For All Who Hunger

Somewhere around 2014/15 a series of what we might call Godincidences brought St Lydia’s to my attention. I had stumbled upon a subject for my Masters’ thesis that involved sacramental theology and communal tables – and in the process discovered this “dinner church” in Brooklyn that appeared to embody much of the theology I was advocating. At the same time, a friend moved to NYC and joined the church’s staff team; another friend found themselves there sporadically when in the city… I finally made my first visit in September 2015, when over a two week break post-MA break, I managed to spend four evenings at St Lydia’s. (I wrote a very enthusiastic write up in the days when I still blogged regularly.)

I returned to St Lydia’s multiple times – my last visit was just a couple of weeks before my friend Hannah left the team to move to Toronto in January 2019. Each time, I picked up the name badge I’d written in 2015 and got stuck into to dinner conversation, washing up (always my preferred post-dinner chore) and after-church drinks. It’s also thanks to Lydians that I have a favourite karaoke/Korean food haunt in Brooklyn.

The Lydians setting up for Advent 2017

In St Lydia’s, I found a place where the meaning of the Lord’s Supper was enacted with an authenticity that felt lacking in many other churches. All were welcome at the tables; all were fed, physically & spiritually. [I have never gotten over the communion service I attended at a church in LA where in order to receive bread and wine I’d have needed to hand over documentation to prove that I was entitled to it. Not what Jesus meant people!!]

In the five years since my first Lydian encounter, I’ve pondered setting up a version of dinner church in my own context. Various things have got in the way, and now who knows what might be possible in a Covid-19 world? But the principles behind it remain inspirational.

By a stroke of luck, I managed to get onto the launch team for the release of For All Who Hunger – the story of how St Lydia’s came to be, by its founder Emily Scott. An advance e-copy of the book landed with me last month, but I’ve discovered that being a church leader in the midst of a global pandemic doesn’t allow much time for reading. So I find myself having finally read it – mostly within a single afternoon/evening – a week after it’s official launch. (Although it looks like readers in the UK can’t buy it till the end of May, so I feel marginally less guilty.)

British church culture currently seems very focused on church planting that results in large churches – particularly following the ‘resource church’ model. [Although who knows what the impact of Covid-19 will be on this? Perhaps we’ll be looking at planting lots more smaller churches….here’s hoping.] It was therefore refreshing to read Emily’s account of the slow grind in getting St Lydia’s off the ground.

“The part no one ever talks about is the humiliation. It’s humiliating to try to start a church in an aggressively secular city. To invite people to come to worship when they’ll likely think you’re unforgivably naïve, unsophisticated, uneducated, and conservative to believe in something so off-trend as God. It required divesting myself of the notion that I would ever, ever be anything resembling cool.”

For All Who Hunger isn’t a blueprint for starting up a church – every church, every leader and every community is different – but with its stories of how St Lydia’s evolved over the years, it provides examples that should inspire others. There’s common-sense relationship building – listening to people to hear what their needs are, rather than just barging in. Collaborating with the right people at the right time. Learning from those who were there first. There’s a powerful account of getting involved with Black Lives Matter and Faith in New York, told with acute awareness of white privilege. The description of the response to Hurricane Sandy hits particularly hard right now, as the world struggles to formulate a response to the pandemic. Who knows how St Lydia’s might have evolved were it not for the insight that that disaster provided?

The story of how the church evolved is told alongside (some of) the story of Emily’s own personal evolution.  As a single female church leader myself, I really appreciated Emily’s – often comedic, always realistic – insights into the perils of trying to date as a pastor! It concludes with her moving on from St Lydia’s – an important part of the journey that isn’t often told in this kind of book. St Lydia’s and Emily’s ministry continue, but in different places.

Ultimately, I’m grateful that there’s now a book I can point people towards when I tell them something of my own experience of St Lydia’s. Telling Brits to head over to the Atlantic for a Sunday or Monday night service isn’t particularly feasible, but reading this bridges that gap. It evokes so much of the atmosphere of St Lydia’s that when I finished reading late last night, I looked up from my iPad half expecting to be back in Brooklyn.

