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Pentecost 2

Sunday, 2 June 2024
Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost

Rules fall into two categories – those that support us and enable us to grow and those that limit who and how we are.

Pentecost 2

Rules and regulations. It sometimes feels as though we encounter rule after rule, whichever way we turn. So many areas of our lives have rules attached to them, often for very good reason. As we journey further into the election campaign, we hear politicians trying to win us over by promising to keep one rule or another – usually ones that they have invented. Chancellors baffle us with talk about their fiscal rules; home secretaries want us to think that there are immigration rules that can be obeyed; foreign secretaries speak of rules of engagement in conflict – and so on. But actually the rules that impact most on us day by day are, by and large, the rules we impose upon ourselves. Sometimes those rules emerge from a shared understanding of a situation, for instance that we don’t allow photos during services, but other rules have become embedded in our shared consciousness and we might not even know why they were imposed in the first place, or what they might be hoping to achieve.

I would suggest that rules fall into two categories – those that support us and enable us to grow and those that limit who and how we are. Most of us would accept that we need some boundaries and guidelines. Lord of the Flies is perhaps an obvious illustration of what might happen if there were no rules. We set rules for our children that, by and large, are intended to support them in their exploration of the world. We try to keep them safe but not confined; to allow them to make mistakes without harming themselves or other people.

Faith communities have a long history of inventing rules that are intended to support people in their exploration of their spiritual lives but may have the unintended consequence of leaving them feeling confined or constrained. Some churches have strict criteria for membership or for participation in Communion. Others have very strict rules on acceptable behaviour, particularly perhaps on relationships and sexual behaviour. There can be a fine line between rules that support and rules that confine.

One of the dangers, particularly within churches, is that those who hold power – usually a very small number of people – make and attempt to impose rules on the people they are tasked with caring for.
We have seen far too many examples of what happens when the use and potential abuse of power goes wrong.

So let’s turn to Scripture. Jesus didn’t give us a great number of rules. So it is perhaps especially important to take notice of those he did give. He spoke quite a lot about how we are to treat other people. He spoke about the breadth and depth of God’s love for us and for the people around us and he told us, commanded us to love one another. And then he instituted the Eucharist and told us: do this in remembrance of me. By and large, we have translated that statement into a rule. In the statutes of this Cathedral we are required to have a daily celebration of the Eucharist and that rule is kept without exception.

At each and every celebration of the Eucharist, we remember, we enliven for ourselves the earthly ministry of Jesus and call to mind his promise that God would send the Holy Spirit to be with us and guide us. In a few minutes we will take bread and wine and we will repeat those same words: do this in remembrance of me.

So what do we really think we are doing? This commandment or rule, to take and break bread and share with one another is at the heart of what we understand to be life giving. We are first and foremost a Eucharistic community, the celebration of the Eucharist is the one thing we are required to do in this place. We gather to worship, to pray, and to bless and break bread together. The priest may say many of the words on our behalf, but the priest is not doing the remembering alone. That is a collective act, a collective action. And having collectively blessed and broken the bread, having prayed that the Holy Spirit would be poured upon that bread, we then understand it to have become something different, something holy. Something life giving and sustaining.

This morning’s Gospel reading points us towards the holistic nature of the bread that we will receive this morning. David and his companions ate the bread of the Presence. We’re told that they were hungry. I doubt that bread filled their bellies, but I understand that it filled their souls. We come to this altar hungry for God, hungry for that which gives us life, that which fills us with the real presence of our Lord in order that we can then go out and serve.
There’s a line in this morning’s Epistle: 'That the life of Jesus may be made visible in our bodies' that seems to me to be saying something about what we might be doing when we engage in this very particular form of remembering and rule keeping.

We receive the body and blood of Christ and we understand that to be the living bread, the bread that sustains in a way that ordinary food could never do. The bread that transforms as it feeds. You may have noticed that the priest uses a very large wafer that we break into many pieces and distribute along with the more usual small wafers. The symbolism of using that very large wafer is worth noticing. Obviously, in a building this size, something that is bigger is going to be easier to see. And visibility is important. But equally important is the visible reminder, as people receive those pieces of wafer, that ‘doing this’ is a collective act. Together we take and bless and break and eat. When the priest takes a wafer that is far too large for one person, they are reminding us, and themselves, that we are collectively forming the body of Christ; that we are collectively offering our worship and our prayers. We are more than the sum of our parts.
The fact that this bread transforms is important. It isn’t just nourishing us in order to bring us spiritual health. It is nourishing us in order that we are resourced to turn our attention outward and to serve and honour God’s people. We are called to show Christ’s love to the people we meet; we are called to honour the risen Christ in all that we do and in all whom we encounter.

And that is the true meaning of remembering in this context. We are called to remember, to re-enliven, not just in our memories but in the decisions we make and the ways that we live.

The politicians are keen to tell us about their rules, some of which are described as golden rules. Perhaps this is an example of a platinum rule – a rule that is life giving for us, a rule that creates opportunities for us, that opens our eyes and our hearts. The test of whether a rule is of God is to ask whether it is life enhancing or life limiting. If it is the latter, it’s almost certainly not of God and is to be avoided. If it’s the former, we can welcome it in confidence, trusting that it will make the life of Jesus visible in us.

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