Preacher Revd Neil Summers
I started wearing glasses at two and a half, long before the days of designer spectacles or contact lenses. Some of you will remember those very attractive – not! – NHS round lenses, with frames in the most peculiar colours. My left eye was quite weak, so for a while, when I was a child, I wore a patch on my right eye. I can still remember the distinctive smell of surgical tape that they used to attach it to my face. Mind you, I equally remember the tempting smell of the liquorice that sat in a tin under the eye doctor’s desk – this, of course, was the incentive to put up with the patch. We were so easily and cheaply bribed back then: on reflection, I think I should have held out for more! Liquorice or no liquorice, though, I still hated that patch: it was uncomfortable, irritating and, of course, other kids can be pretty merciless. But the doctor said that I had to wear it. My left eye wasn’t doing its job properly; it needed more stimulation and so they blocked the use of my right eye in order to get the left one going. As it happens, the strategy didn’t work very well. Despite the ghastly patch, things never really got much better.
I tell you this to emphasise something that is easy for those of us who are fortunate enough to have full eyesight to take for granted: vision is binocular. To state the obvious, we have two eyes and we see the world through a combination of two viewpoints that are brought together by the brain into a single vision. When you stop to think of it, it’s a remarkable process. Despite the fact that we have visual information coming from two differently located sensors, information from these two sensors is fused together in a single vision that enables us to have a much greater sense of depth and space and form.
Today is Corpus Christi, a day that since the 13th century the Church has set aside to give thanks for the Eucharist. And what is so remarkable about this celebration is that we are not giving thanks for the memory of something that happened long ago. We are giving thanks for something that we are doing right here, right now. For here, in this church, on this day, in both Word and Sacrament, we bring alive the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. On the night before he died, he had supper with his friends, took bread and wine, declared them to be his body and his blood, and then invited all of us to share in this meal until the very end of time. This is not just a story to be told, but something to live, to participate in, a means by which our own stories, our own hopes and fears and failures and mistakes, come into contact with the story of God. This is the point where two worlds come together, where heaven and earth reach out and touch.
To be a Christian is to live with clear sight of two different realities. The first is the reality of this world, in all its complexity: the world of politics, of science, of other people, of trees, streets, shopping and wondering what to have for tea. It is the world where people fall in love, and where people kill each other. It is the world where billions of dollars and pounds and euros are shifting around from day to day, and the world where millions of people struggle to find enough to eat. And then there’s another reality: a world where God becomes human in the person of Jesus, a world in which human beings find themselves loved by God and, by this love, are called out of their destructive self-centredness. To be a Christian is to experience both these realities at the same time. I was struck by this tuning into the news before coming here tonight: a wall of prayers, good wishes and moral support at Grenfell Tower, accompanied by the practical generosity of a mountain of donated clothes, food, drinks and furniture.
The theologian Karl Barth famously said that preachers must preach with the Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other. Some might say this is quite a Protestant way of talking about our need of a double sightedness. But a more Catholic sensitivity understands it is largely in the Eucharist that we experience this double sightedness, where we are called to set both visions of the world into a single experience. The Eucharist is where these two realities – our world, God’s world – insist on being seen together, for they are not two realities, they are one. The work of theology is just like the work of the human brain when it comes to vision. Its job is to take these two different points of view and convert them into a single image. This is why some have asserted that the Eucharist is the best sort of theology there is, for here these two worlds come together and fuse into one.
The American poet Wallace Stevens once wrote a poem about a blue guitar, and used this line: ‘But play, you must, a tune beyond us, yet ourselves’. He seems to be talking about living authentically in the real world as it stands before us, while at the same time keeping at least one eye on the potential for what this world might become – a vision which may often seem a long way from the world in which we are currently and necessarily enmeshed – alongside a vision of a world transformed, which we must not lose sight of. I wonder if that’s what might be meant when people speak of the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. We don’t come to Holy Communion just for enjoyment, or to make us feel better: it is deeper than that. We come because, if we don’t, it can feel like having that patch back on again and the whole picture cannot be seen. Yes, you can see just about enough in one dimension; you can get by. But it’s only when the patch comes off and the brain processes both images into one, that the world is seen aright. Christians are called to the broadest possible vision, and the Eucharist is a means through which we may see things more fully. For here, tonight, in this Blessed Sacrament, in this holy place, and among this community of people, two worlds become one, and heaven touches earth.