“St Lydia’s showed me abundance is a secret hidden inside of scarcity. It lives, tucked inside not-enoughness, waiting to show you that God does not do math. Abundance is discovering God’s provision right in the middle of your fret and worry.”

Resources for the Church in different times…

There is a certain irony to the fact that, having spent much of the last decade thinking about the way church can embrace digital (and vice-versa), I find myself leading a congregation where around 40% of regular worshippers don’t have access to the internet. (It’s a small congregation, with a significant number of elderly people.)

When churches first started closing across the US – a week before the same thing happened in the UK – I realised I needed a plan for how my congregation could continue to worship while in their own homes, because streaming was definitely not the answer. What I have come up with, I’m sharing below, in case it’s helpful to anyone else.

  • A Booklet of prayers & readings to use at home, plus suggestions for where to find worship on radio/TV. Compiling this was my distraction while waiting for the Archbishops to suspend public worship on March 17th. Virtually all the prayers come from the Church of England’s Coronavirus prayers and liturgy webpage. It feels like this has already made its way around half the Church of England, after I offered it up on Twitter! There are highlighted sections that should be amended for your own context…
  • Creating a piece of code that enables people to ring a number (local – you can choose it) and listen to a sermon (or any other mp3 file you’d want to share). I used this brilliant step-by-step guide, and had it up and running for last Sunday. I’d been concerned that some of my non-online people also had poor eyesight, so sending them text documents wasn’t necessarily helpful. An added bonus of this is that I can circulate the dropbox link for the audio around via email and WhatsApp, so everyone gets a sermon!
  • On the ‘Final Sunday’ we created a WhatsApp group for the congregation. I usually wouldn’t go down this route (I have a love/hate relationship with WhatsApp groups at the best of times, and there are potential safeguarding issues) but again, my congregation is small. We worked out who was not on WhatsApp and buddied them up with someone who was – this was pretty organic and there’s already a great pastoral structure that supports the older members. The WhatsApp group is now an easy place to share info and have it disseminated wider. We also get to hear updates on whoever has recently been phoned up – so it very much feels as though the pastoral burden is shared.
  • As my vicarage is connected to the church, I go in on Sunday morning and preside at communion. The congregation know that this is happening – they’re invited to send prayer requests in and we’ve shared the peace via WhatsApp. This week, as part of a Holy Week/Easter mailout, I’ve also shared the Church of England’s guidance on spiritual communion, in case that’s helpful to them. [There is a PDF on the CofE website, but frustratingly it goes onto 3 pages by just 3 lines, so I copied & edited it until I got it down to just two sides of A4!]

My other thought on March 17th, was that this was obviously going to affect Holy Week and Easter. In packs that I sent out yesterday (with palm crosses enclosed), I included two Holy Week/Easter specific things:

  • A booklet of Bible readings & meditations for each day of Holy Week (up to and including Holy Saturday). The meditations all have a sensory element to them – it’s basically a slightly adapted version of something I created for Good Friday two years ago, but I felt like it had the capacity to work in people’s homes too, and felt like it could work for families.
  • A liturgy for Maundy Thursday that could be used around an evening meal. My church was meant to be hosting a Maundy Thursday supper as part of our contribution to our Group Ministry Holy Week. Again, streaming didn’t feel right (although the Group’s Good Friday services will be done online), but I felt like something people could use in their homes would be apt. It’s drawn from a couple of different places and has several Bible readings in it (which could be cut down depending on time/attention spans), and although it mentions bread and wine, is definitely not sacramental!

While some may prefer not to send physical materials to their congregation (it is thought that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on paper), this is really the only way I can get such things to them. I made use of Royal Mail’s Click & Drop service, and the envelopes will have been sealed at least 36 hours before they actually arrive anywhere. I don’t imagine I will do anything quite like this again until we get to Pentecost.

