I am taking things a little differently today. I am going to invite you to participate in a church service about church. In other words, I want to talk about what we do here every Sunday. Not in the abstract, but in the concrete reality sense of saying, what are we doing now, and why…
Church services have been happening for thousands of years. People have gathered together for a number of reasons… one of the first was probably food. Gather together around the campfire and pray for the mastodon or buffalo to be plentiful… then after we started planting crops I am sure people prayed for rain, or sun, or to keep the frost off…
The point is, religion began when people banded together for a common goal. They all decided they wanted one thing… rain in a drought, or sunshine in a storm. And they prayed and prayed and hoped for things to get better.
There was always a beginning. And the beginning was always an invitation… think of lighting the candle, or the opening prayers, or a song we sing as an invitation not only for us to enter into the experience, but for God to be present with us.
You see, the things that we do are ancient, in a way… we do them differently, but they are the same, we are still using the opening moments of church to set the stage… we are still using word and song and prayer to get us in the right mood, and to help us to see the holy, to see God, in our midst.
At the heart of what we are doing is communion. Not the meal which we will be sharing later, I will get to that, but the idea behind the word… communion.
Have you ever heard someone say, they are going to commune with nature? I used to say that when I smoked and had to go outside… grin. But seriously, I think lots of people say this… and what do they mean?
They mean that they are becoming one with… that they are emotionally connecting to… nature.
The actually dictionary definition is to share ones most intimate thoughts or feelings. So what we are talking here is that we connect with in some way… and behind our church service is this thought that we are connecting with God, and with each other….
Perhaps that is why I love the passage from John, the one in which Jesus is talking about vines and branches… It points out the connection we all have. It is as if we are all part of one another. This is true whether we are talking about our family, our church family, everyone out there in the big bad world, or God…
At the same time, it is more than that. What Jesus actually says is that all of this communion, all of this being the branches, takes effort. We have to choose to remain connected. We have to work at it and we have to “actually” be connected.
So there are essentially three things: First, recognize that we are all connected. Secondly, we need to work at this relationship. Lastly, what we need to do is to, as Jesus puts it, “we must bear fruit.” It is not just about being connected in name, it is about being in tune with each other, about working together, about being on the same page…
When we come to church, we are saying that we believe this… that we are all connected…
So, the sacrament of communion goes right back to Jesus… or perhaps further back. Like I said, people have been getting together for religious services as long as we have been around. There used to be feasts and meals and celebrations long before Jesus. In fact, Jesus and the disciples were getting together for a religious feast and church service in the first place, the Jewish Festival of Passover.
But Since that night, things changed, and as Christians we have made this special meal, called communion, or the Eucharist, the central part of our worship together. The reason we do it is as a re-enactment of that Last Supper in the Upper Room.
We know that Paul, while in the church in Corinth, was celebrating this meal just a few years after Jesus died.
We also know that one of the reasons the early Christians got in trouble was because people thought they were cannibals… that they were actually eating the body and blood of Jesus.
But we are not doing that… so what are we doing? Well, first and foremost we are sharing a meal. By doing that we are doing something we usually only do with family and friends. Secondly we are remembering and re-enacting the last night of Jesus’ life.
That is important because we know that when everything was going wrong, Jesus did something nice for his friends, he prepared a meal, he invited them, he served them… but more importantly, he gave them a way to remember. Each time you eat this bread or drink from this cup… remember me.
And we can understand that… Here is my grandmother’s recipe for macaroni and cheese. Boil macaroni in a pot, drain it, add a can of tomatoes and grate some cheese into it. Add some salt if you like… It is not like this is high cuisine or even a very memorable dish… but I love it, and every time I eat it I think of her.
Jesus was pretty smart in setting up something simple, eat some bread and drink a bit of wine and remember me… because thousands of years later we still do.
So I guess what I am trying to say is that church is about relationship. It is about how we come to be with each other, recognize each other, and become united just as the vines are united to the branch.
Sure, it takes work, and there are responsibilities, and it does not always seem like we are connected in ways we could be… but….
When we come here, when we commit to this, we are working on it… and when we are honestly doing that, we are on the path.