Gospel Matthew 14
Sermon: " What is in a piece of bread & a sip of wine ? Wise words from a German Reformer & a Danish Queen. "
Her Majesty the Danish Queen Margrethe II is the reigning Monarch of the old Kingdom of Denmark, and thus she is the supreme secular authority of the Danish National Church – fondly called Church of Denmark.
The Danish National Lutheran Church or the People’s; church is the established state supported church in Denmark. As a Dane, I am reminded every time I pass by and pause at the massive Rune Stone in front of our Danish Lutheran church here in Yorba Linda. Christianity was introduced a long long time ago in Denmark. In the 9th century by the archbishop of Hamburg, Ansgar and later in the 10th century our great Rune stone tells us the majestic story of the mighty King Bluetooth who himself became a Christian and then began to organize the Christian Church in Denmark, or demanded that the Denmark and the Danes became Christian… and by the 11th century, Christianity was largely accepted throughout the old Kingdom. That is the beginning of Christianity in Denmark, embedded in the Rune Stone and boldly called the Baptismal Certificate of Denmark. But from the Stone and King Bluetooth goes a direct line to the Reformation, Martin Luther, and King Christian III, who officially added the Lutheran name to the Danish church. Again, from the Reformation in Denmark goes yet another direct line to the 1849 Constitution of Denmark that designated the Lutheran Church as the Danish Peoples Church and mandates that the state support it as such. And from that Constitution goes yet another direct line to today and to the Danish Queen Margrethe II.
My Danish Queen, which I fondly call her – is truly my Danish Queen as she indeed a wise woman and a very worthy authority for the Danish Lutheran Church.
She is not just an authority in speech, in order, in honor, - bus indeed in acts. She is an active member of the Danish Church, she attending services on a regular basis, she enjoy visiting church throughout her Kingdom and she has had a keen interest in the history, the confession and the traditions of the church through her adult life.
Her Majesty the Danish Queen was asked to design an antependium for the famous Castel Church in Wittenberg (the church that Martin Luther made famous as he nailed his 95 theses on the church door and began the Reformation). As preparation for the coming 500 anniversary in 2017 that we will be celebrating in October, the old historic church in Wittenberg underwent a restoration and when it reopened a beautiful antependium was adoring the altar. A burning red cloth with the Rose of Luther, designed by the Danish Queen.
Her majesty the Queen has often talked about her joy in church, hymns, and holy communion.
“One of the joys of attending church is to burst into singing with all you got! I wish more people would dare to do so. You are a part of the service by singing…. I truly appreciate the Holy Communion. It is an important and strong thing, and you bring to the altar what you have in you that day. It is not just a small piece of bread and some wine and a symbol. It is something. You receive the bread and the wine, but then you can say: “Yes, now it happens.” It is both a mystery and very real. You really must use both mind and heart. “
I thought about the wise word of the Queen when I read today's Gospel from Matthew the wondrous miraculous story about the feeding of the thousands in the scorching desert by the means of just five loaves of bread and two fish. With this story, we are invited into the miracle of the sacrament and the faith that even in a small piece of bread and a sip of wine…. Something divine and great is present. piece of bread and a taste of wine. As the Queen said: It is both a mystery and something real.
Martin Luther wrote and asked in his Small Catechism: “ What is the benefit of such eating and drinking ? …. Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but rather the words that are recorded: given for you and shed for you. These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament …”
As Lutherans, we do believe and confess and hold to be true that Jesus Christ is truly present in the meal we call Holy Communion. It is a holy mystery that calls for reverence and faith and the Latin faith “ Finitum capax infiniti” sums it all up.
“ The finite can hold the infinite” This conviction is a the very heart of the way we as Lutherans understand and experience God’s grace in the sacrament of holy communion.
Martin Luther found himself engaged in frequent arguments about the meaning and the mechanism of the sacrament of holy communion. How could this happen? How would bread and wine be Christs body and blood? How is it possible that something as expansive as the divine grace can come to us through a tiny piece of bread and a small sip of wine? What kind of God would be willing to be present in a form that could be chewed up and digested by mortal sinful human beings?
Martin Luther answered all of this out of his faith that finite things can carry infinity within themselves. Finitum capax infiniti. The finite holds the infinite.
That is the miracle of Holy Communion. That is the miracle of the feeding of the thousands. The finite holds the infinite.
Jesus body and blood are in, with and under the bread and wine, - so when Jesus said and says at every altar Sunday after Sunday, that this is my body, which is given for you, he was not just speaking in metaphors of symbols. The bread and the wine doesn’t just remind us of Christ body and blood. The simply are both bread and body, both wine and blood.
When Luther was challenged to explain how this can be true, he said: “What if the philosophers do not grasp it ? The Holy spirit is greater than Aristotle!” This means for us that we don’t have to understand rationally a mystery that takes place – we simply must believe it and trust in it and find grace within it.
Because even the smallest bread crumb and the tiniest drop of wine contain the fullness of God’s grace. The finite holds the infinite.
I often remember the image of my late grandmother, my father’s mother, who was a devout Lutheran and like the Queen she truly did enjoy attending services, to sing and most of all to be welcomed at the table of Christ at Communion. When she walked up to the altar, you could also see the burdens on her shoulders, holding her down and making her walk like Cain looking down. And when she had received the bread and wine and when she got to her feet and turned around, - the grace of God had truly lifted her burdens, her guilt, and her sins – and she almost flew down the aisle. Ready for a new day. Ready to live with grace and go forth to love the neighbor, feed the hungry and try to bring healing into a broken world.
Like the wise Queen said, and as my wise grandmother lived, we do believe and trust the mystery and reality of the bread and wine.
I truly appreciate the Holy Communion. It is an important and strong thing, and you bring to the altar what you have in you that day. It is not just a small piece of bread and some wine and a symbol. It is something. You receive the bread and the wine, but then you can say: “Yes, now it happens.” It is both a mystery and very real.