I have quite a bit more to say about the church in its current season, but I’m going to leave that for another day. Certainly we are in unprecedented times, and if I can save someone a bit of time or mental energy with what I’ve managed to get done, I’m glad!

The curse of Hot Priest

Last month, the Guardian published an article entitled “Is this the cultural moment of the hot priest?” In the words of its author, “when I thought about it, I began to notice hot priests everywhere.” Obviously, there’s THE Hot Priest of Fleabag series two fame; but then there’s Grantchester, the Young Pope, and a trendy priest in Derry Girls. [If you haven’t watched this gem, why? In our current political climate everyone should watch a comedy set in 1990s Northern Ireland.]

The writer of the article decided to do some fieldwork, checking out their local Episcopal church (first sign that the article was written by an American dwelling Guardian writer) for evidence of hot priests in the wild. Their discovery?

The priest who administered my communion was fairly good-looking. But was he a hot priest? I wondered, tripping as I entered my pew. And how do you define “hot”? The scale itself is subjective, is it not? Does a man (or woman) of the cloth need some other, more je ne sais quoi quality in order to qualify? Is it more about charisma?

And this is where I begin having a massive issue with the hot priest trope…

Don’t get me wrong, Andrew Scott IS categorically hot. (And also bears an uncanny resemblance to Ant *and* Dec, which once pointed out to me, I can’t unsee…) The chemistry between him and Fleabag positively sizzled and honestly, drinking a gin in a tin on a bench in a church yard will never be the same again.* [See below for a sidenote of a story…]

Hot Priest was hot, and flawed. Each week I would ponder why he wasn’t thinking about crossing over to the Church of England. Whether he was playing Fleabag. Why he thought snogging someone in a confessional was a good idea. Why he hated foxes… Hot Priest needed to be hot. That was the point.

But take the hot priest phenomenon into a local parish and I have problem.

For starters, please don’t contemplate the hotness of the priest presiding at Eucharist – male or female. It’s not exactly the point of the sacrament.

And could we not expect priests in real life to be like the ones on TV? (In so many ways! I don’t want a priest like Hot Priest leading a church!) True, Adam Smallbone of Rev and Father Michael of Broken had moments of brilliant realness and embody some of what I know many clergy do in their day-to-day ministry, but they’re rare bright sparks in the media’s depiction of the clergy.

But the biggest issue I have with the fetishisation of the hot male priest is the way in which it undermines the campaign to smash the stained glass ceiling. Society’s ideas about female appearance and sexuality are shown to be a major factor in objections to women taking on leadership positions in the church. A recent video from the United Methodist Church showed male clergy reading aloud comments that their female colleagues had received from congregants. Many of the comments related to their appearance, including:

“It’s hard for me to concentrate when you say ‘this is my body given for you’ during communion…”
“I can’t concentrate on your sermon because you’re so pretty.”
“I keep picturing you naked under your robe.”
“If I were 20 years younger, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away from you.”

In the era of #metoo and #churchtoo, surely we should be beyond such a superficial obsession? Would the Guardian have published a similar piece on hot female priests? No – partly because there are none in TV sitcoms or dramas (would we call the Geraldine Granger “hot”? Or the feisty women clergy in Rev?); and – more likely – because it would be called out for being horrendously sexist and exploitative.

I’ve seen the occasional piece that’s made a thing of a female vicar’s looks – I recall a Daily Mail piece nearly a decade ago that suggested that the growing congregation of a rural church was down to its young, blonde female priest. I know friends who’ve been wolf-whistled while wearing their dog collar. There was my well-meaning parishioner (sadly no longer with us) who told me a few years ago that I should wear my black DM boots more often because they made me a “sexy vicar”. (He meant well. I never wore them to the office again!)

