The town was quiet this morning – streets empty, bells ringing to air. Bells ringing: the bells from Great St Mary’s church, peals of clear-ringing sound evoking memories from years ago. The memories of walking through this same place, aged three or four or five, with my parents, to church. The feelings returned, feelings of being little and at home and joy-full in my small-but-big life, loved by my parents and on the way to church.
The church’s interior appeared vast and very blue (guess which church, Cambridge people?!) to my little perspective. One time I particularly remember from that blue, vast church was one Sunday’s children’s church. Jane was teaching us four and five year olds what communion was; what it meant when our parents drank from the special cup and ate the different bread.
She had a cup of red liquid to show us. ‘This is Jesus’ blood, in communion’, she explained.
Wait a sec – blood?! To a small person’s mind, that cup of red liquid was all of a sudden quite terrifying. God wants us to drink Jesus’ blood?! But I thought God was kind? And Jane, our gentle family friend, she would surely not just have a cup of blood right there, in her hands?!
I had no idea that the red liquid was actually Ribena. I was so traumatised that I remember the occasion exactly even fifteen or sixteen years later.
The bells brought back this (hilarious) memory as they rung colourful sound across Cambridge town. The last chimes faded as I stepped towards the peace and holy ground of Clare Chapel. A handful of us were there for the weekly College communion service, ready to hear the Bible, eat the bread, take the cup.
Before the communion liturgy a sermon was spoken. Arthur spoke on John 14:15-21, about Jesus being close to us by his Spirit, real to us even though sometimes God feels distant amongst the tangible, earthy things of the world. The streets and the bells, the altar candles and Bible – they’re all touchable, holdable, visible. Where is God in this world of heavy things?
God is with us in the Spirit imparted to us, the Spirit who is an advocate who comforts, teaches, speaks for us. Who doesn’t allow us to be left as orphans, but who makes us children of God. Who cries out ‘Father’ from the depths of us continuously, recognising and encouraging us to be his own. This is how God is with us and close, in the Son’s Spirit given to our hearts.
And then, communion. The tangible objects of wafer-bread and wine, the sacrament-action that becomes a ‘thin place’ where Jesus is revealed to us, where Jesus is present. The eight or nine of us in Clare Chapel eat the bread and drink of the cup, taking into ourselves a touchable, tangible, and closely present reminder of who Jesus is and how he made us his own children. A reminder of his strength in our weakness; his sufficiency over against our inadequacy.
All of this is remembered as we eat and drink, and Jesus is recognised as who he is. The disciples who journeyed with Jesus on the Emmaus road saw him truly when the bread was broken, and we see him truly as we share in this symbol and sacrament.
This in turn makes God present in a new way: in the church. As we eat and drink the bread and wine, we are also reminded that we are made into one body, whose head is Christ. God is present in this body – in the prayer, comfort, encouragement, suffering and joy we share together, having eaten the same bread and drunk the same wine.
God has been present today in his body: in the signs of peace given to each other in Clare’s communion service; in the breakfast, conversation and laughter we enjoyed afterwards; in the prayer and worship after Mike Pilavachi’s sermon at Holy Trinity; in the picnic lunch on Jesus Green with lots of HT students. (Loving how church is coupled with food?!)
In every gathering across the world where Jesus is known as Christ and where his people share equally in the gifts of adoption that the Spirit gives, there is this unity and joy, and the presence of God draws close.
So as I now sit on King’s wall, the streets full and the bells silent, I have this new memory and meaning growing beyond the roots of what Jane taught little me years ago. Communion is no longer an extraordinarily terrifying cup of Ribena but a deeply beautiful symbol and moment, making real the presence of God; making one his kingdom on earth.