A few months back my wife Barbara showed our friend Paul how to make an apple pie. Paul is a librarian and neighbor and friend of ours and was asked to bring in a dessert for a work party at the library. Paul was looking to bring in something special, something that he had had at our house, and so he got together with Barbara to make a pie; apple being one of his favorites.
The next day after the party was over Paul relayed to us the following story about a person at his work who had a piece of his pie, and then another, and then another. Soon the pie was gone. Pauls co-worker asked where he could get a pie like that. Paul told him that he didnt buy it . . . that he made this delicious pie. He asked what kind of apples were in the pie . . . meaning what brand name? Paul told him that he put apples in the pie. But the man asked . . . yes . . . but what are they called? Where could he get a can of the same type so that he could make the same kind? Paul said there was no can . . . that they were apples, you know, the ones that grow on trees. The man was incredulous and said . . . you mean you made a pie out of apples? And Paul said yes . . . in fact that is why it tasted so different than anything he had ever had before. No cans, no frozen food, no premade crust, no margarine . . . just plain ingredients . . . apples, flour sugar, butter and lard that you put together to make an apple pie. For some reason this just about blew this guys mind . . . that anyone could make something so good at home with their own two hands.
Anyway it was a very humorous story I think, because it was so pathetic. Here was a man who for once in his life ate a piece of actual apple pie and had an epiphany that he had missed out completely on something so basic to human existence.
This week also I got chance to have lunch with an architect friend of mine who happened to have attended the ordination back in November. He asked me how the church was going and I told him we were doing fine. He mentioned that it was such an honor to come and be part of the service and commented on how authentic he and his wife found the liturgy. I told him that we, as a church have been doing it the same way for well over a thousand years and that not much has changed. Apparently this is what really made an impression on him. Over his lifetime he had gone to many protestant and catholic services but nothing that could compare with the liturgy he witnessed here at Saint Nicholas. This is probably because, like our friends apple pie, our liturgy is authentic.
Due to commercialism, our lives today are filled with things that are only shadows of what they pretend to be. We are inundated with fake food, fake jewelry, fake furniture, and fake products of every kind . . . all made in effort to make things cheaper and easier to obtain. And yet these fake things do not seem to last very long, and we are again out looking for replacements that may be even cheaper and easier to get.
But it seems that when we are finally shown or given something that is real, it reminds us of what we have been missing. We encounter this feeling when we go to an art gallery, or a fine restaurant, or we drive a luxury vehicle. We know what is real when we see it, but for most of us we are content to live in a copied universe where the real does not often get equal time.
In todays gospel, we find Jesus performing his first miracle at a wedding in Cana. At the request of his mother, Jesus helps the newly married couple save face by turning water into wine. The steward, after tasting the wine, compliments the bridegroom on the wine as perhaps the best he has ever tasted.
This story tells us a number of things about Jesus and how God relates to his people. First off, at least to me, it appears Jesus is willing to help even in the smallest of things. He didnt really have to perform this miracle. He really didnt. The wine could have run out and the party ended but it didnt because he helped. But why did he help?
Its pretty plain to see from the story that he helped because his mother, Mary, who was in attendance, asked him to help on the stewards behalf. What can be inferred from this is that Mary had a greater influence on Jesus than the bridegroom and the bride and it was Marys intercession on their behalf that made Jesus choose to agree to help in this situation. This is the primary basis of the belief in the communion of saints . . . that Christians are able to intercede, like Mary, on the behalf of each other. It is the very reason we pray for each other.
The communion of saints is one of the most profound doctrines in the Christian tradition. All Christians are incorporated into the mystical Body of Christ by virtue of their baptism. Through Christ we are inextricably linked to God and to each other, and together we form what could be called the post-Ascension presence of Christ on earth. It is this real and authentic presence that we call the Church (big C). Jesus heals through the touch of our hands. He feeds the hungry through our generosity. He speaks the words of forgiveness through our relationships with each other. We are not meant to be a community of disembodied spirits but rather the living Church through which God interacts with the real world and spreads the message of the Resurrection to all who would listen.
The Church is composed of two parts — the Church Militant (the faithful who are still on this earth) and the Church Triumphant (those who have undergone physical death and are now with Christ). We know that Christians who have already completed their pilgrimage on this earth are not truly dead but are alive in Christ. The link between Christians is so strong that not even physical death can sever it. Together the Church Militant and Church Triumphant are participants in the Divine Liturgy and that is why we continue to pray for them each week in the prayers of the people.
From the very earliest recollections of the early Church, believers felt that the martyrs and saints who had departed this world were not separated from Christians who were alive, but rather they were in greater communion with God and with earthly Christians. This led to the doctrine of the intercession of the saints which is still present in our Anglican tradition. To ask for a saint’s intercession is simply to ask them to pray for you as you would a fellow Christian who is alive on this earth.
However, this intercession is not at all analogous to praying to God — worship is due to God alone. Since saints are truly alive it is completely orthodox to allow for this practice as long as it is done in the proper sense. It is only through God’s grace that the intercession of the saints is even possible. It is a reasonable practice that is consistent with historic teachings of the Church.
Some Christians may raise the objection that there is only one mediator between God and man and that Jesus is this sole mediator. This is certainly true, but we ask fellow Christians to pray for us all the time. Other people interceding for us in no way reduces the unique work of Jesus’ complete mediation between he and the Father as demonstrated for us in todays Gospel message at the request of Mary.
The Church of Jesus Christ is as unique today as it was in the earliest of times. Though many call themselves Christians under many banners and many names, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Methodist, and Presbyterians, and many others, there is really only one authentic Church of Christ made up of authentic believers everywhere . . . and when you encounter it, you will never forget it, for it will fill you in a way that no other church can.
The world today is under attack by evil forces that would give you everything that you want but nothing that you need. Like buying frozen pie . . . manufactured to look like pie, feel like pie, smell like pie we are being tricked into accepting any thing, any doctrine, any precept, any way of life, except that which is real and ordained by God. The way we combat this is to live authentic lives, practice authentic religion by using the authentic gifts of the Spirit described today by Paul . . .
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses. Amen.