Video service from St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
Collect: Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him. He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?" Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand." Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me." Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!" Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you." For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."
After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.
"Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, `Where I am going, you cannot come.' I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
Tonight we are in some strange times, and in a strange place. We are a sacramental church. We believe in Two Sacraments, and 5 more sacramental practices or spiritual markers that shape our path.
Our Anglican tradition recognizes sacraments as “outward and visible signs of inward and spiritual grace.” (The Book of Common Prayer, p. 857) Holy Baptism and the Eucharist (or Holy Communion) are the two great sacraments given by Christ to his Church.(From the Episopal Church webpage: https://episcopalchurch.org/sacraments)
In the case of Baptism, the outward and visible sign is water, in which the person is baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; the inward and spiritual grace is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit. In the case of the Eucharist, the outward and visible sign is bread and wine, given and received according to Christ’s command. The inward and spiritual grace is the Body and Blood of Christ given to his people, and received by faith.
In addition to these two, there are other spiritual markers in our journey of faith that can serve as means of grace. These include:
Confirmation: the adult affirmation of our baptismal vows
Reconciliation of a Penitent: private confession
Matrimony: Christian marriage
Orders: ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, or episcopacy
Unction: anointing those who are sick or dying with holy oil
We enact the actions of the church. Now in our approach, we step into the Scripture and enact the stories. Then is Now. We see ourselves in the story by doing what they said they did. During the liturgy, you may see me, or Becky+, or Harrison, bowing when we say or hear Jesus. “At the name of Jesus every head shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Philippians 2:10) We do it in faith that it is true, was true, and will be true.
Tonight we have two embodiments that we are missing.
We have been offered to bathe one another’s feet. Physically. Literally. Water, towels, loving and intimate. We are vulnerable and exposed. If you are like me, very ticklish, too. We do it because Jesus did it to show us how to treat one another. We become “like Christ” to one another. That is what Christian means, “little Christs.” We become the one being like Christ, AS WELL AS receiving directly from Christ.
The other one, that we do far more than once a year, is the Eucharist, when we take simple bread and simple wine, and we use it to commune with Christ and with one another. We come to receive the bread, for we see it as Christ’s body. We take the cup, for we see the wine as Christ’s blood. He told us to do it, and when we do he meets us there. I so miss sharing this with all of you. It is the most humble and awe-inspiring thing I do. Weekly I pray for my ego to go away, and for those brief moments with each of you I pray that Jesus work through me in the sharing of the bread. You all receive it differently. Some bow their heads. Some say thank you. Some look me in the eye. Some stroke my thumb, or rather the thumb of the one sharing the bread. Christ, that is. It is not me.
Tonight, we do not get to do either of these. Out of love and reason we have foregone the normal sacramental so that we can protect others and ourselves.
But in our liturgies every Sunday we have have two parts, the Liturgy of the Word, and the Liturgy of the Table. The Word is not the Scripture. The Word is not the preaching. The Word, the pre-incarnate Word, is Jesus. Read John 1. The liturgy points us to Jesus, and Jesus meets us there. The Table is the same, but for now we are removed from that, but WE ARE NOT REMOVED FROM JESUS!
The word Sacrament that we use makes more sense when you see where the word comes from. I know, I know, etymology again, but it makes so much clear.
Sacrament is: Middle English: from Old French sacrement, from Latin sacramentum ‘solemn oath’ (from sacrare ‘to hallow’, from sacer ‘sacred’), used in Christian Latin as a translation of Greek mustērion ‘mystery’.
Even in our time tonight, the mystery is here. Pause now. Take off your shoes if you want. Picture Jesus now, kneeling before you, and taking the warm water and bathing the stains of the world off your feet. Picture him getting between your toes. Then he takes the meager towel wrapped around his waist. In humility he dries your feet, getting the last drip from between those squeaky clean toes. The mystery remains. The Sacrament is here. Whether done physically, or in our mind, Christ is present. He is, was, and always will be.
When we think of bread and wine, next time you are fed, think of Jesus sitting down with you. Eating, breaking bread with you, laughing and sharing stories with you. He is present whether you see him or not. One of my favorite slogans is “Bidden or unbidden, God is Present.” [VOCATUS ATQUE NON VOCATUS DEUS ADERIT] Carl Jung made it famous, but it is from Erasmus. When we stop and give thanks next, pause, and let that Spiritual Communion be real. See Jesus there with you. Maybe even set a place. That can be Sacramental, too. It is all mystery. As is life, especially these days. Tonight as we contemplate these sacraments, we find that we can find God anywhere and everywhere. The Psalmist promises us this:
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;And as St. Paul affirms for us in Romans (8:38-39):
if I make my bed in Sheol [hell], you are there. (Psalm 139:8)
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.Friends, being apart, know that Christ is not at the Church. Christ is in you, with you, and working through you. Christ is bigger than our troubled times. Christ is bigger than this pandemic. Christ is with us, even in this, especially in this. And soon we will be together again, embracing the sacraments, embracing each other. Thanks be to God! Amen