This morning, four Wembley Downs congregations representing four different traditions gathered together at St Paul’s Anglican Church for a combined Pentecost Eucharist. Everyone wore red, the liturgical colour representing the tongues of flame that symbolise the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon the120 gathered in Jerusalem soon after the departure of the resurrected Jesus. The Feast of Pentecost marks the birth of the Church and serves today as a rallying point for the unity of the Church across its diverse traditions. Leaders of all four congregations played roles in celebrating the traditional Anglican Eucharist under the direction of the resident rector. This was not a new event – it was the sixth occasion for the Anglican Churches of Christ and Uniting Church congregations and first time for the local Baptist church. Overflow facilities were needed to cater for the packed church.
One of my colleagues sees the Emmaus incident as central to a true understanding of the celebration of the Lords Supper, aka Holy Communion, aka Eucharist. It is in the stranger’s breaking and blessing of bread that the crucifixion and resurrection in the midst of a questing and believing household of faith becomes real.
Still on leave, I was interested to hear what the church I visited yesterday morning had to say about it. Wesley Church, in the heart of Perth, is sometimes my place of pilgrimage when I have a free Sunday. The use of the arts, musical and visual, gives a nice even flow to the “worshipful conversation” that takes place there.
Not to be disappointed, I listened to the Rev’d Don Dowling reflect on four main points he drew from the Emmaus journey (see Luke 24:13-35)
- Luke was at pains to demonstrate to his hearers, a generation after the event, that the Risen Christ is discerned and tangible in the midst of their faith community.
- The faith community, seen in the two travelers, is exposed and vulnerable to opposing elements and values that would seem to defeat them. The stranger remonstrates with them, stirring the memory of their core story and summoning them to active engagement with it.
- It is the community gathered at the table that discerns the Risen Christ in the “breaking of bread.”
- Cleopas and his companion are not part of the original Twelve. The Risen Christ is often to be found amongst ordinary folk beyond the “purple circle” or “holy huddle.”
I used a day of leave to experience communion in a tradition quite different to that which I am accustomed, so I took myself off to the 10 am Choral Eucharist at St Georges Cathedral of the Anglican Arch Diocese of Perth, Western Australia.
I have participated in communion services of the higher liturgical traditions before, most notably at our local ecumenical Pentecost services. I was quite looking forward to cathedral pageantry and the sacred music of Bach and Handel. I was not disappointed – on the contrary there were some moments where the sacred took me by surprise.
Let me share three moments in particular:
- The reading of the gospel from Luke 17:5-10. I knew how this was to be done, with the bible carried aloft to the midst of the congregation with organ fanfare and choral alleluias. The whole congtregation stands in expectancy of the words to be heard. The cantor chanted the words of the passage, and it was as if I heard them anew. It was a thin moment.
- The address by The Reverend Bill Sykes, Chaplain Emeritus and Fellow of University College, Oxford. It was one of the best sermons I’ve heard in a long time (not that I hear many – I’m usually dishing them out!). He was speaking to the gospel text “Increase our faith” and described how he answered a question asked of him by a very intellectual post grad student – “What do you believe?” It was one of the most straightforward and comprehensive yet rational evangelistic presentations I have encountered. He went on to explain how he has set up thirty reflection groups throughout Oxford that explore a range from 220 issues pertaining to faith and life. Apparently the reflections, designed for multi-faith discussions, are in his book, The eternal vision: the ultimate collection of spiritual quotations. (Mental note to get a copy).
- The communion service. The pew sheet says, “We break bread for the whole world. We invite all who seek God and are drawn to Christ, and all who walk the way of faith to come forward to receive communion or a blessing.” The Open Table in a high liturgical tradition suddenly melded with my more familiar homely table in the free church restorationist tradition.
World Communion Sunday. If you are participating in a communion service somewhere in the world today, may the peace of Christ be with you!