My Sacramental Summer

My Sacramental Summer image

I have just spent Holy Week and Easter as the guest of a bishop in an orthodox Anglo-Catholic diocese with whom Anglican Aid enjoys partnership in the gospel. I was wonderfully hosted.

It was a fitting end to my sacramental summer. On Maundy Thursday I participated in three symbolic ‘foot-washing’ ceremonies, one renewal of ‘priestly vows’ and a blessing of the Chrism oils that were brought to be blessed in an assortment of tins, bottles and jars.

On Good Friday I shared in a three-hour vigil and reflection of Jesus’ words from the cross. It was mostly in French, with a little English thrown in for me. I was invited to pray the refrain, “The blood of Christ inebriate me,” among many other prayers I had not heard before. The prayer still fits uneasily with me. Washed and cleansed by his blood I joyfully affirm, but inebriated? 

On Easter Saturday a vigil and celebration of the lighting of the Pascal Candle. It was the biggest candle I have ever seen and used to light the many smaller candles in around the church building and in the hands of the congregants, old and young.

On Easter Day I shared in the Easter Communion service at another parish in the diocese that was televised on national television. It was ‘contemporary’ and liturgical with lots of music, a big band with brass and lots of calories. 

Along with the offertory, the ushers came forward with baskets full of quite large chocolate Easter Bunnies and boxes of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. Beats the measly, pinkie finger-nail sized Easter egg I usually get at home, I thought, as I became the joyful recipient of a large box of the Ferrero chockies!

A Sacramental Summer

The summer of sacraments began last Christmas Day when I invented my own sacrament. It is called The Sacrament Of The Twelve Fruit Fruit Salad. I had prepared a sermon on Revelation 22 during Advent and was struck by the image of the Tree of Life on either side of the river of life in the New Creation with the tree(s) bearing their fruit each month of the year. 

Don’t ask me whether each tree fruits with twelve different varieties on its branches or there are twelve varieties of fruit tree.  I’m not ruling out the former, having seen fruit trees with different fruit grafted into the primary tree.

But don’t be distracted by detail. It’s a picture of super-abundance. A symbol of the ‘life in all its fulness’ of the New Creation, with the (orchard of the) tree of life, the river, the throne and the Lamb (who was slain). It is a metaphor of the life Jesus brings in the new heaven and the new earth where righteousness dwells.

So, on Christmas morning I make a fruit salad with twelve fruits and serve it for dessert at our family Christmas banquet. I preambled this with a short table sermon to the mildly amused adults and completely disinterested grandchildren who just wanted chocolate ice-cream. A new sacrament was birthed. If Protestants claim two and Catholics claim seven, why can’t I introduce one or two of my own?

A Sacramental Journey

I was to preach on New Years Day at a retirement village. So I thought this was a good time to launch my newly minted sacrament into the ecclesiastical stratosphere. I asked a couple at the village, in advance, if they would make a twelve-fruit fruit salad for the service so that I could wave around a bowl of it to illustrate my sermon from Revelation 22. 

They ran the full length of the field and prepared over 70 individual cups of twelve-fruit fruit salad for the residents to take home and enjoy for supper while reflecting on the wonder of the imagery in Revelation 22 and adoring the one who was slain and who sits upon the throne.

I texted Kevin the next day to thank him and his little team of fruit peelers and cutters. He texted back and said that he thought we could get 24 fruits out of reading Revelation 22. I questioned his exegesis but not his enthusiasm and decided that I would make a 24-fruit fruit salad and auction it on February 1st to launch the Water Works For A Thirsty World initiative. 

Getting into the office at 6am I went to work on my 24 fruit creation. It sold for $300 at a St Andrew’s House staff morning tea and was consumed with gratitude by everyone present as a reminder of Revelation 22.

My sacramental journey was well on its way.

A sacramental bloke

I guess I’ve always been a sacramental bloke. Way back in parish life at Kiama I experimented with different ways of sharing in the Lord’s Supper.

I had always struggled to understand how the sharing of bread and wine to symbolise our faith in Christ crucified, risen and returning evolved in church history to what we see today. It has become so overlaid with priests and pomp, candles and crucifixes, bells and smells, north ends and east ends and even west ends (some of the costumes I’ve seen priests wear would fit right in to the West End, of London), gold and silver, ceremony and superstition.

So at a few night services I spread a spread on some large tables in the middle of the congregation. We would have supper together and remember the Lord’s death, resurrection and return in the midst of our feasting. The table was adorned with our best tablecloths and candles, fruits and breads, cheese and crackers, dips and chips and bottles of sparkling grape juice, both white and red. We sang, we read, I preached, we prayed and we ate our fill and remembered the great truths of the gospel.

Everybody loved it. 

I guess I am just a sacramental bloke.

David Mansfield is the director of the Archbishop of Sydney's Anglican Aid.

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