In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Once I set eyes on our bulletin illustration, I couldn’t leave it alone. It jumped off the computer screen and right into my heart. The great thing about this fish who’s carrying bread and wine for Communion is that it has such deep roots in the Christian tradition. It’s a blending of 2 different stories, actually.
The first story I thought of was the story of Saint Brendan the Navigator. Brendan was an Irish monk of the 6th century. Legend has it that he and his monk companions set sail for years and years in a little Irish boat called a currach—these boats aren’t much to speak of, just a round wickerwork frame with skins stretched over the bottom, and if they were really fancy they might have had a simple mast with sail. But often they were just propelled with paddles.
Brendan and his monks were sailing in the North Atlantic westward to try to find something very special. They were looking for the Garden of Eden, having been tipped off by another monk that it really was out there somewhere. Well, they surely didn’t find the Garden of Eden, but they did probably find Iceland and maybe even Newfoundland—but that’s not very certain.
One charming part of the story of Brendan involves the way the monks celebrated Easter while they were afloat. They sited an island sticking up out of the ocean and sailed to it. They disembarked and set up for Mass. Once they had lit the Easter fire in a shallow pit, they had a very rude surprise, for it turns out that the island wasn’t an island after all. It was the back of a whale! Once things were understood the whale introduced himself as Jasconius, (remember, this is a legend!!) and after Brendan’s apology Jasconius invited them to continue to celebrate Easter on his back, presumably without the fire pit. They did so for the next 7 years.
So this cover illustration reminds me of the voyage of Brendan, and the hosts all lined up in the little wickerwork basket look like the monks crammed into that little currach.
OK, the second thing I see here centers on the fish, which is a very ancient symbol for Jesus—maybe it’s even 1900 or more years old. The Greek word for “fish” is ichthys, and its letters make an acrostic of the saying “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” So it was a kind of ancient code back in the days of persecution. If you wanted to see if someone was a Christian, you could trace one arc of the fish shape in the dirt, and if the other person responded by finishing the fish shape with another arc, you knew that each of you was a Christian.
So Jesus is symbolized by the fish, Son of God, Savior, and here he carries on his back bread and wine, the elements for Communion. This story is more straightforward than Brendan’s story.
So, I like Brendan’s better. You just can’t improve upon a talking whale.
But what I’d really like to focus on is all those hosts, signed with crosses, neatly stacked in that wicker basket. It’s a wonderful suggestion of church. Each one of us is like a little “host,” hosting the real presence of Jesus within us, by virtue of our baptisms. Each of us has been sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism—and marked with a cross as Christ’s own forever. Each of us depends upon Jesus to carry us through life, just like the fish carries the basket.
So here we are, sailing in that baskety ship we call Christ Church Parish, supported by Christ Jesus. Each of us looks superficially like the other, perhaps, but we all know how different we are, too. And it’s in our best interests, and in the best interests of the Church, that we learn to work together for good and with mutual respect—despite all our differences.
And so this leads us into our reading from 1 Corinthians today. Remember that Paul was writing to the church in Corinth whose people had a puffed-up assessment of their own specialness.
In today’s excerpt from 1 Corinthians Paul emphasizes that they are who they are, not because of their own merits or hard work, but simply because they’ve been called by God into the church. They’ve been called to BE church and to live humbly in the foolishness of God’s proclamation of grace and peace through the cross of Christ. He reminds them that they’re called by God in their own weakness to be a powerful witness to Jesus. Paul tells them he comes to them knowing nothing other than Christ Jesus, and him crucified. That’s all that matters—even if it sounds like so much foolishness. And so they have the mind of Christ.
Furthermore they are given gifts to share communally. But the giver of the gifts is the Holy Spirit, and the gifts attest to the power of God, not the power of individuals.
Now listen to this Biblical scholar weigh in on the implications for us today. He writes, “This insight can lead us to view the church with new eyes. In the context of a consumer society, it is tempting to view the church as just another commercial enterprise trying to get people to choose its ‘product.’ [Right??] Ultimately the people in the pews on Sunday morning are there not because of a sales job or the particular qualifications of any minister. They are part of the community because the Holy Spirit has been at work in their hearts, leading them to faith in Jesus.” [P. Mark Achtemeier, Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 1, p. 328]
We are called to be here—that doesn’t come from us. We have an agenda not our own, and we’re given gifts for the good of everyone.
The Holy Spirit brought us here together and mixed us together: conservatives, liberals, Republicans, Democrats, Trump supporters, Hillary supporters, proud suburban feminists, Fox News fans. God brought us here together. God lines us up in this little boat that is Christ Church Parish and sends us out over rolling seas to take love and peace into our community and beyond, and to change hearts and lives because of the love of God that we’ve experienced ourselves as pure gift.
The next 4 years might not be very easy for any of us who carry strong feelings on either side of the aisle. May we allow God’s compassion to bloom within us. May we care for each other and respect our differences. May we help this boat to be watertight and divinely piloted, and may we not entertain thoughts of mutiny.
May the mind of Christ continue to dwell within us, and may the Holy Spirit continue to be our guide.