Sermon at St. Paul's Cathedral at their Eucharistic Festival
St. Paul's Cathedral
4 June 2011
The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church
When was the last time you went to a wedding supper? I was at a family wedding last weekend for one of my husbandâs great-nieces. Iâve been going to weddings in his family for 30 years, and the one constant seems to be a dinner after the wedding. The weddings themselves, however, have changed substantially over the years. Most of them have been celebrated in an Episcopal church on a Saturday afternoon, though thereâs been an occasional Methodist or Presbyterian one. This was the first one in a wedding chapel, with a non-denominational minister, on a Sunday evening. The preacher had some unusual ideas about the appropriate message for a wedding homily, and although he did talk about the couple being a witness to Christâs love for the church, he went on to inform the congregation that anybody who couldnât see that was going to hell. He said it not just once but three times, and it produced only nervous giggles from the bride and some of the coupleâs young friends. We got through the ceremony â vows, a couple of prayers, I now pronounce you husband and wife, and you may kiss the bride.
And then we all slowly filed out of the chapel into the reception area. There was a leisurely opportunity to wander around, greet old friends and family and meet new people, find something to drink and figure out where you were supposed to sit. It was a lovely early summer evening in a place where people could pass freely between the gardens and the glass-walled reception hall. It began to feel more like a loving community gathered to celebrate.
After all the formal photographs had been taken, we were invited to sit and the brideâs father warmly welcomed people. A blessing was said, and the meal began. There were toasts and speeches, warm and funny, and an evanescent community of love was formed in that place.
Thatâs an image of what Revelation means about the blessing of being invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. The great thanksgiving feast where Jesus presides isnât going to have nervous brides or angry preachers. It will have a community of love gathered around, feasting in the presence of Love itself.
Everyone gets an invitation to that feast â itâs not limited to a select few, or however many will fit in the hall. The word will go out, âCome to the feast, and join the meal.â Isnât that why youâve come today â for this feast of fellowship, including the hot dogs and brats?
You are what you eat. We do become what we eat, whether it is this holy meal or a steady diet of fatty junk food. A big educational push is going on to get Americans to eat a healthier diet, and this time around it shows a dinner plate, with different size divisions for fruits, vegetables, grains, and protein. Veggies and fruit are supposed to cover half the plate, with more veggies showing; and grains are supposed to take up more space than protein on the other half. Itâs a message about balance â and at all sorts of levels, from the balance of the scales to the chemistry of our blood stream to the state of our emotions, balance comes from eating that way.
Today is called a Eucharistic festival, which is just fancy language for a thanksgiving feast. I donât believe weâll meet any turkeys today. This table is spread with abundance, or at least a symbol of abundance. Thatâs one reason many communities use newly baked and fragrant loaves of bread â itâs much easier to recognize abundance in that kind of bread. We come here to give thanks for the overflowing love of God, and the message is not really about moderation and balance. Children often understand this in ways their elders have missed or forgotten. I have a friend who tells of her young friend returning from communion and saying in a stage whisper, âMommy, thatâs the best body of Christ I ever had!â
This wedding supper is meant to evoke images of delight, a remembered wandering in the garden at the eve of the day, in company with the ones we love, all enmity and division healed and relationships restored. Weâre supposed to hear God calling in the evening breeze, âbeloved, where are you? Come and join the feast prepared for you from the beginning of the world.â
We do become what we eat, and how we eat has something to do with it. Anger ruins the digestion and sours the meal. Gathering in peace with others to celebrate divine, overflowing love makes it far likelier that the meal will prove nourishing. Thatâs why we say âpeace be with youâ to our neighbors before we come to the table. It was a challenge to many parts of this Church when we put that form back in the liturgy, replacing the part about âif you are in love and charity with your neighborâ or the older and grimmer piece in older prayer books, warning people not to eat their own destruction. I recall visiting a church 20 years ago where the preacher said, âthe peace of the Lord be with you please sit down.â The meal was a little dry that day. Abundant life comes from eating abundance, in the presence of overflowing love. Our words to one another change the way in which the meal is received.
We are reminded that bread alone will not ultimately satisfy, but only the word that comes from the mouth of God. What word? The Deuteronomist knows the word of God as creative, especially in the repeated refrain of Genesis, when âGod said, âlet there be light,â and there was light.â Over the six days of that first creation story, God speaks creation into existence, Godâs word does creative work. Thatâs a significant part of why Johnâs gospel calls Jesus the Word of God â this incarnate word makes creation new.
At this banquet table we become what we eat â living bread, creative word, love incarnate, abundant life. Whoever eats here has life for eternity. But that word-bread we eat is creative. It doesnât just sit in our stomachs. Itâs supposed to be digested, in order to keep our blood circulating and our muscles moving. Eat here, and then go and put your muscles to work in the world. When Jesus says, âthe bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh,â heâs being quite literal â he offers his physical body for the creative work of life, eat my flesh, and let the flesh that is created be put to work. Eat this bread for eternity â not just to endure, but eat it so that you may participate in the creative work of eternity, so you may join in building the reign of God. Eat here, become a living, creative word, and go out there and make more of it. Help the world around you become abundant life.
And when you have given of yourself, when you have exhausted your ability to help the world find heaven, come back here and eat again. This banquet table will be spread when itâs needed, able to nourish for more creative work. Like manna, we get what is needed for today.
Come and eat â dinnerâs on. Come and rejoice at the company of love gathered here.
This is the word of God â blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the lamb.