There are twelve different Covid19 vaccines available worldwide – and there are hundreds more being developed as we speak. They work in different ways. Some are more traditional, some are cutting edge new technologies, but they all seem to work, in making people immune to the virus and saving lives.
And there are hundreds of different churches available worldwide- and many more being founded and started each day .. they all work in different ways.. some are more traditional, more catholic, more formal, some are more cutting edge using modern technologies, but they all seem to work, in helping people live their lives now and bring them to eternity later on.
If you’ve already had your first or even your second vaccine then you will have gone to the vaccine centre, gone through the checks and then sat down, rolled up your sleeve, and a nurse will have injected a small dose of the vaccine into your arm. It’s all remarkably easy – for me the actual injection was over in about 3 seconds. .. a small srynge of what looked like a colourless liquid, injected into my arm to get on with its job of raising up antibodies inside my immune system.
It made me feel a bit rough for about 24 hours, but that’s all. I didn’t turn green or red or blue.
I didn’t develop a big sign on my forehead saying that I’ve been done. And to tell you the truth I feel exactly the same now as I did before I had the injection. If it was left up to my own senses I would say that I am no different at all, that it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference. But of course I would be wrong – it has made the world of difference. The vaccine has gone straight to work stirring up antibodies, getting me ready inside to fight off the real Covid-19 virus if it should ever come my way. And – to a certain degree at least – it has made me safer for those around me too. How I feel is completely irrelevant. The vaccine just does it’s stuff.
Two thousand years ago on this very night – Maundy Thursday – Jesus sat down with his disciples to keep the Passover meal. It was a long and traditional Jewish celebration of the Exodus – when the Hebrew people over 1000 years earlier had been set free from slavery in Egypt, when they went through the Red Sea, crossed the Sinai desert and finally arrived in Canaan where they made a home. The meal is full of symbolism.- it was probably not quite like a modern day Jewish Seder, but there were still many similarities: food, wine, bread, bitter herbs, horseradish and lots and lots of prayers, blessings and psalms. But Jesus’s Passover meal was different. He didn’t just remember how the Israelites had escaped from Egypt all those years ago in the past – he also looked forward to the next three days of his own life – when his body would be torn in two on the cross of crucifixion, when he would be arrested, tortured, and die… – and so he took some bread which he called his body and he held it out in front of them and he tore it in two just to make the point. – This is my body – look what is going to happen to it.
And then he took some wine and said that this wine is his blood which was going to be poured out on the cross tomorrow – a powerful symbol. Jesus turned the traditional Passover meal round 180 degrees so that instead of looking to the past, it was now looking to the future.. to his future – and then he did something very strange.
Having given his disciples that powerful image of broken bread, he passed it round and made them eat it.
Having given his disciples that power image of blood-red wine, he passed it round and made them drink it. … and then he told them to repeat it – to do this new passover symbolism in memory of him.
I wonder what those disciples were thinking as the plate of broken bread and the cup were passed around and they took a bite, a sip. There was lots of passing bread round and drinking sips of wine in the passover meal – this was just another one, – and yet it wasn’t. This one was different … Jesus had said ‘this is my body’ ‘this is my blood’ – he had made this bit of bread, and this bit of wine mean something else. No doubt it tasted exactly the same as all the other bits of unleavened bread and kosher wine on the table. No doubt his disicples felt exactly the same after they had eaten and drunk as they did before… perhaps they wondered if anything had happened.
Now this is the point where my sermon breaks down. Holy Communion is not a vaccine. It doesn’t enter into us and scientifically set our spiritual immune system into overdrive against all the evils and ills of living in the present world … and yet. .. perhaps it does?
You see there are so many things Jesus could have done to pass on his message. He could have written a book; – we might have liked that – the Gospel according to Jesus. But he didn’t.
He could have taken a scribe round with him to write down all his sermons word by word – but he didn’t.
He could have carved 10 new commandments into tablets of stone – but he didn’t.
Instead, Jesus said ‘do this – this action- this symbolism – this ritual – in remembrance of me’
.. it’s as if he is saying that this action gathering and breaking bread and blessing wine and sharing holy communion in his name – will keep his story alive more than words.
After all, Bibles have a tendency to left unopened on the top shelf.
It’s as if Jesus knew that different generations, different countries, different cultures – and yes people with different understandings, different intellects, different intelligence even, could all break bread and share wine equally – and each one could find the meaning of Jesus in what they are doing . … .whereas words – words would be argued over.
It’s as if the simplest of actions – blessing, breaking, sharing and eating … will simply work all on its own whatever interpretation we want to give it … a bit like a vaccine in the arm, perhaps … And yes, one part of the church’s mission is simply to keep this simplest of actions alive – re-enacting it week by week. … story in action .. not words.
So .. who knows what the vaccine actually does inside our bodies. .. and frankly, which one of us cares how it works, so long as it works.
And who knows what the Sacrament of Holy Communion actually does to us and inside us – and frankly who cares – so long as it works to keep us together, all of us equal, one church throughout the ages – helping us live our lives now and bringing us to eternity later on.
The Very Rev’d Paul Kennington