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Sunday June 3, 2018
11:00 am - Saint Thomas Church
Preacher: Fr Turner

"You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum."

-- Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar (d. 1924)

I grew up in a Church that refused to allow children to receive Holy Communion until they were confirmed and, in my home diocese, you had to be at least a teenager to be confirmed which meant that it was a very long time before I was allowed to receive Holy Communion. How things have changed and changed for the better; gone are the days when we heard adults saying that children should not receive Communion because ‘they will not understand’ and, instead, many of us have deepened our appreciation and understanding of this most wonderful sacrament precisely because children have approached the altar with faith. For me, the journey to the admission of children to communion in my old Province was a journey of discovering that belonging mattered far more than knowledge; that being incorporated into the life of God mattered far more than understanding doctrinal formulae. Now, please don’t misunderstand, I am not saying that doctrine and teaching do not matter – far from it, we need to constantly delve deeper into this great mystery of love – but, what I am saying is that we must not forget that at the heart of the sacrament of the Lord’s Body and Blood is an act of belonging, of eating and drinking. St Thomas Aquinas, possibly one of the greatest theologians to explore the doctrine surrounding the Holy Eucharist, also understood that words were not the end of the matter. His Eucharistic hymns, well known by Catholics and Anglicans alike, and still used today, are expressively beautiful. “Faith our outward sense befriending, makes the inward vision clear.” Not knowledge, not being able to work your way through the Catechism but faith; faith is what connects the outward and visible sign of this sacrament to the inward and spiritual grace received; no longer bread but body; no longer wine but blood. We recognize Jesus in our midst but we also eat his body and drink his blood so that his presence is within us.

Here is a wonderful cyclical mystery: We gather as the body of Christ and consecrate the bread to become the body of Christ so that we can consume the Body of Christ and become the Body of Christ! This cycle does not end in Church for we are sent out into the world to be the Body of Christ in the world. I think it is hugely significant that the ancient word mass is rooted in the word mission; at the end of the liturgy we are dismissed – the dismissal links the Eucharistic offering to our mission in the world. And what is our mission statement at Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue? “To worship, love and serve Our Lord Jesus Christ through the Anglican tradition and our unique choral heritage.” That means that what we do in Church should affect our lives outside of church.

The Anglo Catholic Revival of the mid 19th and early 20th century in Anglicanism fought for the right to honor the real presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and in some of the ceremonial practices that were being reintroduced at the time. In the early part of the 20th century, there were huge gatherings at the Anglo-Catholic Congresses in London when hundreds of thousands of Anglican Christians gathered as a witness to their faith. One of the most famous sermons preached was by the, then, Bishop of Zanzibar Frank Weston, whose prophetic words still ring true today. In his sermon he linked faith with action; he linked adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with concern for the poor:

He said, “I say to you, and I say it to you with all the earnestness that I have, that if you are prepared to fight for the right of adoring Jesus in his Blessed Sacrament, then you have got to come out from before your Tabernacle and walk, with Christ mystically present in you, out into the streets of this country, and find the same Jesus in the people of your cities and your villages. You cannot claim to worship Jesus in the Tabernacle if you do not pity Jesus in the slum.” [1]

In this year of Lamentation in our diocese,[2] when we reflect on the involvement of the churches in slavery, I think we do well to ponder the poignancy of Bishop Frank Weston’s words. He knew only too well the link between faith and action because of his own diocese on the main island in the archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. Zanzibar Cathedral is built on the site of the former slave market site once an open space surrounded by small houses. In the middle of the houses was the whipping post where slaves could be punished or tested for how much pain they were able to endure to test for their ability to do hard labor. The high altar of the cathedral now stands on the site of the whipping post.

For me, that fact makes his words very powerful and his piety rooted in Gospel truth. In the 1920’s there were still ecclesiastic court cases over the reservation of the Sacrament in tabernacles on altar – like the one on our Chantry altar - and adoration of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament in England. The tide was turning and we now take such things for granted. What we must not take for granted is the way that catholic expression is rooted in service to the poor.

After challenging his hearers about poverty, wages, and social conditions in England at the turn of the 20th century, Frank Weston reminded them that he was not talking economics or even politics, as he famously said, “I do not understand them.” What Frank Weston did understand was that that it was not possible to separate worshiping Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament and service to Jesus in the least of his brethren. I wonder what went through his mind as he celebrated mass at the High Altar of the Cathedral and contemplated that Christ’s earthly body was also tied to a post and whipped. As we approach the altar today and kneel to receive the Lord into our lives and hearts, will that holy communion affect the rest of our day and our week?

Some final words of Bishop Frank Weston from his sermon at the congress:

“There then, as I conceive it, is your present duty; and I beg you, brethren, as you love the Lord Jesus, consider that it is at least possible that this is the new light that the Congress was to bring to us. You have got your Mass, you have got your Altar, you have begun to get your Tabernacle. Now go out into the highways and hedges where not even the Bishops will try to hinder you. Go out and look for Jesus in the ragged, in the naked, in the oppressed and sweated, in those who have lost hope, in those who are struggling to make good. Look for Jesus. And when you see him, gird yourselves with his towel and try to wash their feet.”

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[1] You can read the full text of the sermon on the unofficial website ‘Project Canterbury’ from a tract published after Frank Weston’s death in 1924 at http://anglicanhistory.org/weston/weston2.html

[2] https://ednyreparationsblog.wordpress.com/2018/01/14/2018-a-new-year-a-year-of-lamenation/


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