I’ve just been scrubbing my hands after a spot of bicycle maintenance; that and the story of the classic car enthusiast removing every speck of grime from his hands to attend an ordination reminded me of another tale that I heard on the radio a few years ago, before the days of ubiquitous thin rubber gloves.
An Anglican priest, non-stipendiary, meaning he earned his living at another job, as Saint Paul did, was the speaker. I don’t know what his other job was, but it involved getting his hands dirty, the sort of dirt that lodges in the fingerprint whorls and cracks and resists the scrubbing brush. Printer’s ink maybe?
Every Saturday evening this good man would hold his hands in a strong solution of bleach until the residual grime disappeared, ready for Sunday Eucharist. However the result was not good news for his skin.
As I recall the story, his wife intervened, concerned for his health. His hands, she told him, were clean enough to eat with, despite the last ingrained stains, and he was preparing to celebrate the Lord’s Last Supper, a meal with God’s people in his parish; people who knew about his work. They would not be put off by unwashoffable dirt, nor would they expect their priest to contract dermatitis in order to lead them in worship.
He stopped using the bleach. The congregation did not stop coming to Sunday Eucharist. Surely Jesus chose fishermen and a tentmaker as his ministers, but he also chose a man with very dirty hands, the extortionate tax-collector, the future Saint Matthew.
A meal in the garden in the company of friends is a great blessing, one Mrs T and I shared recently in Wales. Good local food well cooked. Our friend’s granddaughter has a chef for a brother and she seems to share his love for cooking – one passed down the generations!
There was talk of the brother as well, of course, of cabbages and kings. The lad takes a pride in his work, to the extent that he has persuaded his bosses to buy butcher’s meat and fresh fruit and vegetables so that he could prepare better meals at no extra cost. He is feeding young people on activity holidays.
‘And now, instead of frozen, ground down whatever and jars of sauce, they have spaghetti Bolognese with proper, lean minced beef and sauce from scratch.’
I hope you enjoy a few outdoor meals this summer, and that the cooks enjoy them as well as the diners. The next day was bread and cheese for just the two of us, halfway up a hill in Herefordshire, near Saint John Kemble’s home. That was enjoyable too: we’d walked up an appetite!
Conversation and a meal go hand in hand, It’s not difficult to see why many Christian Churches, like us Catholics, have the Last Supper as the centre – or source and summit – of worship, as it was the source and summit of John Kemble’s life. Time to listen to God and address our prayers to him, as well as to receive Communion. May our week’s activities work up an appetite for his Table.
She was coming out of the corner shop, on her way to choir before her night shift at the Hospice. In her hand a packet of halal biscuits: I knew she was careful what she ate but not that careful …
‘I forgot to pack a snack to share,’ she said, ‘so I popped in and thought, these look interesting. pistachio wafers. There’s an unwritten tradition at work that we bring something to share through the night. Sometimes I bring crisps or grapes. We may not all three sit down together but we can still share.’
Shared food building the team, or if you like, the community. Shared food asserting life in the face of death.
So why did Jesus eat with all sorts of people? What happened on Maundy Thursday? He took our natural sharing to another level: this is my body, given for you. A promise that transforms every shared meal.
The boy shared his bread and fish with Jesus … Strasbourg Cathedral
The Paschal Mystery is the New Covenant – not that the Old has gone [there is only one covenant]. New means greater depth of intimacy with universal outreach. Jesus takes the Law and the Prophets – Israel’s heritage – and through this loves his people into existence. By the end of his short life they were still in receiving mode, not yet deepening into giving what was received and so, as Scripture says, he loved them to the end; handing over his Spirit which has lived and a human existence to the Father to give to all willing to receive – Pentecost.
To sustain and feed them along this new way he gives himself as the bread of life; not like the feeding of the 5,000. Being with him at the Last Supper, eating the bread he broke, accepting his death is to continue his way; to come together to break bread and become sustaining food for others. The Covenant Community was set up at that supper table. This is why there is much more involved in celebrating the Eucharist than a memorial experience; it is to accept his presence through his death, to become body given and blood poured out for others – service.
The Eucharist is the mystery of God’s graciousness and our salvation. Transubstantiation is a word for something we cannot understand, something beyond the competence of human language; to claim to capture it is to nullify the challenge to attune the way we live so as to address the cry of the poor. Augustine [who used the word Transubstantiation] says we are present not to satisfy personal needs [or commandments] but to be attentive and proactive to the cry of the poor. We cannot appreciate Transubstantiation if we by-pass the challenge for personal change.
The Eucharist is the real presence, not just a memorial ritual. It is Presence there for our presence, so that what is in him can be in us. Jesus does not stand-in for us, but invites us to get involved. We cannot receive the Eucharist in passive ways – the fruit of the Eucharist is one community allowing God’s love to be felt in our world.