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Evensong Homily

Preached by the Rev’d Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourth Sunday of Lent – April 3, 2011

And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

How often I hear a colleague on our staff or a member of our congregation bemoan the fact that their memory has failed them. They have forgotten something they think is important. And, while this may be a nuisance of the aging process, I find that, across the board, young and old struggle with the issue of memory.

And I attribute it not to any physical or mental process but rather to the exorbitant about of information with which we are bombarded everyday—email, texting, voice mail, news blasts—and just the perennial busy-ness that invades our lives. Even without all those distractions, it appears that the disciples of Jesus had a similar problem. “Don’t you remember?” Jesus asks.

I think that what Christianity is largely about is “remembering.” Every Sunday, or anytime we gather around a table as the community that God has called together to be God’s church, we bless and share bread and wine with the words “Do this in memory of me” as we remember the night that Jesus first did this at supper with his closest friends and, in truth, when we remember any occasion when Jesus led us by example offering his signature radical hospitality—feeding the crowds, eating with outcasts, bringing all sorts of people into his company.

Our memory of what Jesus did, how he lived, what he taught us, the marvelous works he did in his ministry, is the foundation of our life as a Christian community. And our memory is stimulated, refreshed, and sustained by stories—the stories that have been related in the Gospels and that have come down to us over the past 2000 years.

This afternoon, we are lifting up another memory, honoring in this Evensong the memory of a friend who served God’s church in a long and wonderful ministry as parish priest, rector, dean of a cathedral, and as a member of the staff of the national church. The Very Reverend Robert Martin was also a great story teller and I was privileged to know him in the years that he traveled to Norwalk from his home in Ohio and honored by his request to be counted as a member of St. Paul’s on the Green.

I recall one story that made quite an impression on me. Robert was relating to me how, as celebrant of a weekday Holy Eucharist in one of the parishes he served and at the time of the Great Thanksgiving, he looked at the small group gathered and said, “Do you know why only one person stands at the Altar as the priest presider?

It’s because Altars aren’t being enough for everyone to stand around—but there aren’t a lot of us here today and we’ll actually fit around this Altar so please come and gather around it with me.” To this day we make that invitation at our weekday Eucharists here. It is an example of Father Martin’s clear understanding of the priesthood of all the baptized—that we are all, indeed, “celebrants” of the liturgy, not just bystanders. I know that Robert’s ministry and experience touched the lives of many people and the church is a better place for that.

In a few minutes we will witness a ritual that is a cherished tradition for Anglo-Catholics: Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. It may seem a bit unusual to those not familiar with the tradition. Try to see it as another example of how the church triggers our memory, our memory that Christ is always in our midst—in the sacramental Bread on which we feast at God’s Table, in our goings and comings, in our sisters and brothers around us.

The blessing that we receive with the Monstrance—the gold vessel which will hold the Consecrated Bread, the Body of Christ—is a reminder that, not only does Christ bless us both in the sacrament of the Eucharist, but in many ways every day of our lives and that God wants us to be a blessing for one another—literally pronouncing blessing on everyone that God sends our way.

And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?”

Perhaps what Jesus most wants us to remember is the extravagance with which God blesses us—that the life to which God in Jesus calls us is one of plentiful possibilities and undreamt dreams. God still has much to say to us. The table to which we are called is one laden with food enough for the journey and then some. God is not through with us yet and has more in store than we can imagine. God’s rich, enormous, and powerful grace—a wild and wonderful and free gift—is given in abundance and in some of the most unexpected ways. And that is something that is truly worth remembering.

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