This is the fifth and final sermon in our series looking at the major segments of the Communion Service in the Book of Common Prayer. Today were going to be looking at the prayer of consecration itself the prayer that is said directly before distributing the elements, the bread and wine, at Communion. If one part of the service above all others tells us about what we are doing when we take the bread and wine then this is it!
Before we turn to that, however, I thought it worth taking note that tomorrow, October 16, is the feast day of the Anglican martyrs Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer. Latimer and Ridley, of course, were martyred under Queen Mary, on October 16 1555 in defence of the truths that we are going to spend the next 20 minutes or so exploring. Latimer, as he was being tied to the stake alongside Ridley where they would shortly be burned alive, uttered the famous words of encouragement:
“Be of good cheer, Master Ridley, andplay the man, for we shall this day light such a candle in England as I trust by God’s grace shall never be put out.”
It is that candle of truth concerning the proper nature of the Communion and, ultimately, the true nature of Christian faith that we will be exploring this morningso I thought it right and proper that we began by praying the prayer assigned to tomorrow, their feast day. Do pray with me.
Keep us, O Lord, constant in faith and zealous in witness, after the examples of your servants Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer; that we may live in your fear, die in your favour, and rest in your peace; for the sake of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Its probably helpful to remind ourselves of a few basics that weve been looking at over this series. The structure of the Communion service, youll remember, is three repeating cycles with the following elements within them.
A reminder of sin
A declaration of grace
A response of faith.
So the first cycle sees us reminded of sin as we have the Law read to us and respond by saying Lord have Mercy. Then grace is declared to us in the reading of the scriptures and their explanation in a sermon. Finally we respondin faith by both declaring what we believe and then expressing our trust in God by praying to Him for those things that we cant do without him.
In the second cycle we remind ourselves again of our sin in the words of the Confession and then have the absolution from the priest, or bishop if he is present. Youll remember that this is the very centre of the service, marked as such by the fact that Cranmer insisted that the bishop should declare the absolution, despite there being no equivalent need for himto preside over the communion itself. We then respond to this incredible gospel of forgiveness in the words of the prayer of thanksgiving that start Let us give thanks to the Lord our God and the response it is meet and right so to do. That is to say to give thanks to God is the most appropriate thing we could do. The prayer of thanksgiving then ends as we symbolically join with the whole heavenly host in the Sanctus, Holy Holy Holy Lord and so on.
The final cycle is the communion itself which opens up with another reminder of sin in the words of the Prayer of Humble Access which we looked at last time..The prayer of consecration then, which immediately follows, is another declaration of the gospel. The prayer that we have in our blue books is, again, an exact copy of the 1662 prayer but today, rather than looking at it in the prayer book itself it would be helpful if you turn to the sheet that you were handed as you came in.Apologies for adding another piece of paper to your bundle this morning but I hope youll find it helpful. It you get bored then, by all means, fold it into a paper airplane or something for your amusement.
What Ive done here is break up the prayer into its individual sections so that we can understand it better.
ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father,
who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption;
who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world;
and did institute, and in his holy Gospel command us to continue, a perpetual memory of that his precious death, until his coming again;
Hear us, 0 merciful Father, we most humbly beseech thee; and grant that we
(receiving these thy creatures of bread and wine,
· according to thy Son our Saviour Jesus Christ’s holy institution,
· in remembrance of his death and passion,)
may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood:
who, in the same night that he was betrayed, took Bread; and, when he had given thanks, he brake it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, Take, eat, this is my Body which is given for you: Do this in remembrance of me. Likewise after supper he took the Cup; and, when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of this; for this is my Blood of the New Testament, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins: Do this, as oft as ye shalldrink it, in remembrance of me. Amen.
The prayer opens up by directly addressing God. Do note here that He is both Almighty He is majestic and awesome and we should not presume to enter into His presence
… He is Almighty and our Father. This awesome God has brought us into a familial relationship with Himself. How we has done that we are going to now see.
God is then described as the one who gave Jesus. And Jesus was given for a purpose to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption. The language of redemption, of course, is the language of the slave set free; not by his own work but because someone else has paid the price and bought them into their own service. We used to be slaves Jesus called it being a slave to sin John 8:34 and the Bible says that Christians are actually now still slaves we just have a new master, God Himself. God bought us for Himself and the price He paid to redeem us was the death of His Son, Jesus.
But it is not enough for us to simply know that we were redeemed. Cranmer was concerned, and rightly so, that we properly understand what happened on that Friday afternoon almost 2000 years ago. On the Cross, the prayer tells us, Jesus made
(by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world;
Lets take a moment to go through that in some detail. First, the death of Christ is described as one oblation, once offered. An oblation is an offering, a gift. Quite what that offering involved will be further defined in the sentence but the main point that is stressed at this point is not the nature of the oblation but its uniqueness. One oblation, once offered.
But the sacrifice is not just unique it is also complete.
It is full, perfect, sufficient, big enough to deal with the sins of the whole world if needs be. We are left in no doubts that there is nothing left to do nothing to be added by us to Jesus completed work.
Now Cranmer is not simply making big claims at this point, hes deliberately (as he always does) drawing on what the Bible tells us. In this case hes gone straight to Hebrews 10 where we read these magnificent words about Jesus’ death:
12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
All the key elements are there. Christ sat down a sign that His work is done. Its a single offering; the writer takes time to say that twice just as we saw Cranmer do. And the work is complete thats the point at the end where we learn that Christ has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
Thats a terrific truth there are 2 simultaneous things that we can assert about a Christian. On the one hand they are being sanctified- so the Christian experience is that every day we are being made more and more like the Lord Jesus. And, on the other hand, we are already perfected that is to say that we are viewed by God as perfect because of what Jesus has done. This staggering paradox led the great Reformer Martin Luther to coin the phrase simul justus et peccator which means at the same time both righteous and a sinner. A christian is someone who is being made more and more like Jesus every day and is also looked on by God as though they were Jesus. Its a marvellous thing.And the Christian waits inbetween the two we are being made holy as we wait for our perfect standing in front of God to be vindicated on the final day.