Perhaps the hot priest phenomenon is considered acceptable because it’s not new. The classic trope of the male curate adored by spinster parishioners has featured in literature for centuries – whether it’s Jane Austen or Barbara Pym. The history of film is littered with attractive actors playing men of the cloth, including Oscar winning performances from Spencer Tracy & Bing Crosby, not to mention the fact that Robert de Niro has played a priest at least four times. But Hollywood is always going to prefer a priest who’s on the hotter side of the spectrum…

Don’t get me wrong, I’m really happy to see some more mainstream depictions of clergy in the media; but it strikes me that we are heading down a road that’s unhelpful. Two of my favourite TV priests (or aspiring priests) of recent times have been attractive, but that’s not been a deliberate part of their character arc. Father Brah on Crazy Ex Girlfriend was a recurring character who dispensed wisdom and occasional dance moves. Daveed Diggs playing a seminarian on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was a genius way to introduce Kimmy to church.

It would be lovely for more of these characters to be female. Where’s the gritty drama starring a over-worked female vicar? Why, 25 years after the ordination after women as priests in the Church of England, is the only female vicar who’s the protagonist in a TV show the flipping Vicar of Dibley?? (In the 90s Dibley was groundbreaking. I am now thoroughly sick of it being the only pop culture anyone can make relating to my vocation.)

Yes, Fleabag is one of the best things that the BBC has ever produced, but it’s led us to something of a dark place. Society, could we get a grip please?

Fetishising priests doesn’t help anyone, especially not real priests. Especially at a time when churches of all denominations are having to rebuild trust between their leadership and wider society.

Fetishising male priests really undermines a lot of the efforts to level the playing field for women.

And, there will never be – ever – a member of the clergy who can compare to Andrew Scott. Apologies if that shatters any illusions, but it’s the truth!

[*Sidenote: In the middle of series two airing, I made a trip back to the shire to visit my family. Arriving at my parents ahead of a Sunday roast, my mum offered me a G&T which I declined on the basis that I’d had a train gin en route. She replied: “Ah, I thought you’d have a can of gin – they’re very popular these days, thanks to Fleabag.”

My first thought was “well, we’ve been drinking cans of G&T for absolutely years and I’m pretty sure you’d have been more surprised if I hadn’t picked one up for my post-church train journey”. This was swiftly followed by “wait, what??! You’re watching Fleabag?!” When questioned, she declared “Oh yes! It’s one of the best things I’ve ever watched!”

Reader, think about Fleabag and then think about whether it’s a TV show you’d expect your mum to be watching…]

What Dobby the House Elf can teach us about John 15:9-17…

…or, how JK Rowling convinced me to have confidence in the angle I wanted to take on this passage.

Usually, if I upload the text of a sermon here, I just copy & paste it – making only a few amendments. This time, I want to tell the story of how I came to preach the sermon I gave on May 6th.

***

Firstly, let me take you back to Sunday April 29th, when I was rudely awakened from a deep sleep by my phone ringing at 7.20am. (It was rude only in the sense that my alarm wasn’t set till 8am, a perk of not being on duty at the 9am service. The person on the phone was as lovely as ever.) My colleague was ringing to inform me that our guest preacher was seriously unwell and couldn’t make it to preach & preside at our morning services. We needed an alternative sermon, and fast! Within minutes we decided to congregational lectio divina on the Gospel reading – handily the very appropriate for lectio purposes John 15:1-8 – and I raced to get ready to lead two services. [As an aside, some frantic googling revealed a congregation in the States who’d used it to great effect, along with some prayers they’d formulated for the occasion – really helpful and a great resource to have up one’s sleeve.]

It went down well with the congregation (which was fortunate), and as I prepared the following week’s sermon, I reflected that Lectio Divina is actually very similar to the process that I go through when I begin preparing a sermon. I read through the passage and see what grabs my attention. I read it through again and think about how it relates to my life, or our community. I read it through again and ask for the Holy Spirit to speak to me through it. I might not do it quite in that order, but those are some of the questions that I ask myself.

[As an aside (and because Harry Potter is a theme of this post), I’m a particular fan of lectio as a spiritual practice because of its prominence in one of my favourite podcasts: Harry Potter & the Sacred Text.]

