Friday, November 2, 2012

News from New Zealand - 7

Friday 2 November - We have kept the same rhythm, day by day, and it finally feels that my – and most others’ – jet-lag has dissipated. This was evident in the energy levels during our plenary sessions today.

After our Bible Studies, we concluded our discussions on environment issues, with a session which I was privileged to facilitate. Afterwards we looked at the report on the Communion’s ‘Bible in the Life of the Church’ project. This is a helpful report and I encourage every Anglican to read it. You can learn more about it at http://www.aco.org/ministry/theological/bible/index.cfm, where there is a link to download the full report (20MB). I will post the link separately, and also make sure copies are available at COTT and in each diocesan office. The report looks at key principles of how we as Anglicans handle scripture. It is quite concerning that it concludes that the level of biblical literacy is not satisfactory. The motion ACC is considering on this has been sent back to the resolutions committee for further work. We then dealt with a report from NIFCON (Network for Inter-Faith Concerns) which reflects on Christian Zionism and suggests how Anglicans can approach this matter. There was a lot of energy and discussion around this report, and an appreciation that at least a study had been written on this matter.

Tonight we had a Polynesian dinner. We were again fed good food and entertained through cultural music and dance, as Archbishop Wilson read the creation story and pleaded for good stewardship and care for the environment. There are people already being displaced by the rising sea levels, and climatic change for them is no longer a theoretical debate but a life and death matter. It does not matter whether scientist have made wholly correct calibrations or how far the changes are natural and/or induced by human activity: the fact is that these changes are adversely affecting the Pacific Islanders. He made a strong plea through music, dance and story-telling, in a fun way which at the same time conveyed a serious message.

At lunchtime, I fielded a couple of questions from church reporters at the press conference on the same topic. One question I was asked was ‘What might a moral intervention by a Christian as opposed to a politician look like?’ What do you think?

I want to return to the themes that we discussed yesterday, on the topic of the environment, food, water and energy nexus. The thought of the Eucharist as bread, food, from heaven stayed with me throughout today. I asked the audience to think deeply about the relationship between the sacrament and the environmental crisis, and to reflect on food as Eucharist, water in baptism, and energy as the sacred space we worship in.

I just want to attempt some brief comments on receiving the Eucharist, as it is a practice I follow most weekdays with staff at Bishopscourt and almost every Sunday. I want to raise some questions for reflection, and I hope these will also help provoke your own reflections and questions. If you want to share these with me, I will value that.

There are many perspectives within Christian (and Anglican) tradition in which we have reflected on what it means to receive bread and wine as Jesus taught us to do in remembrance of him. As I said in a sermon recently, we might think of it as
- the Lord’s Supper – the foretaste of the heavenly wedding banquet of the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world;
- or we might think of it as Communion – our being drawn into intimate closeness with our Lord and Saviour;
- or as Eucharist, which means ‘thanksgiving’ – a celebration of all Jesus Christ has done for us;
- or even as the Mass – being ‘sent’ into the world, so that having been fed and strengthened by all that Jesus Christ has won for us, we can share all this with the needy world around.

In fact, we probably ought to think of it as a combination of all of these! Furthermore, in the Eucharist, we share God's faithfulness to us, that whilst we are still sinners, he sends us a gift of life in this meal; he send us his Son, so that we can be touched by his life and be fed, nurtured, and strengthen for his service.

There isn’t room here even to attempt to give a full theological survey of the Eucharist here but I find the following Bible readings helpful as a start: Ex 12:1-14; Deut 8:2-3; Luke 22:7-20; John 6:51-58; 1 Cor 10:16-17 and 11:23-26.

This meal is provided by God, and therefore, although those that celebrate are fallible humans, this does not detract from the giver of the gift, nor from our being touched and healed by the gift. In our turn, we are called to ensure food security for all, as the Eucharist demonstrates it can be done.

One other point that I want to mention is very emotive. This when in church we are denied this holy food because of certain doctrinal positions (for example, Roman Catholic clergy are not permitted to give the Eucharist to Anglicans). Yet I understand the pain of the one that denies others, and will not for a second discount it. Another matter that I am flagging, is when because of some disagreement over approach or understanding with the priest, someone might ‘boycott’ the Eucharist. I need to reflect deeply on this, as I recall that when I was Bishop of Grahamstown, our bishops recalled students from the College of the Transfiguration, when they had boycotted the Eucharist because of a disagreement they had with college management. I just want to highlight these sensitive, stressful, matters, and ask the questions: Who are you boycotting? And what does this say about your understanding of the Eucharist, this gift of life, faithfully provided by God? What is your own understanding of the Mass? Would you stay away from receiving Communion because you have a grievance? Shouldn't partaking heal you and allow Jesus to touch you afresh and renew you, even as you go and discuss your qualms with whoever has offended you?

Here in New Zealand, we have been fed by strangers and they have become friends for life. God, who meets us in our sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ in the Mass, will faithfully invite us to be fed with these foods of life.