A sermon I preached recently on what Holy Communion means, and how we might respond, using this passage from the New Testament: Matthew 26:26-30
I want you to picture someone’s face. And I want it to be the face of the most generous person you know.
Now think, what makes them so generous? Do they give and not expect repayment? Do they look out for opportunities to be generous? Do they give way over and above what they can afford? Do they always have time for people? Is nothing too much trouble for them? Would they go without, so that others can have something? Does their generosity ever make you think about your own generosity?
Now, what if I told you that they’re not the most generous person you know?
Today I’m going to suggest that Jesus is the most generous person any of us will ever know. And I’m going to try and get us to think more about his generosity at a really personal level. Then I’ll be inviting you to consider what any of this means to you as a Christian in the world. A disciple at large.
So what exactly is Jesus-like generosity? How generous is God? Maybe there are some other questions to ask ourselves.
- Do I understand why Jesus died?
- Do I know in my heart that he gave up his life for his friends… for me?
- Do I really believe that this gift, that all of God’s enormous generosity, is completely free and given to each and every one of us here, no matter who we are?
These are big questions and a good start if we’re going to understand Jesus-like generosity.
Unfortunately this sermon won’t be answering them, because I don’t think that God’s amazing grace and our salvation in Jesus can be taught. Accepting that we’ve been given everything, even though we don’t deserve it, and that we’re loved beyond measure, even if we didn’t ask for it, and that Jesus is our saviour, even if we can’t understand it, and that we’re the recipients of limitless generosity, even if we don’t appreciate it… No I don’t think that can be taught. That can take a lifetime to come to terms with.
Also I think that understanding what we’ve been given is something we’ll need to regularly revisit, be reminded of and accept over and over again. I’m not sure it’s one of those things you can tick off your discipleship list. Jesus-like generosity might be too big for that.
So we won’t do that today, but at the very least I hope these words will encourage us all to ask ourselves afresh, or even for the first time, what we’ve been given and how we respond in thanksgiving.
This word brings me on to today’s reading. Because the ancient Greeks had a word for thanksgiving. It’s eucharistia. The word we use for communion. I want us to use our imaginations again and think about God’s generosity as remembered in the Eucharist. What’s going on in the Eucharist? What are we doing there, and what does it mean to us?
The Last Supper is written about in Matthew’s Gospel and in Luke’s and Mark’s. It’s also mentioned in 1 Corinthians. In Luke’s account Jesus says:
Do this in remembrance of me.
What did Jesus mean? It’s a simple request. We’ve been trying to honour it for the last 2000 years. Jesus made a group booking for his friends in a room above a pub that night, so he could share one last big meal with them right before his death, and tell them some big truths. And he said Do this in remembrance of me…
Well I’m not sure if wafers and silver goblets and kneeling at the communion rail was exactly what he had in mind…. but I don’t think that should worry us. However we do it, this act of breaking and sharing bread and wine which represent him dying on the cross for us, and remembering and giving thanks… that’s what it’s about.
And we’re giving thanks that God gave his only Son to be a sacrifice, to live and to die and to be resurrected, for new creation and eternal community. It’s hard to find the right words to adequately sum up why Jesus died for us. But I’ve settled for: he died so that we could live.
He died for the things we’ve done wrong so that, through Him we could be together with the Father in Heaven for eternity. Jesus’ death stands for Forgiveness and Salvation.
Forgiveness and salvation. Why are these two things so hard to understand? Perhaps we don’t feel we need forgiving. Or we don’t feel we need saving? Or perhaps we know we need both forgiving and saving, but can’t imagine that we’d be given both, freely. Haven’t we heard “nothing in life’s for free”. Yet the Bible tells us the exact opposite. It is for free. God’s gift to us is a no strings attached gift. A guarantee for life. That’s God’s amazing grace.
It’s not something we can earn or work towards. It’s not a test we have to pass or something we have to apply for. It’s free. It’s something we’ll never, ever be good enough for and will never deserve. But it’s ours anyway. It’s free. No matter what we’ve done, or how little we know of God. This gift is ours, for free.