Here’s the thing, when I sat down and did my multiple readings of the passage in order to begin preparing my sermon, the verses that stood out – verses 12 and 13 – weren’t necessarily what I felt comfortable preaching on:

 “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

***

I knew that one of the reasons why verse 13 stood out to me was because of its use on war memorials, particularly following the First World War. I wanted to include something in my sermon about the need to redeem that particular verse – but I didn’t want it to seem as though I was undermining the huge loss of life that had taken place.

But then I had a sign.

I was on the bus, browsing Twitter, when a tweet from JK Rowling caught my eye:

As is her custom on the anniversary of the fictional Battle of Hogwarts, JK Rowling apologises for killing off one of her characters. [Personally, I’m still not over Remus Lupin.] This year, she invoked the language of John 15:13 in her apology for killing off Dobby the House Elf and in doing so, she led me down a path of discovery at what this fictional character can teach us about this Bible passage.

If you’ve not read the books or watched the films, you’ll have no idea what a house elf is. In summary, it’s a mythical creature enslaved to serve the wizarding community. Dobby appears in the second book of the series, determined to keep Harry Potter safe from forces that seek to do him harm. In the final book of the series, Dobby reappears in a scene where Harry and his friends are held prisoner. He succeeds in bringing them all to safety, but in the process is mortally wounded.

Quite by chance, Dobby was very fresh in my memory as just a week earlier I’d been at a screening of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets accompanied by live orchestra, at the Royal Albert Hall. When Dobby appeared there was a massive cheer. He is a beloved character. In fact, when I then came to look up the passage in the final book where his death and burial takes place, it brought tears to my eyes.

Dobby laid down his life so that his friends could live. It was a selfless love that had a huge impact upon his friends. Their survival meant that they could go on and win the Battle of Hogwarts. I think that’s why so many readers/watchers of the films have formed an attachment to this elf. It’s an incredibly powerful image of love and sacrifice.

Sermon prep via Instagram story.

But, that’s not where the Dobby – John 15 connection ends. The important thing about Dobby is that he is a free elf – it’s what Harry inscribes on his grave marker. Dobby is free as a direct result of Harry’s actions at the end of book two, and by the time we reach the final volume, they are friends. Dobby is no longer a slave, he is Harry’s friend.

John 15:15 reads: I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.” Jesus now considers his disciples as friends, not servants. That’s why the love between them is so deep.

It’s easy to see the parallel with the love and friendship between Dobby and Harry et al.

***

Bringing up Dobby as an illustration in a sermon may seem like an odd thing to do. The Harry Potter series is *not* scripture – obviously. But one of the points I had wanted to make is how pervasive some of the gospels’ language in our modern society, despite secularism. A lot of people know a form of: “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” They might be more familiar with the King James’ Version: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

This is, in part, because of the verse’s use on the war memorials that were built across Europe following WWI. It has become synonymous with the sacrifice of war and the language of remembrance. Many of those whose names are etched below that verse literally did lay down their lives for their friends.

However, its use in this way runs the risk of people misunderstanding Christ’s sacrifice for us on the cross. Love should not justify violence. Christ’s atonement for our sins on the cross does not begin a cycle of violence that we should participate in.  It also contributes to an image of a violent God, who may love us, but asks for death in war in return – and that is not the Father that Jesus is referring to in this passage.

That’s why I wanted to have a focus upon John 15:12-13. But it’s an intense theme for a sermon on a spring Bank Holiday weekend, and had the risk of offending people if I wasn’t careful. So I’m grateful for JK Rowling’s tweet for spurring me on and for giving me a light-hearted counterpoint.

***

I don’t know how well the Harry Potter illustration worked with the two congregations who heard the sermon. (There was positive feedback, but I’m sure I baffled some of the older members of the church.) For many in my generation and younger, the characters and themes of Harry Potter run deep in our lives. It’s not just a series of children’s books (in fact, beyond book three it gets really dark and really unsuitable for children), and it features at its heart the battle of good versus evil – complete with bucket loads of Biblical imagery and themes.

