27th Sunday in Ordinary Time
There are some words that open our hearts; that turn a key even in a rusted lock; and that prepare us to see our familiar world afresh: I think of the phrase, ‘Once upon a time.’ It is the story teller’s overture, the gambit that catches our attention and draws us in to a world that unfolds around us. A world where good and evil are encountered; a world where we learn to see, discern and discriminate; a world where the ordinary and the wonderful coincide and where, nearly always, there may be more than we expect. It is the phrase we remember from early childhood; heavy with expectation and promise; it is the phrase we may use ourselves, when the time to tell a story is given to us for our children and grandchildren.
Story is the natural genre of scripture. The bible begins with a story, that starts like this: ”In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, and while the earth was still unformed, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness Night. And there was an evening and a morning, making the first day.” We remember that this story goes on to tell of the first humans and their location in the first garden, the perfect place and the conditions they are given for its care.
It is the nature of stories that they carry within themselves connecting strands that can link one to another; or, another way of putting it, they can hold resonances and echoes that spill over from one to another. For instance in the story from the Gospel this morning when Jesus says “Listen to another parable” he tells another story and the careful listener recognises echoes of an older tale.
Jesus tells the story of a beginning, when someone went to a great deal of work and created something. He did all the hard work needed to make a vineyard: he planted, fenced, and installed a wine press; he even built a watch tower so that the vineyard could be protected. When you think about it you realise that a vineyard is a long term project. It involves a long term commitment to the land, to people and to generations to come. It can flourish only in times of peace, giving vines time to grow and fruit without disturbance. It carries the promise of aged wine, reflective thought, sustained projects, safety, seeing your grandchildren grow up. But one thing went wrong. The people placed to care for the vineyard, did not fulfil their duty of care, but conspired against the landowner so that the promise of peace and plenty was lost. We recognise that this is our story too and that we may recognise ourselves in the rebellious and unfruitful tenants.
Yet the story of God with us is always about how what has been lost is recovered, restored and redeemed. So, for instance, in the Old Testament, a new relationship occurs in the event known as the Exodus : that becomes the foundational story for Israel. It is the story that must not be forgotten. So the Old Testament reading this morning celebrates the mighty acts of God: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” and the story remembers the commandments that mark the special relationship between God and his people. Remembering is central to how story works, we remember so that we learn to respond and the story lives within us, shapes us and changes us.
That is what happens in the epistle this morning; remembrance becomes response. Paul remembers the story of God in Jesus Christ and Paul responds by following Christ with all his heart, energy and strength. Paul is drawn into the story and into Christ: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death … forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”
This is what happens with us in the Eucharist this morning. The Eucharist is the ‘Once upon a time’ story of the Church when we tell, remember and respond. May our hearts be opened, our closed and rusted locks released! The Eucharist is our foundational story; it taps into our memories and our humanity; it encompasses our deepest hopes and fears; it draws us into great mystery of Christ; it forms and changes us. Christ meets us in the bread and wine … (Love’s Choice, Malcom Guite)
This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how he comes. Through wine and breadLove chooses to be emptied into me.