Sermon October 3, World Communion Psalm 8 Rev. Betsy Hogan
"Do this in remembrance of me".
It's the phrase with which Jesus, gathered around a table with his disciples and friends, completes twice the Words of Institution that we hear now at Communion.
He breaks bread to share it, he blesses the cup to share it, he locates within these actions a reflection of the deepest possible manifestation of God's love for them –
and then, whenever you eat, whenever you drink, do this in remembrance of me.
It's actually extraordinary to consider that the only new and unique ritual that Jesus brings to the table, as it were, as distinct from observances and traditions that were already a part of the Judaism in which he was grounded –
that the only new ritual that Jesus institutes specially for his followers is something so extraordinarily... ordinary. Whenever you eat, whenever you drink, do this in remembrance of me.
Of course we've come to veil it in mystique. What we call Communion is for us a sacrament – a visible sign of invisible grace, a shared symbolic drama we all participate in, that unfolds with solemnity and poetry and movement so choreographed it's essentially dance. What we call Communion we clothe in dignity. We set it apart and call it holy. We let ourselves pause, and feel it as special.
Which is beautiful. And also ironic. Because in fact, there's patently very little indeed that's more unexceptionally mundane than eating and drinking. Every single day. Our bodies just provoke us into doing them. By virtue of sheer uninteresting predictable biochemical need.
To the point that even if circumstances arise that mean we CAN'T just unexceptionally mundanely do the eating and drinking every single day – if there's nothing at hand or if the mechanics of it all has outstripped our capacity --
Our bodies STILL provoke us to try to do them. With the feeling of hunger, with the feeling of thirst. There's very little indeed more boringly ordinary, unexceptional and pedestrian than eating and drinking. They're the epitome of the everyday. And strikingly unrelentingly earth-bound and human.
And yet that's where Jesus has located for his disciples, for us, all this divine and holy and spirit-filled meaning. It's a curious swirl to be caught up in.
And in some ways it actually captures something of the similar swirl that's at the heart of Psalm 8, that we heard earlier.
Because Psalm 8 is a practically perfect example of one of the great traditional psalm structures in the Bible, which Biblical scholars enjoy technically calling "A B C B A" –
But which I find is far more evocative if it's described like this:
O God, you are so very big.
You do big amazing things.
Meanwhile, I am quite small.
And yet you do big amazing things.
Because O God, you are so very big.
It's that 'big God, big things, small person, but big things, because big God' poetry pattern that in the Psalms, and in Psalm 8, gets employed to perfection NOT to describe the contrast between big God and small person –
But to reveal and celebrate and lift up with gratitude the nevertheless relationship between big God and small person. Between big holiness and small ordinary. Between the expanse of heaven and earth and all creation and small created.
Between what theologian Martin Buber called Thou and I, and between what I usually call Godness and us.
It's not about contrast, it's about this surprising and extraordinarily intimate nevertheless relationship. Between God who's so very big that everything that IS has poured out from God as its source – and ordinary us.
In no way terribly special, and yet – created and loved by the surpassing and monumental goodness and grace and power of this amazing God who is so very big.
Psalm 8 places us right in the middle of that same curious swirl that we experience in Communion. When the unexceptional banality of eating and drinking are somehow at the same time a reflection of the deepest possible manifestation of God's love for us. That's clothed, however briefly, in the specialness of holiness.
But I don't think Communion's curious swirl of banality made holy is only about the solemnity and the dignity and the poetry and the setting apart.
I think it actually pokes at us a bit at a more elemental level. And did from the very beginning, when Jesus broke the bread and blessed the cup and shared them around and said "Do this in remembrance of me".
Because I've found myself in conversation quite a lot lately about how hard it is, when we've been used to eating with someone else – to actually muster it up if now we're alone. I've always been pretty sure I'd not do much better than a whole lot of bowls of cereal and cans of soup, and I know that's a thing for a lot of people. And it's very real, and it's very hard.
But at the same time, and sometimes strangely even when eating alone really hasn't been our favourite thing, it can be JUST as hard for a lot of us to muster it up to eat with other people. With all the chatting and the paying attention and the manners and the being engaged.
So that sometimes the most glorious thing we can imagine is getting to eat alone. And sometimes it's the worst.
Sometimes the most glorious thing we can imagine is getting to eat with other people. And sometimes it's the worst.
And in Communion, by filling the unexceptional mundaneness of eating and drinking with the deepest possible holiness – already a curious swirl – Jesus pushes us also into contemplating the complicated swirl...
... of how it feels and what it requires to eat alone, and how it feels and what it requires to eat with others.
Because if for us Communion's sacredness is that it's restful and internal, a time of feeling united and connected to the Spirit of Godness around and within, then Communion's emphatic location in community is Jesus being provocative – "Look up, look around, the holiness is in being with other people as children of God, exhausting annoying warts and all".
And the on the other hand, if for us Communion's sacredness is that it binds us in community, and strengthens us with the sense of shared purpose and friendship, then Communion's essential location in the nourishing of our own individual body and spirit is ALSO Jesus being provocative – "Look within, go deep, the holiness is in letting God's love flood you and fill you and heal you, exhausting, annoying, warts and all".
It's a curious complicated swirl. So much meaning in something so ordinary. A symbol and reminder of the love of a God who is so very big, no matter that we're all really quite small. And balm for the soul that wants us reaching out to others, but also the comfort of companionship that wants us to feel comfortable with ourselves.
"Do this in remembrance of me," Jesus says to the disciples and to us. I think he knew we might need the help. Amen.