Communion: Intentionally Mindful Moments of God’s Presence
A sermon based on Exodus 3:1-15
given at Mount Vernon, Ohio on September 3, 2017
by Rev. Scott Elliott
Today we celebrate the Last Supper, the Lord’s Supper. The Eucharist, communion, is one of two sacraments in our church. The other is baptism, which it just so happens we will experience next Sunday.
Baptism we do on occasion – glorious occasion– but on the first Sunday of every month on a regular basis we have communion. And with each communion we remember Jesus’ last meal and Jesus. Communion serves to remind us of what Jesus did in the past.
Communion also reminds us that the extraordinary Christ part of Jesus is present now in us and in our individual and communal relationships. Communion reminds us that Jesus Christ still influences our lives and our Way of being.
We, of course, also find future hope in that, in the promise of Christ’s presence and influence and power in our lives in the days and months and years to come for us . . . and for all generations.
What I just outlined pretty much makes self-explanatory the names “Last Supper” and “Lord’s Supper” for our communion sacrament. It recalls Jesus’ last meal with his followers. The name “Eucharist” is a little more obscure it “ comes from eucharisteo, the Greek word for giving thanks (1 Corinthians 11:24)” 1 And the name Communion well, that is thought to come from “the King James translation of 1 Corinthians 10:16; it means sharing or participation.” 2. Paul writes in that verse;
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
In our September newsletter I pointed out how I “spent twenty years away from church, leaving it as a teen (over lack of love experiences) and returning in mid-life (over love-filled experiences).” When I came back to church– even after I was convinced I’d found a love-centered church in a love drenched denomination– for two years or so I felt very uncomfortable about taking communion . . . so I didn’t. To be quite frank about it, words like I just read from the King James Version of the Bible, about the blood and body of Christ, were stumbling stones. The notion of symbolically ingesting Christ’s body and drinking blood did not work for me.
I mean no disrespect by that. I just did not understand it at the time. Personally, it was disturbing and odd. And so, as much as I loved the church and the worship services, once a month even in the choir loft I found myself passing the communion trays of bread and juice on by without partaking.
In the beautiful way of the UCC the pastor at that church, knowing of my thirst for more and more knowledge about God recommended a wonderful book called Living Buddha , Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk. Interestingly there is a chapter on eating mindfully that discusses the Eucharist from a Buddhist perspective. That chapter helped make communion a holy and sacred and very special rite for me. Thich Nhat Hahn observes “The body of Christ is the body of God, the body of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence. We do not have to look anywhere else for it.” 2
Those words were an epiphany. It immediately dawned on me that the bread representing Christ’s flesh is the body of God, and the cup of juice is the Divine lifeblood of existence. And in my own prayer and reflection after that epiphany I soon began to understand grain from the earth in bread as symbolizing God’s immanent earthly presence, a body very much here now.
And the flowing spirit nature of wine I soon began to understand as representing the more ethereal transcendent nature of God. Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized mindful eating, which is to take the time to contemplate and be thankful for the nourishment God gives us. Which works for our spiritual nourishment in this Holy Meal we will partake of each month.
The immanent nature of God that I mentioned is the part of God we experience as the extraordinary part of what we complacently think of as ordinary lives. It’s the solid part, the very bread of our spiritual connections It is God incarnate . . . present to us. It is our spiritual grounded solid– those grains, which can be represented in the bread on the plate and in the baskets up here.
The transcendent nature of God is that which is beyond our reckoning, that unexplainable extraordinary otherness of life that we are in awe of when we stop and mindfully notice it. It is the wispy great whooshing liquid spirit of God that is wonder-full. It is God beyond human reckoning. It is our spiritual fluid– wine, church can be represented in the juice in the cup up here.
Together at this table when we get our heart and head in a mindful way to partake, the immanent and transcendent natures of God can be experienced. It is like intinction, the way that we connect – dip– the bread into the liquid so that we see and feel and taste each nature connecting with the other. And then here on Holy ground we partake and for at least a moment the whole of God appears to us symbolically and for many of us experientially. I am very appreciative of communion now. And there are other ways to understand and experience it. I offer my experience as one window to it.
What I have said so far may seem like a long way from our lesson today with Moses and the burning bush. But I want to suggest that lesson portrays a similar sort of encounter . . . or window. In our Lectionary lesson there is a bush, a solid part, an earthly spiritual connection in ordinary life, that is actually extraordinary as all life and existence is. It is God incarnate on earth . . . present to Moses. It is a Holy grounded solid– as a living earth bound thing. The bush can be understood as an immanent experience of God.
The transcendent nature of God is that which is beyond reckoning, that unexplainable extraordinary otherness of life – that which we are in awe of. In our Lectionary reading– we can understand that as the flames. Flames and fire to this day are virtually not understood by science. Flames are the wispy great whooshing spirit of God that is wonder-full. They are God beyond reckoning to us. Flames can be experienced as God’s over-worldly nature . . . fire. The flames can be understood as the transcendent experience of God, a Holy grounded thing as well.
