metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

On liturgy - holy meal

8 December 1974
Theme: Liturgy   Place: London Parish   Period: 1971-1975   Genre: Sermon

In the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.

We are so accustomed to think of the Holy Liturgy as of a service where all tragedies are re­solved, of an event in which all the mercy of God and His saving power culminate, that at times we do not know what to do with ourselves when we come into it with a sense of anguish, of distress, when we bring into it the tragedies and fears of our life.

In a sense, if we bring them to God in the context of the tragedy of the Garden, the agony of the night in which Christ waited on death to come upon Him, our death, in the context of the Cross on Calvary, of the victory of the Resur­rection and of the glory of the Ascension and the gift of the Spirit, things would be simple. We would come with our tragedy and put it in the hands of God, and what would be left with us is the peace of God and the divine victory.

But it is not always that we find in ourselves the power to do this — and I say ‘power’, not ‘faith’ because we may come with all the faith we have and still feel that we are not in a position to let go of our concern, of our pain, of our anguish.

Are we right to think of the Holy Meal which Christ had with His disciples only in terms of a resolved tragedy, of a peace that swallowed all pain, of an act of God that resolved all problems? I remember an icon, painted by one of the great icon-painters of our time, Father Gregory Krug, representing the Last Sup­per. At the centre of it — Christ, peaceful, still, and around Him, as though in a whirlwind, everything in the room, the table-cloth on the table, everything that was on it, and the disciples, so that one could see in line and in colour the turmoil, the storm that was raging at that very moment in the souls of all those who took part in this holy meal.

Christ was going towards His death; at the same table as He sat Judas; at the same table as He was Peter who had boasted that he would never abandon his Master, that he would die with Him, and the Lord knew that within a few hours he was to deny Him three times. The Apostles were there, dismayed, full of misunderstandings, and lacking of understanding, afraid, troubled, asking ques­tions, not knowing what to expect, because where they expected victory and glory they perceived that something tragic was moving in. The whole of this holy meal was, in brief, in a nutshell, the whole tragedy of the world, the traitors who kill the man that prays (preys (?) who betrays, the faithful friends who have no strength to stand by, and God Who in His love of men gives Himself up, in the form of a servant, to death, to agony, to rejection by men, to dereliction from God.

Let us remember this Last Supper; later the disciples received the Holy Spirit, later they grew into a full measure of understanding and of faith, of oneness with their Lord that could withstand hell and martyrdom, but are w e grown? Are we in the position of the disciples on those days? Are we not rather like the disciples who came to that Last Supper?

And so, when we come and when anguish tears at our souls, when we do not know our way and cannot see the ways of God, when fear is upon us, and dismay, when we can recognize in us all that happened that night, let us not be afraid, let us remember that even that night the Lord was in the midst of His disciples, holding the whole creation in the palm of His hand, while the prince of this world was already rejoicing in his seeming victory. Let us bring into the holy meal all ourselves, not only those aspects of our faith, of our heart, of our mind which are already somehow redeemed, transfigured, but also the darkest re­cesses of fear, of faithlessness — everything, knowing that this Meal is the pre-figuration of the Garden and Calvary of our salvation won, over all that we can­not overcome, by God. And that the victory of Christ on the Cross, the victory of life on death in the bodily Resurrection and the Ascension, in the gift of the Spirit to the disciples is also offered us.

But it will take us all our honesty, all our faith, all the endeavour and courage of which we are capable, to receive what is been given. One of the Fathers of old said, ‘Give your blood, and you shall receive the Holy Spirit’. It is only if we give ourselves, if we surrender ourselves, if we bring ourselves as a live, li­ving offering to God for Him to do with us whatever He chooses, that suddenly we discover that peace has come, because the Lord stands in the midst of the storm, and projects upon it His peace commanding the seas to be still and the wind to be silent.

Let us therefore bring ourselves without reservation, all of ourselves, to God in the Holy Meal, receive from Him, with fear and faith, communion, that is community of life with Him. And community of life means life, it means the victo­ry of God, it means that all things shall be resolved and then we will be able to say with faith, that is not dismayed by fear, by doubt, by hesitation, ‘Let the worse happen — I will still believe and still praise the Lord’. But the worse does not happen; what happens is the best, because God is free to act whenever we allow Him this freedom. Amen.

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