God’s generosity is enormous. It’s as deep as the deepest ocean and more numerous than the stars in the sky. It’s in the creation of the world and everything in it, and everything that we are. It’s in our ability to love and be loved, to enjoy music, to create art, to play sport, to think and feel and hope and dream. But more than all that; God’s ultimate gift to us is in the sacrifice of his only Son Jesus Christ. Jesus-like generosity is us being forgiven and saved by him giving up his life.
And this is what we are celebrating in the Eucharist.
Celebrating the Eucharist. I sometimes think that’s a strange turn of phrase. Does it feel like a celebration? Is it appropriate to celebrate Jesus’ gift to us, when we know that it was made perfect by his brutal and terrible death? Or are our eyes on the resurrection, and so it feels like a celebration because we know ultimately, He defeated death?
Using our imaginations again, I’d like you to really consider how you feel during the Eucharist? Should sharing communion be joyful? Does it feel a sombre part of the service? Is it solemn? Serious? Sad? Do we feel delighted? Do we feel grateful? Do we feel anything when we walk up the aisle to the altar and kneel down?
Personally, I find it hard to know how to feel when I’m faced with the enormity of Jesus’ sacrifice. It’s a big mixture of emotions. I feel desperately grateful. And I feel underserving. I feel saddened by his pain. I feel horrified when I think of Bible passages or film scenes depicting his torture and death. There are a lot of emotions going on in my head as I wait for the wafer and sip of wine.
The biggest worry for me is that I might feel nothing. I fear it might become routine. As my faith matures, perhaps one day I’ll just feel simple, deep contentment. But I fear complacent monotony.
And yes, sometimes I struggle to tap into big emotions, as I kneel. Despite everything I’ve just said about forgiveness and salvation and the fact Jesus died for me…sometimes it’s hard to be in the right frame of mind to accept this level of generosity.
So I try and be disciplined about it. I intentionally settle my thoughts on what it is we’re doing. As I listen to the words the vicar uses, I try and visualise that Last Supper.
- What was going through Jesus’ head in that guest room?
- How heavy his heart must have been at the betrayal.
- What would the atmosphere have been like?
- Was Jesus sad? Was he scared? Was he stoic and brave? Did he desperately want more time?
- Did the words catch in his throat as he said “Do this in remembrance of me”?
But more than that night, as I prepare for the Eucharist, I try and imagine the scene at the cross. His body was broken for me, his blood spilled for me, and as long as I live I will never be able to repay Him or to thank Him enough.
I will never be able to thank him enough.
But what could I do, what could we all do as a way of thanks giving? Eucharistia?
Would following Jesus lead us to sharing with others the gifts we’ve freely been given? Could it be as simple as that? Just living each day and looking out for opportunities to be generous, in thought, word and deed. Giving up ourselves for others, and so being closer to Him? Holding less tightly onto our time and our money and our other resources, and so walking his walk. And wouldn’t that deepen our relationship and help us glimpse what heaven might be like?
Now let’s search our hearts and ask ourselves, are there any obstacles in our lives that stop us from taking generosity to the next level?
What are they? What are our worries? What’s in our way? Are we afraid to let go? Are we worried about the future? Do we worry what others think about our giving? Does not being thanked enough make us reluctant to give again? Can we put our finger on the one thing that might be stopping us from taking the next step in being more generous people? Generous with what we have, even if that’s not much.
And can we give all these worries and concerns to God? Can we ball them up in our fist and imagine putting them down at the altar when we go up to give thanks at the Eucharist? And can we walk back down the aisle knowing that it is because we are forgiven and saved, and the recipient of immeasurable grace, that every day is a fresh start. Because every day God gives to us. Every day we begin again. Every day we can attempt Jesus-like generosity.
Shall we finish in prayer?
We may never fully understand what you have generously given us. Please help us to look with fresh eyes at your creation and to give thanks. Please help us to count our blessings and give thanks. Please help us to appreciate what it is we’re remembering in the Eucharist, and give thanks. Please help us to overcome anything that gets in the way of giving freely and generously as a way of giving thanks to you. Help us to see your Kingdom come through our acts of generosity. Amen