The Gospel, as succinctly summarised by Kurt Vonnegut, is about a nobody who was a pain in the neck to a lot of people who had better connections than he had. Those people dealt with this nobody by nailing him to a cross. But boy were they wrong about his connections!
Vonnegut in his amusing style was saying that nobodies need to be treated like somebodies because in the end we are all somebodies and we all matter, even pains in the neck.
This morning I want to talk about what’s variably called Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper. It’s when Christians, pilgrims, and others gather around a table. Bread and wine are taken, blessed, broken, and shared. The bread and wine represent Jesus’ life and hope, and by eating and sharing we too re-present that life and hope.
When I was growing up Communion was an intensely personal act. Before you came to the altar rail you needed to have a clean heart, clean shoes, clean fingernails, and be confirmed. Then as you knelt, with head bowed and hands outstretched in cruciform pose, you received the magical and mysterious body and blood of God. You ate God!
However, by the 1980s, Anglican practice had changed considerably. For a starter, children, even babies, could receive communion. Many churches invited everyone to come forward – not just the baptised and confirmed. The gate-keeping around who was allowed to participate was considerably relaxed, and in many places non-existent. God’s holy meal was no longer just for the approved somebodies. Anybodies, nobodies, and even Mermaids were welcome.
It’s important to realize that such a radical change was due to a re-affirmation that this was ‘God’s meal’ not ‘our meal’ or ‘the church’s meal’; and that God’s grace – that boundary-breaking inclusive transforming love – was something that the Church tries to control at its peril. Who are we to prevent the most despicable scumbag connecting with God?
Also by the 1980s, the whole metaphorical structure of Anglican Eucharistic practice had changed. We gathered in community, standing at the rail, or around a table, with head unbowed and eyes open, participating together in Jesus’ life and hope. Sometimes we even passed the bread and wine to each other. It was no longer a private devotional act. The private was public and communal. The magic and mystery was in and between us all. We didn’t so much eat God as be God to one another through love.
It was said of Jesus that he ate and drank and was ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners’. He got great press! When Jesus encouraged his followers in the banquet parable to bring in as ‘many as you find’ (Matt 22:1-13), or in the version from the Gospel of Thomas (64) ‘anyone off the street’, he was advocating social anarchy. For it was then possible anyone could be sitting next to anyone else, female next to male, free next to slave, social celebrity next to social pariah... CEO’s, homeless, bishops, and criminals would all be there without their press entourages - along with the giants, wizards, dwarfs, mermaids, and pains-in-the-neck.
John Dominic Crossan points out that one of the things that distinguished Rabbi Jesus was the way he invited everyone, without distinction, to eat together. It was a sign of “radical egalitarianism”, an ancient and universal dream of a just and equal world.
When the 4th Gospel was written, probably some 60 years after Jesus’ death, the author does not describe the Last Supper like the synoptic authors. There are no words of taking, blessing, breaking, and eating. Instead the author has Jesus take up a towel and basin to wash his followers’ feet – not to show Jesus’ humility, nor to encourage some form of ‘servant ministry’ [note there is nothing glorious about being a servant] – but rather as a demonstration of that radical egalitarianism.
The master [Jesus] is not greater than the servant [Peter, you, or me]. Neither is the reverse true – the servant is not greater than the master. The Jesus movement sought to encourage servant-less and master-less communities where people were brothers and sisters to one another.
Leadership in the Jesus realm is not based on who is the greatest, or who is the most powerful or popular. Nor is the reverse true. Rather within the community of equals each person’s gifts and talents are to be accepted, nurtured, and used.
The words “Do this, remembrance of me”, I therefore would suggest have a context that is broader than simply remembering Jesus, or remembering his death, or in prayer receiving his life [his ‘body and blood’]. Rather the “Do this, remembrance of me” is both recalling the foundations of our table-centred community, namely a bunch of nobodies invited to be somebodies mutually together, and recalling the Jesus vision to be agents of change, love, justice and hope.
Like other Biblical stories, the Emmaus Road, which we heard again today, was not intended to be understood as history. It was rather an archetypal account of how ordinary followers, people we hadn’t heard of before, nobodies, could experience resurrection (or transformation), and through that experience become somebodies.
The first part, on the Emmaus Road, is an encouragement to connect with Jesus’ ongoing life and hope through dialogue and doubting about texts and experience. And it concludes, in the second part, with dropping in at the Emmaus Tavern.
Like with his pretence of ignorance on the Road, the mysterious stranger acts as if he is moving on. But as is the custom of the East the travellers entreat him to accept their hospitality. In the Hebrew ritual of blessing food they recognise who it is. At which point the author uses his literally license to remove the stranger-come-Risen-Jesus from the scene.
Never underestimate hospitality, sharing in food, grace and gratitude, for through such things can flow the power of life-changing godness. This story, written some 40 years after the crucifixion, is saying that it was the experience of the early Church that when they met to share hospitality and extend grace to each other the transforming power called God was in their midst. When they gathered as nobodies - men, women and children on the fringes of both religion and society – in the presence of that accepting and relationship-changing grace they became somebodies to each other.
There has been much debate over the centuries about what exactly is the Communion bread and wine, once taken, blessed, broken and shared. The church has used words like ‘mystery’ and ‘real’ to describe these vehicles of grace and godness. It has used bigger words too – like transubstantiation, consubstantiation, and receptionism. I like the Emmaus definition best: bread and wine are the point of recognition.
At the Communion we recognise who we are, and who – through grace – we might become. We recognise our unity with each other, with the ongoing life and hope of Jesus, and with his vision of justice, mutually, and equality. In this unity we find nurture, empowerment, and challenge.
Jesus was a nobody who after his death was made by his followers into a special somebody. Yet his life story is that of a nobody who sought to treat everyone as a somebody. He dared to make a difference. At heart we are nobodies-made-somebodies who are commissioned to strive to make a world where every nobody is a somebody, where every Mermaid counts.
 Vonnegut, K. Slaughterhouse 5, London : Vintage, 1991, p.89
 Transubstantiation refers to the allegedly change in the bread and wine after blessing into the substance of Christ himself. The underlying essence is changed and they retain only the appearance, taste, and texture of bread and wine. Consubstantiation says that Christ’s body and blood are present ‘in, with, and under’ the forms of the bread and wine. The body and blood of Christ and the bread and wine co-exist in union with each other. Receptionism says that the body and blood are not present literally but spiritually. Believers receive the actual body and blood through faith.