The Sacrament of the Present Moment
I spoke last week about learning to recognise the risen Jesus, and how part of that is having to re-frame our expectations of where and how we expect to encounter him. Many of the resurrection appearances of Jesus are earthy – he is recognised in the breaking of bread, at meal times, by a word spoken in a garden, in a large catch of fish, eating by the fire at the water's edge.
The major themes of our faith – incarnation, passion and resurrection – work together to make a profound affirmation – that God is not only the divine creative energy that made all things, but is also present in and through all things – in the physical, as well as intangible. And that this God is working to redeem and make whole every facet of our ordinary lived experience. Or, as our opening liturgy puts it, there is nowhere that the risen Christ is not. By becoming flesh, the human Jesus entered our physical world and showed us that all human encounter is holy, that the stuff of clay and atoms is worthy to house divinity, that God is not off in some 'woowoo' transcendent realm of spirit but chooses to be revealed in the concreteness of creation.
By suffering and dying the human Jesus showed us God is intimately present not only to what is good and beautiful in the world, but to what is broken, hurting, wrecked, and disfigured.
By rising from the dead and returning as Spirit, Jesus becomes present to all reality at once, in the words of the song, his 'centre is everywhere'. He is in us, and we in him, particularly through those communities that seek and name him as their compass, but also in every second of every day of every particle of earth's reality. The whole of creation is sacramental, everything has the capacity to reveal God.
A sacrament, understood narrowly, is an event or ritual where certain words, actions and physical objects combine to reveal the mystery of Christ, and to impart grace to the participants in an often undefinable, or indescribable way. When we take part in rituals like baptism and communion we are affirming the special, intensified, presence of the risen Christ in and through the ordinary stuff of life – water, bread, wine.
The purpose of these specific sacraments, though, is not to be an end in themselves, but to take root in our awareness and to form us in such a way that we learn to recognise Christ in the rest of life – among friends and strangers, in acts of washing, eating, blessing, caring, forgiving, talking, laughing and crying, and also when we are out in God's earth receiving the sacrament of river, bird-song, and flower. It is the Christ in us that sees the entire world as sacrament. It is the Christ in us who notices that second of beauty and lifts our heart with thanksgiving and joy.
Psalm 34.8 invites us to 'taste and see that Yahweh is good.' This is a metaphor. But it is also a very concrete invitation to experience blessing through the goodness of what God has made. We are invited to savour the goods of creation. 'Savouring' lies at the heart of a simple, joyful way of being, the way modelled by Jesus. When we are hasty and distracted, we need ever more things and stuff to stimulate our need for novelty and to avoid the depth of the present moment. When we allow ourselves to dwell with a wonderful fragrance, to taste our food, to pause in a moment of delight and really 'feel' it, to sit back and drink in the company of loved ones rather than rushing on to the next task – then we don't need any more of anything. We are able to be content and our hearts incline to gratitude and blessing rather than dissatisfaction, fear and frustration. And we are more likely to notice the invitation of Christ for that moment, because Christ is always looking to partner with us to bring every moment to the fullness of what it could be in God.
We are going to take a moment to experience tasting and seeing. Here's some fruit. Take a piece, or two. Look at it, feel, and smell it for a bit. Then eat it slowly, attending to it. Receive through it the goodness and abundance of creation.
Track: I do not know its name (Carrie Newcomer)
At the end of every Sunday service here we 'go out to morning tea.' Morning tea is meant to be an aspect of our worship, a continuation of our prayer, the sharing of hospitality and an opportunity to express our welcome and our care for each other. But, for some Citysiders, and sometimes visitors too, 'morning tea' is something a little bit scary, and at times a lonely experience. Some days it seems like there's a dividing line that comes in at the end of the benediction, where we shift from being people of one heart, to being people who are meeting our personal and social needs in ways that exclude or ignore some of those same ones that we have been praying with only moments before. There are many reasons for this and I personally recognise myself in all of them from time to time. Sometimes we're ticking off a mental list of people we want to catch up with about one thing or another. In our busyness, this is understandable. Some of us are looking to find a safe person to talk to about things that are difficult in our lives. In our woundedness, this is necessary.
Some are completely distracted trying to keep track of children and connect with one other adult. In this stage of life, this is inevitable. But still, painfully, in the midst of this, some are feeling as though they don't exist, or that they don't matter, or that they don't belong. We have always said at Cityside that there is no requirement to be friends with everyone. It's impossible. But what I'm talking about here isn't really deep connection, or social relationships outside of Sunday, or saying hello to new people. It's more to do with exercising basic friendliness on the assumption that the other person has value and could be afforded warmth, even if they're not the person I intended to be talking to. It seems as though sometimes our relationships in community owe more to the social dynamics of our culture at large, rather than being transformed by our worship.
As I have pondered this I have wondered what it would mean if we came to see morning tea as Eucharist. That is, if the food and drink on the table 'out there', was taken in the same spirit, and with the same expectation of engaging with Christ, as when we have food and drink on the table 'in here'. If we entered into conversation with the sense that the person we are talking to is Christ for us – not somebody to 'do good to' or welcome out of a sense of Christian obligation, or conversely somebody to seek out because we consider them interesting or stimulating, or someone we need to connect with for functional reasons – but somebody who on that day is the way Christ wants to come to us. What would change in our manner of conversation? What if we went home from here on a Sunday and reflected on how and when we sensed the presence of Christ, not just in some element of the worship, but in an encounter over a cup of tea? If morning tea can become for us at Cityside an experience of sacrament, then how might that begin to change our other meals, our other social engagements, our interactions with work colleagues, or family?
Today we are going to experiment with bringing morning tea back 'in here' and having it in the middle of our worship instead of at the end. We are going to spend 15 minutes having a cup of tea. Afterwards, the service will continue on, so please don't disappear unless you have to. Try not to be too self-conscious! But as we eat and drink and talk together, let's imagine that we are participating in the Lord's Supper, invited to the table by the risen Christ himself. Let's pray:
Prayer for Morning Tea:
your friends recognised you in the breaking of the bread,
in the breakfast barbecue of fish by the waters edge.
MAY WE ALSO LEARN TO RECOGNISE YOU,
IN THE SHARING OF TEA AND BISCUITS
AND THE STORIES OF OUR WEEKS.
Visitor, stranger, be welcome among us,
Those who are sad, those who are laughing,
draw near to one another.
Uncertain, lonely ones, find a moment of connection here.
SPIRIT, BE IN OUR LISTENING AND OUR TALKING.
Open our hearts and our eyes and our ears
to glimpse a need
to ask a question
to be wisely silent.
LET THIS TIME OF MORNING TEA BE WORSHIP.
MAY WE HONOUR YOU, GOD, AND EACH OTHER,
BY TREATING THIS SPACE AS HOLY GROUND.