The podcast I mentioned at the start – Harry Potter & the Sacred Text – demonstrates this week after week. Using Judeo-Christian spiritual practices like Lectio Divina, Floralegium, Havruta & PaRDeS, they delve into a specific theme each chapter. It resonates with people of all spiritualities and none. I highly recommend the podcast (and the books too, if you’ve never read them) as a way of enriching your life!

And no, I won’t be looking for more Harry Potter themed sermons any time soon, but I really like it when God aligns things in a particular moment!

Where recognition takes place…

Luke 24:13-35 The Road to Emmaus

Christ Church Highbury, April 15th 2018

The story of the Road to Emmaus is probably my second favourite resurrection appearance – after Mary’s recognition of Christ in the garden. I can place myself both in the pain and grief of the two walking away from Jerusalem; and in their joy at the moment when Jesus reveals his identity to them. It also provides us with an encounter with Christ that we can emulate when we break bread and drink wine – as we’ll be doing later this morning.

****

One of the things that has surprised me about ordained ministry is how easy it is for people to not recognise me when I’m not wearing my dog collar. Even more so if I’m wearing especially casual clothes, on my way home from the gym for example. (Or at the gym!) We all struggle with recognising people out of context. Even more so when we simply don’t expect to see that person – like the time I saw an old friend on the tube, who, as far as I was aware, was living in Singapore!

Jesus was the last person the two men on the road to Emmaus expected to see. He was dead. They were grief-stricken. Their hopes had been dashed. They’d witnessed the brutal killing of the man they’d believed was their messiah. No wonder they didn’t realise who Jesus was!

But the revelation of his identity was saved for a particular moment. At the Last Supper Jesus had called his disciples to remember him in bread and wine, using the words that we hear every time we receive communion – this is my body, this is my blood… But in Emmaus, it wasn’t remembrance that took place, it was revelation.

I don’t know how much time you’ve spent thinking about how you might go about telling people about Jesus and the message of the Gospel? Perhaps you’ve been involved in an Alpha course, or suggested that someone else do it? Or lent someone a book? Or been alongside someone in their darkest moments and offered to pray? There’s countless courses and books out there designed to train us as evangelists, as sharers of the good news, and revealers of Christ.

But something that the Road to Emmaus narrative tells us is that sometimes revelation happens without any of those things. Instead, Jesus a moment in which to reveal himself.

***

Some of you are aware that once or twice a year I go on holiday to France in order to work with friends to renovate an old farmhouse. In fact, I just returned from our latest trip on Tuesday. We’ve been going for nearly 7 years, and the initiative is managed by the missional community of which I’m part. Over 13 trips, around 80 adults from the UK, US and a handful of other countries have helped turn a tumble-down barn into a space that – as of last weekend – can now be inhabited.

The ‘chateau’, Easter 2018.

One of the main features of our community is an open-table meal at our building in Limehouse every Thursday evening. When in France, the gathering around a large table is the focus of every evening. It’s no mean feat cooking and seating 20-30 people in one go!

In London, these meals are a place where relationship is built week upon week. There isn’t any explicit Christian content, apart from a prayer before the meal, but it has become a safe place for some who are exploring their relationship with God. In France, we often only have a few days in which to build relationships with those from places other than London, but the same principles apply.

Last summer, a family from Colorado joined us at Chateau Duffy (it is not a chateau, but it is owned by a guy called Duffy!). When they returned home, their father spent some time reflecting upon this rather peculiar European vacation that they’d been on. Jim wrote:

“It’s hard to explain the community-building work you’re doing through Chateau Duffy, but it seems to me a bit like that walk along the road to Emmaus. Strangers come together, get a little dusty, and talk about the things that matter most – by which I mean both their personal concerns and life’s biggest questions. 

Jesus is there in those conversations, but he’s not jumping up and down saying, “Hey! Look at me!” He seems rather to content to follow the road, and to let it—and the conversations—lead where they will.