So that is the first, the most important thing, we learn in the prayer Jesus is Gods perfect unique finished sacrifice.
Next we learn that God not only gave Jesus for us but also instituted a memory of that same death. Here, he is obviously referring to the Communion itself and the point is clear the communion is memory, a remembrance, of the death of Jesus. We are not repeating the death of Jesus; because how could we? It was once offered and sufficient. No, rather we are remembering it.
Perhaps a good way to think about it is a wedding anniversary. Now Jacqui and I have our anniversary on 31 March and so we celebrate the event every year. Even though we make a big deal of it, it would be ludicrous to suggest that we are somehow repeating our wedding or bringing it into today. No, we were married once for all there was nothing deficient in our wedding – it was perfect and complete, we are totally married. And yet we make a big deal of it.
Now, why are we labouring this point? Well, because the Roman Catholic position, against which Cranmer was writing and which is easy for us to slip into ourselves, is that the Communion is, in some way, a re-enactment of the sacrifice on the Cross, as though in another way Christ is being brought onto the table and sacrificed in front of us. So, to guard against this dangerous way of thinking, Cranmer draws upon the Bibles language about the cross once for all. The cross is as complete an event as my marriage certificate is binding. I do not need to get any more married than I am now, nor does the cross need to be in any way repeated rather it is to be remembered.
Not repeated, but remembered; a perpetual memory of that most precious death.
So with this is mind, we then turn to the second half of the prayer.
The simple flow of thought is as follows:
Hear us, 0 merciful Father, we most humbly beseech thee; and grant that we may be partakers of his most blessed Body and Blood
At its most simple its a prayer asking that we would be part of Jesus body and blood that is to say that we would be part of what he achieved on the Cross. We already saw, when we looked at John 6 a while back, that to eat Jesus body and to drink his blood is Jesus own way of simply saying trust in Jesus death. And thats also the sense being used here.
And, just so we understand that thats whats being said, Cranmer has added a couple of explanatory clauses.
The first one explains who the we are. We are the ones who are receiving these creatures of bread and wine. I dont know about you but it seems a bit strange to refer to bread and wine as creatures but the word simply means created things. Here, Cranmer is again doing away with the idea of transubstantiation that the bread and wine somehow becomeJesus. No! He says, theyre created things, not the Creator.
But thats not enough for him. He needs two further explanations of quite what it is that we are receiving. Well, theyre not explanations, theyre really just reminders.
First, theyre according to the Jesus institution. That is to say that Jesus commanded that we should do it. But note the use of the word institution. Weve already seen that hes said that God the Father instituted the communion but now we read that Jesus the Son instituted the communion. Its a very subtle way of reminding us of that Jesus is God and this after having gone out of his way to remind us that the bread and wine are just created things.
Second, we see again that the communion is in remembrance of Jesus death and passion. It that seems like almost needless repetition to you then I have to say that youre right. You cannot read this prayer carefully and not see that Cranmer is very, very intentional about it.
The final part of the prayer is a repeat of Pauls words in 1Cor. 11 where he explains what Jesus did that night. The Last Supper, of course, was a Passover meal. The Passover itself was a meal of remembrance a different sort of wedding anniversary if you like. In the Passover the Jews would remember the escape from Egyptand, in particular, how God had commanded them to kill a perfect lamb and mark its blood on the doorposts of their houses. That very same night he sent an angel to kill the firstborn of every household in Egypt exceptthose houses where the blood marked the door. And Jesus recasts this memorial meal, not as a memorial of that sacrifice but of his own sacrifice on the cross.
So thats all the detail. If we take a step back from it all then what are we meant to be understanding right before the Communion is distributed as this prayer is said? Well, Ive put a summary at the bottom of the handout. There are, really, only 2 key themes throughout the whole prayer.
First, the completed work of Christ on the Cross. We are to be reminded that Christ has done everything that needs to be done and so our job is not to do anything ourselves but to simply trust what He has done for us. So, first and foremost the prayer of consecration reminds us that the Christian life is a life of faith in Jesus Christ. It is a life of those who are already considered perfect by God because of what Jesus has done and are, as they wait for him to return, being made more like him every day.
The second key theme is remembrance. The communion is not a re-sacrifice of Christ or, somehow, a bringing of Christ to the table. No, it is quite the opposite. The creatures of bread and wine are visible and physical reminders of the body and blood of Jesus shed on that Cross. If Jesus, then, is present in the Communion (as He surely is), it is not because He is in the bread and wine but because the bread and wine, because of what they remind us of, lift our hearts and minds to renewed trust in Him.
It is not that Jesus is brought to us but that we are taken to him and, as we remember what he did for us it strengthens and renews us. And so we feed on him in our hearts by faith and with thanksgiving.
By faith for that is the essence of the Christian life simple trust in Jesus
And with thanksgiving for as we are reminded of the Cross of Jesus there is really only one response thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving that when we cry Lord have mercy he actually has mercy.
Thanksgiving that when we ask for forgiveness that he will forgive us.
Thanksgiving that we can presume to come to his table because of his manifold and great mercies.
Thanksgiving because He offered Himself as one full perfect and sufficient sacrifice.