In thinking about the readings for this morning’s service, I was struck by this sense of instruction that is found in all of the lessons.
In the Old Testament reading from 1st Kings, Elijah is instructed by an angel to “get up and eat” as a way of being prepared for his journey, and subsequently his ministry.
In the Psalm, the poet is instructing others about faithfulness in times of discomfort--that even in moments of dis-ease, exile, fear and sorrow, proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
In Ephesians, Paul is instructing the early Christians about how to be in right relationship with one another and with God--to speak truth, to not sin, to share with those in need, to be kind, forgiving, and imitators of God.
And in the Gospel of John, Jesus is giving further instruction about what it means that he is the bread of life--that he will provide everything that is needed to be spiritually whole, so s to be able to go into the world and do ministry.
Instructions on how to live.
We’re surrounded by instruction manuals. My parent’s generation had an instruction manual for raising children thanks to Dr. Spock. This was one of the first in a long line of self-help life instruction books. There’s Life’s Little Instruction Book and Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, Everything I Need to Know about Love I Learned from a Little Golden Book, and other quick witted and humorous options. There’s the Dummy Series as well...iPhones for Dummies, Investing for Dummies...even The Bible for Dummies.
If printed instruction materials aren’t your thing, there is a plethora of how to’s and Do-it-yourself websites...whether it’s how to can peaches, how to throw the best backyard bbq, or teach your cat to walk on a leash. There are instructions everywhere.
Even at church we have instructions. Our prayer book is in essence a set of instructions. It tells us how to perform liturgical rites, it offers us charts to determine the date of Easter, what readings to use if we’re in year A, B or C. It provides us with prayers to use at certain times, the definition of Original Sin, and can offer a definition of the Trinity. There are a whole lot of instructions in our little BCP.
And there’s other customary instructions as well at church---when to stand up, sit down, kneel, how to place your hands to receive the bread and wine, when to cross yourself, and when to bow.
Honestly, sometimes we just put the instruction manual aside and try to figure it out for ourselves. We can’t be bothered with instructions. Or we think we’re smart enough not to need them. And maybe this is sometimes true.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s look again at the instructions provided for us in the lessons this morning in the context of our shared life together.
In doing an internet search for an Instructed Eucharist--you know, where you’re taught about what each step in our service represents theologically, or what it refers to historically, or how it identifies us as Episcopalian--in doing an internet search, I discovered there were just over 200,000 results---that’s 200,000 sets of instructions on how to teach and explain the Eucharist while you’re leading it simultaneously. Really?!? Do we need that many sets of instructions? Apparently Google thinks so.
Anyway, in my perusing of some of these instructions, I found some that I want to share with you, in conjunction with today’s readings. Something about these particular instructions were...well, you’ll see.
These excerpts of instructions are from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in the Diocese of Northern California (http://www.trinitycathedral.org/worship/instructed-eucharist)
One way to celebrate the presence of God is in the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist comes from a Greek word which means "thanksgiving." In the Eucharist we offer our thanks for God’s great gifts to us, remembering especially the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eucharist is only one name for this service. In the Greek Church it is called the Divine Liturgy which refers to God's people worshipping together. Sometimes it is called the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and sometimes the Mass. But whatever name we call it, it is one of the most important ways for us to come to meet God. This is why for almost 2000 years, Christians have come together Sunday after Sunday and sometimes even during the week. They have come to offer themselves to God and to receive God into their lives in a very special way.
It is also important for us to remember the Eucharist is not something that only a priest does; it is something we do together in community with each other and with God.
There are two parts to the Eucharist...service. The first is "the Word of God," [which] includes (1) the opening prayers, (2) lessons from the Old and New Testaments appointed for the day, (2) the Church's statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, and (4) the intercessions or the prayers of the people. The second part of the Eucharist is called the Holy Communion during which bread and wine are offered, consecrated or set apart, and then received by God's people with thanksgiving.
At the offertory we are reminded that all we have is God's gift and that we are offering God’s gifts back to God as a sign of thankfulness.
We now begin the second part of the Eucharist. In the early days of the Church, worshippers brought their own bread and wine to the service. The deacons chose what was needed for the consecration, and the rest was set aside for the poor. Today we usually have the ushers bring the bread and the wine to the altar. The bread and wine are called OBLATIONS. Bread, wine and money offered at the Altar represent our lives, our work, our recreation, our families and our community. In other words, we offer to God all that we have and all that we do.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus teaches that we can not live by bread alone, but that we need the Bread of Life. A way to think about this in the context of our life together is that if we do not share the gifts that we have been given, our life together is less fulfilling...we aren’t able to do the ministries we feel are important to this church and the community. To share our gifts is to simultaneously receive. In giving, we receive that which is life giving--grace, forgiveness and love.
The Priest now says the PRAYER OF CONSECRATION.
This prayer reminds us of God's love for us and salvation history...that Jesus Christ came to share our human nature and to live and die as one of us, so that we might be brought back to God. We are also told of the last supper, and Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Finally, we ask for the gift of God's holy Spirit and that we might faithfully receive the precious gift of Christ's Body and Blood in the form of Bread and Wine.
We taste and see that the Lord is good.
Holy Eucharist is a drama. It reenacts the offering of Christ and makes it real in our lives. Whether we "feel" Christ's presence or not, he is with us, according to his promise.
This is the Bread of Life. Christ is with us, even if we can’t touch, taste, see, or smell him, he is has been given to us in the spiritual transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood. Through these gifts, we receive God’s power, love and strength.
As soon as everyone has received Communion, some of the consecrated Bread and Wine is reserved for the sick and those who are unable to come to church. It is kept in the Aumbry - - the beautifully adorned cabinet over which the sanctuary light burns - - symbolic of the Presence of the Risen Lord.
Throughout the week, the sick and shut-in members of our congregation receive this reserved sacrament so that they might share with us in Holy Communion. In other words, since they cannot come to Church, we take Church to them. Together we bless and proclaim God’s work in the world and in our lives just like the psalmist did.
After receiving communion, you will see that we’ve come full circle. As we prepare to leave, we’ll be given instructions again. We will go back out into the world--but we will be centered in a life to be be lived and shared. We will go back into the world so that we may do the work that God has called us to do . . . wherever we may be: in our homes, in our schools, in our work and in our play. We have been fed with spiritual Food--the Bread of Life. God has given us the strength to live our lives as faithful followers of Christ our Lord--to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.
The prayer book, the lessons for the day, even the Eucharist itself is part of God’s instruction manual for us. These instructions aren’t useless. These instructions aren’t binding and constricting--there’s room for creativity in approach, for singing, dancing, laughing, and any number of ways to share the Good News. These instructions are a way of life, based in the Bread of Life that draws us together in community as beloved children of God.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.