But then there are these moments, and of course they tend to happen around a shared table, where something more is revealed, and deeper connections are made.

There seems to be a deep trust that whether we recognize it or not, God is on that round and around that table. He will reveal himself as and when he sees fit.”

Gathered around the Chateau Duffy table, summer 2017

In the years that this project has been a feature of my holidays, I’ve seen what Jim described over and over again – but had never put it together with the story of the Road to Emmaus. But as I read his words, I thought back over the years…

  • I thought about the conversations atop of a scaffold rig on a hot summer’s day, discussing relationships while trying to make mortar stay in between stones.
  • I remembered the late nights staying up drinking good whisky and getting to the types of conversation that only ever come up when you’ve been drinking good whisky!
  • I remembered the American interns who returned home with a new appreciation of what a diverse community can look like.
  • I think of atheist friends who’ve found a welcome and a place in which questions could be asked.
  • I think of the friendships which are deepened purely because we shared a week in a gite together, and have some brilliant stories about the ridiculousness of learning to tile a bathroom.
  • And I marvel at the deep friendship formed with a British family who live around the corner from our house, in this tiny village, who have opened their home to us time after time and who are now a firm part of our family.

We’ve been practising hospitality through meals for years, and if you asked me or Shannon (who founded our community) what our theological objectives were, I’m not sure that we would have articulated them as clearly as Jim managed to after his trip to France. But, the more I’ve reflected on this passage, the more I see it as a calling to all disciples of Christ to give him the space in which to encounter those who have not recognised him for who he is.

***

I believe that we have a role to assist in Jesus’ revelation to others. After all, in our passage today, the two men tell Jesus the story of his ministry – but it is Jesus who provides them with the other half of the story, the prophecies that have been fulfilled, and the all-important punchline of realisation.

It brings me back to thinking about communion. Every time we share in the bread and wine here, we re-tell the story. Each Eucharistic prayer tells the story of who Jesus is; what he came to earth to do; and of the meal he shared that last night with his disciples. Then we receive the bread and wine, a tangible reminder and a physical encounter with the body and blood of Christ. It’s then up to Jesus to do the rest – to fill in the punchline.

Someone who has really inspired my personal theology of the Eucharist (which was the subject of the MA thesis I was finishing up when I arrived at Christ Church), is a woman called Sara Miles who lives in San Francisco.

Today, Sara is an internationally respected practical theologian, who leads a ministry that is shaped by her experience of the Eucharist and what that means for the community in which she lives. Sara came to faith while eating the bread and drinking the wine. This is how she tells her story…

“One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans – except that until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. This was my first communion. It changed everything.

Eating Jesus, as I did that day to my great astonishment, led me against all my expectations to a faith I’d scorned and work I’d never imagined. The mysterious sacrament turned out to be not a symbolic wafer at all but actual food – indeed, the bread of life. In that shocking moment of communion, filled with a deep desire to reach for and become part of a body, I realised that what I’d been doing with my life all along was what I was meant to do: feed people.

And so I did. I took communion, I passed the bread to others, and then I kept going, compelled to find new ways to share what I’d experienced.” 

‘I found [righteousness] at the eternal and material core of Christianity: body, blood, bread, wine, poured out freely, shared by all. I discovered a religion rooted in the most ordinary yet subversive practice: a dinner table where everyone is welcome, where the despised and outcasts are honoured.’ 

Sometimes, for Christ to reveal himself to others, all we need to do is to welcome people in and let Jesus meet them in that place – whether that’s communion; or a shared table; or a chance conversation; or any number of spaces in which revelation is possible.

Quote from Take This Bread. [Picture Credit.]

***

Today, I have two thoughts for you to ponder:

Firstly, how well do you recognise Jesus in the world around you? If you’re not sure, ask the Holy Spirit to open your eyes and reveal Christ to you.

Secondly, where might you make spaces where Jesus can reveal himself to others? Inviting someone to a meal, or to church could be a simple action that leads to an encounter with Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to encourage you and show you what to do.