Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

The Last Supper

19 June 1966
Theme: Liturgy, Sacraments   Place: London Parish   Period: 1966-1970   Genre: Sermon

When the Lord instituted at the Last Supper that mystery of our faith which we call the Holy Liturgy or the Eucharist, He gathered round Himself His Disciples, both those who were later to be faithful even unto death, and also the one who was already prepared to betray his Master. And He confronted him together with the others, with the extraordinary love of God, because to be admitted to a man’s table means that he, our host, consider us to be his equals, his companions in the old sense of this word, those who are untitled to break the bread with him, to share with him the substance of life. Equals in the love of God, equals of God through His love to us, this is one of the aspects of this extraordinary event which we call the Last Supper. But we have given it also another name, we call it the Eucharist, from a Greek word which means simultaneously “gift” and “thanksgiving”; indeed we can see that communion to the Body and Blood of Christ is the greatest gift which the Lord can grant us: companionship and equality, becoming the co-workers of God, and through the incredible, unfathomable action and power of the Spirit, because this bread is no longer bread only and this wine is no longer only wine, but have truly become the body and the blood of the Giver, we become incipiently and increasingly partakers of the divine nature, Gods by adoption, Gods by participation, so that together with the One Who is the Incarnate Son of God, we became the total revelation of man as well as the total revelation of God’s presence, the total Christ of whom St Ignatius of Antioche spoke; and beyond this, higher, deeper even than this, in this community of nature and of life with the only begotten Son of God in the words of St Irenaeus of Lyon, we become truly with regard to God Himself the only Begotten Son. This is the gift, but where is the thanksgiving? What can we bring to the Lord? Bread and wine, they belong to Him; our own lives? Are we not His? He has called us out of naught, He has brought us into being, He has endowed us with all that we are and all that we possess, what then can we give which is really ours? St Maxim the Confessor says that God can do all things, save one: He cannot compel the smallest of his creatures to love Him, because love is supreme freedom; this is the only gift which we can bring to God: the gift of a trusting heart… But why is this mysterious Supper of the Eucharist calls the thanksgiving more than any other service, more than any action of ours? What can be given to God? This is a question which the Psalmist was asking himself centuries before Christ appeared and revealed the divine love, and his answer was so unexpected and so true, — he says “What reward shall I give to the Lord for all his benefits?” and he replies “I shall take the Cup of salvation, I will give thanks unto the Lord, I will sing praise in the courts of the Temple of the Lord”. The supreme act of thanksgiving is not to give back, because one who receives and pays back, repays the gift and in some sort of way, destroys the gift; both indeed become equal, both have given, both have been at the giving end of the chain, but this reciprocal giving has destroyed both joy up to a point. If we wish, if we are capable of receiving, of receiving whole-heartedly, then we are expressing truly our total trust, our assurance that the love of the giver is perfect and it is in receiving whole-heartedly in all simplicity that we bring joy to the one who has given from all his heart. This is true even in human relationship; we wish to repay a gift only to make ourselves free from gratitude and from a certain enslavement in which we are put when we receive from one who does not love us enough to give whole-heartedly and whom we do not love enough to receive whole-heartedly. And this is why the Eucharist is the supreme thanksgiving of the Church and the supreme thanksgiving of our earth; people who trust the love of God open-heartedly without any thought of repaying the gift only rejoicing in the love it expresses, receive from God not only what He can grant but also what He is, participation in His life, to His nature, to His eternity, to His love divine: only if we are capable of receiving with perfect gratitude and perfect joy can our participation in the Eucharist be true, only then does the Eucharist become for us also the supreme act of gratitude; but gratitude is difficult because it requires both a loving heart capable of rejoicing when it receives and a perfect trust and faith in the love of the one who gives, that this gift is not meant as an humiliation or as an act of enslavement. And this is why we must grow from day to day into the ability to love and to be loved, into the ability to be grateful and to rejoice, and only then does become the Last Supper of the Lord the perfect gift of God and the perfect response of the earth. Amen.

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