See here’s the thing, in the burning bush story, as in communion, the immanent and transcendent can be understood to converge. They come together and create a portal by which a human can understand that they are standing on Holy ground. Every bush is Holy. Every fire is Holy. Every morsel is Holy. Every drink is Holy. Every. Thing. Is. Holy.
We can experience all as Holy when we turn and connect to God who resides in all that is. I have spent a lot of time up here this past year or so reminding us that we live and move and have our being in God. This. All. Of. This. We. See. And. Feel. Is. God. Soaked.
I also mentioned in our recent newsletter that although I did indeed stop going to church for a very long while (twenty years or so) I still continued to have a spiritual life and quest in that time that I spent wandering in the wilderness –as it were. In the newsletter I pointed out that I had profound spiritual moments in that time of wandering out in, and with, nature. I had such moments on mountain tops, besides waterways, with animals, in storms, and just sitting in nature and looking at flora and fauna.
And I am not alone in finding connections to God outside. Nature and outdoors are quite often the location of theophanies – experiences of God– in the Bible. And God is often represented in those things in nature that cause awe– like wind and storms and mountain tops . . . and fire. It is no accident in our story that Moses alone in nature with animals on a mountain, noticing flora, first experiences God in awe-inspiring fire. God appears in nature in that extraordinarily sensed intersect, the convergence of the earthly and otherworldly parts of God in nature.
And in case we do not get that the fire in the story is the otherworldly nature of God it not does not burn the worldly life in the bush . . .and well, it also gives off God’s voice.
And something we rarely consider in the story is that this flame does no violence to life as God makes God’s self known to Moses.
And something else we rarely consider is that God is not heard until Moses, of his own volition, decides to turn and look “at this great sight” even if only out of curiosity to “see why the bush is not burned up.” It is literally in the flame of fire out of the bush that God first appears to Moses.It is the otherworldly flame that gets Moses attention – and it is only when he turns and looks that God calls his name.
I find it interesting though that it is not the flame that speaks to Moses we are told in the reading “God called to him out of the bush . . .” We are not told the voice comes from the otherworldly, the flames, but from the worldly . . . the bush.
So we can hear that it is the heavenly part, the transcendent-awe-part, of God that gets Moses’ attention, but it is the immanent-earthly-part that gives off the voice of God that Moses connects with and listens to. At the intersect it is the incarnation that calls to him. Moses hears God in nature.
And when Moses responds to the part of God he’s listening to by saying “Here I am.” Once that solid connection is made, only then does the spot of the connection become known as Holy ground. It’s Holy ground all the while, but known as such when the connection with God is made.
God is always calling to us in everything, everywhere. And if we stop and listen, we can hear. Psalm 19 (1-4), our invocation points this out rather profoundly. Here is the New Revised Standard Version to help us hear it better:
The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims [God’s] handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.
We can hear in our lesson Moses making one of the most, if not the most, profound connections to God through a voice in nature. It comes from an earthly plant and a heavenly spiritual presence.
We may never experience a Divine encounter like Moses is reported to have experienced, but we can experience the Divine. We come to church to do so, or to find out how to do so. All the elements of our worship service are time honored ways to evoke such experiences. Music, prayer, sermons, lessons, liturgy, silence, candle flames, gathering together with loving people . . . are all intended to help us uncover God’s extraordinary presence.
Communion is especially suited for this purpose. Jesus set the example, and his followers have ever since partaken, because communion can and does mediate the Sacred. It is very much like the burning bush in that respect, only not out in nature but right here in the city among the ordinary streets and traffic and lawns and light poles–within the walls of a building. Right here today, the bread of earth and the spirit of heaven offered in our communion provide the opportunity for a profound Divine encounter for each of us, alone and together on this – always– Holy ground.
When we mindfully eat; when we mindfully drink, we can take in the body of God and the lifeblood of the universe and whether we think that is literally or figuratively true doesn’t matter. What matters is that God is here now in all things and if we are mindful this table can and will provide Divine encounters if we turn aside and look and hear God calling and let God in this place, this Holy Ground appears to us, and then answer mindfully “Here I am.”
See, Thich Nhat Hanh is right “The body of Christ is the body of God, the body of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence. We do not have to look anywhere else for it.” We can hear Saint Paul saying that 2,000 years ago when he observed God is what we live and move and have our being in.
This bread is always the body of God. We are just trying to intentionally- mindfully– be aware of that. We are not always successful, but we try.
This drink is always the Divine lifeblood of existence. We are just trying to intentionally- mindfully– be aware of that. We are not always successful, but we try.
This room is always Holy Ground and we try to be mindful of that too. God is here in this room, in this cup, in this bread, in each of us . . . in every nook and cranny. May we mindfully encounter God this morning. AMEN!
1. This information was gleaned form a nice note of communion on line at Grace Communion International’s website: https://www.gci.org/church/lordssup/qanda
2. Hanh, Thich Nhat. Living Buddha, Living Christ 20th Anniversary Edition (p. 31). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
COPYRIGHT Scott Elliott © 2017 ALL RIGHTS RESERVED