blessed, broken and given – to proclaim God’s generous love, God’s enduring purpose, God’s relentless grace – even in the face of the worst brokenness, the deepest hurt, the most damaging betrayal – there are echoes here of the 23rd Psalm – to recognise that God spreads a table for us in the presence of all that threatens to hurt us, and even in that place, anoints us as his Holy people.

Why? that the world might become Eucharist; for to be Eucharist – to be taken, blessed, broken, given is not just an event, but a process – a to and fro dynamic, between Fall and completion; between now and not-yet, between gathering and being sent out; 

It is not perhaps usual to think of mission in terms of the sacramental; but that is precisely what it is – one of the great 20th century writers on mission, David Bosch, wrote there is mission because God is a God of love; and, whilst human love fails, God’s love never fails; in the midst of all the failures of human love we see tonight, Jesus tonight gives us the Eucharist in order that, through us, the mission of the God of generous love, relentless grace, enduring purpose to make the world Eucharist might come about.

And this is our call to be taken, blessed, broken and given; to bring to every Eucharist our discoveries and surprises, our sorrows and our joys our bitterness and our brokenness, our flourishing and our wrestling with God, as we aspire to truth-tellling, reconciliation, repentance, need-sharing and other disciplines of being sharing; of hearing the gifts and demands of the Gospel, of being willing to understand the depths of human and divine suffering, of discerning the differences between sin and sadness; and of being willing to have our feet washed and to wash the feet of others, as we begin to perceive more and more what it means to be taken, blessed, broken given, as Christ did with the bread and wine on the night he died; as he himself did in his crucifixion and resurrection; and as we the Church strive to do in order that the mission of the God of love might be fulfilled; that the world become Eucharist, and people God’s friends who worship him and sit and eat with him.  Amen.


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