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The Convocation of Episcopal Churches in Europe

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Series: Summer Sermons from Saint Paul's

Category: Bishop's Sermons

Speaker: The Rt Rev Mark D.W. Edington

Tags: jesus, bread, flesh, invitation, meal

If you grew up in the United States, you know that in the late 1950s or so the different denominations of Christianity in America found a new and peculiar way to compete with each other. They created distinctive roadside signs, that would be put up out on the city boundary or sometimes in the town, pointing you in the direction of the local church. The Methodists had one, and the Lutherans had one, and the Presbyterians had one, and the Congregationalists had one, and even the Unitarians had one.

And of course, we had one. The Episcopal Church sign became a very familiar landmark to any of us who spent time driving in the United States. And it always said the same thing: “The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.”

We even have one here at Saint Paul’s, right at the front gate on the Via Nazionale. It made me smile when I saw it. Anyone who grew up in our church in the U.S. would recognize it instantly.

There is something about that sign that is quintessentially Anglican. It’s very polite; and it is very passive. We are here; our door is open; we welcome you. But it is up to you to find your way to us, and to decide if you want to come. We wouldn’t want you to feel pressured.

 Maybe twenty years or so ago a group of my colleagues in the Diocese of Massachusetts decided that our old sign was simply too passive; that we ought to be more energetic in telling people that we really meant it when we said we’d like them to come to be with us. And so they started a new campaign that was different by one word: “The Episcopal Church Invites You.” There were bumper stickers for your car, and t-shirts, and hats, and all the things you would expect in a goofy campaign.

It’s a small change, but a very different state of mind. If I tell you that you are welcome in my house, you have to decide for yourself whether to open the door and come in. But if I invite you to my house, I’ve sent you a very different message. I’m not indifferent on the question of whether you come. I’ve taken the risk of sharing my hope with you.

There are two invitations set before us today. They are not passive messages; they are messages sent to us with the expectation that we will respond. 

The first invitation has been sent to us by Sophia—from God’s wisdom. Sophia has invited us to join her for a meal. Her invitation tells us all the trouble she has gone to in order to prepare for us: the best food has been prepared, the best wine has been made ready, the table has been set. All that is missing is you. Will you come?

Of course, there’s something more you receive for accepting this invitation. You get not just food, but more of the host. Wisdom is inviting you to take some of wisdom—to benefit from the deeper, wider, limitless knowledge of God. 

But to partake of that, well, that may be an acquired taste. Not everyone who is invited to Wisdom’s feast wants to come. Many of those R.S.V.P.’s are never returned.

The second invitation you’ve received this morning is from Jesus. It is also an invitation to a meal. And the invitation also tells you what was involved for Jesus in preparing the meal. 

But it is a very different kind of meal. It is not the invitation from Sophia, from God’s wisdom, inviting us to come and learn. It is an invitation from the very self of God, the very heart of God, to come and partake in a bread that is the very flesh of God.

This invitation is meant to help bring us to a realization—that Jesus of Nazareth is God in the flesh, God living and true and dwelling among us as one of us. And it is meant to bring us to see how God’s life in Christ, how God’s death in Jesus, how God’s victory over death in the Resurrection, means something more for us than loaves and fishes in this world—more than physical life.

In the way that Wisdom invited us to come partake in Wisdom, Jesus is inviting us to come partake of himself. Jesus has prepared himself as the meal he offers us, the bread of life that is his body of flesh, because the bread of that body surpasses life and conquers death.

The meal we are invited to by Jesus is the meal in which we receive by faith the sustenance not of earthly life, but of eternal life. And just like you, when you invite someone to your house, Jesus sets this invitation before us hoping we will respond— respond with our whole selves, our hunger for justice, our longing for God. 

And Jesus hopes that once we have been fed and sustained, we will share that invitation with anyone else starving for hope, starving for life, starving for the sacred. That we will not just open our door and tell people that The Episcopal Church Welcomes Them, but invite them—invite them to come, to see, to receive, and to eat. Amen.