"Greater love hath no man tha this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you" -- St John xv. 13,14.
There is no occasion in the whole Christian year on which it is a greater joy to a parish priest to address his people, than on the occasion of the annual address in preparation for the Easter Communion, The joy consists specially in this--that he has before him a conregation of genuine Christian people. For what is the meaning of the words 'a genuine Christian?'--One who is living in conxcious obedience to all the known commands of Jesus Christ--One who is living in conscious obedience to all the known comands of Jesus Christ--One whose great aim in life is to know the will of Christ; and who, when he knows it, and so far as he knows it, deliberately sets to work to do that will of Christ. On other occasions the congregations which assemble in this church, as a rule, contain many who live in habitual disregard of one of the greatest and most solemn commands of Jesus Christ--His dying command concerning the reception of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. It is not unfair or hard to say, that no one is a genuine Christian, or possesses any claim to be considered a genuine Christian, who, being of age, is not a communicant. I am not, for the moment, thinking of the disastrous loss which those who never come to the Holy Table suffer in their own souls. I am not thinking, for the moment, of our Lord's solemn warning, "Verily, verily, I say unto your, Except ye eat the Flesh of the Son of Man, and drink His Blood, ye have no life in you." But I am merely thinking of the impossibility of being a good Christian, whilst habitually disobeying our Lord's command, "This do in remembrance of me." I have in mind the words of Jesus Christ, in which He addresses those who so neglect and disregard His gracious commandment. "Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?" It is our Lord Jesus Christ who, in speaking of the Holy Communion, said quite plainly, so that none can possibly mistake His meaning, "Take, eat; this is my Body; Drink ye all of it; for this is my Blood. This do in remembrance of me."
We meet then as, in a peculiar sense, the friends of Jesus Christ. He has honoured us who are communicants with this honoured title of "friends." He has disclosed to us the conditions upon which we may rightly claim His gracious friendship, saying, "Ye are my friends, if ye do whatsoever I command you." And we know that, amongst other things, He has commanded, "This do in remembrance of me." There is but one test of friendship to Jesus Christ--not words, not feelings; but simple obedience. We prove our friendship to Jesus by obeying Him, when He spreads the Holy Feast of the Communion, and invites us to draw near and eat His sacred Flesh and drink His precious Blood.
And think, Friends of Jesus Christ, what joy it must bring to His sacred human heart as He sits at the right hand of the eternal Father in the heavenly places, that we should be assembled to consider how best we may receive the most comfortable Sacrament of His Body and Blood,--how best we may obey His dying command,--when the glad Easter Day dawns. What joy it must be to Him to see, that whilst the world forgets Him in His Passion, and even crucifies Him afresh by its sins, a little flock, such as we are, should be giving testimony to our love to Him by our obedience. For He Himself said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." And this is His own special commandment, at this time in particular, "This do in remembrance of me."
I ask you to open your Prayer Books at the Epistle for the Thursday before Easter, which is written in I Cor. xi. 17 etc., which I will proceed to read, making some comments thereon. After referring to the irreverence of certain Corinthians, St. Paul says:
"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you." St. Paul the speaker was not present in the upper room when our Lord instituted the Eucharist; hence he did not know, as the other apostles knew, what there took place. He received a special revelation directly from our Lord Himself concerning this matter, as he declares.
"That the Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread. . . ." The instttitution was almost the last act of Jesus before He was taken prisoner. Unless He had instituted the Holy Sacrament then, He could not have done so later. It certainly does give immense importance to the Holy Communion to remember that it was almost the last thing He did whilst He was free.
"And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, Take, eat; this is my Body, which is broken for your." It is these words of our Lord which form the ground of the Church's belief in the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Holy Communion. He is present in the consecrated elements really, and not figuratively. The consecrated elements are not merely signs of His Body and Blood: they are, as the Catechism plainly declares, verily and indeed the Body and Blood of Christ, present under the outward forms of bread and wine in a way which passes our understanding. Jesus Christ is present in the Sacrament, not merely because we recall Him to our minds by an act of memory; but because by His own wonderful act He communicates Himself to us in the way which He has ordained.
"Wherefore, whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord unworthily, . . ." The more we feel our unworthiness the more sure we may be that we shall receive the Sacrament worthily.
May our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all in preparing to come to your Easter Communion. May He make known to you, one by one, on Good Friday the greatness of His love. May His love attract you and constrain you, as you enter more deeply into the meaning of His words with which we commenced,--
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Vernon Staley, Provost of the Cathedral Church of Saint Andrew in Inverness.