Rev. Andrew Cunnington
11th August 2013
A String Of Onions And A Sainsbury’s Plastic Bag

There was a man who was having a wonderful holiday on the Greek islands and being a Godfearing soul, the Sunday morning found him turning up at Mass at the lovely church in the town square.

The building was exquisite. The stained glass windows awe inspiring and as he sat there he had a real sense of the presence of God around him. The organ started to play, the choir began to sing. Their music swirled round the beautiful arches of the church, like angels music. The candles and the insense. The marvellous sermon. Ah, yes , he could have been at St Matthew’s!

The wonderful traditional liturgy made the man really feel that he was at the very gates of heaven. He sunk to his knees at the prayers of intercession when he felt a tug at his sleeve. A beggar woman had sidled up next to him from outside “ Sir, sir, please buy, please buy, these are the best onions in Greece” and the old woman waved a string of onions in our man’s face.

“How dare you “ he cried “ How dare you spoil this wonderful worship with your begging and your smelly onions”.

“Sir” said the woman, bringing her onions closer to his face “ Worship goes on forever, it’s an eternal thing. My onions are as much a part of it as all this that captivates you for this hour.

There is a problem with our Foodbank here at St Matthew’s. It’s open from 12noon until 2pm most days and that means that sometimes people come for their food whilst I am celebrating the Eucharist at 1pm on Tuesday. It means that whilst I am reading the Gospel, or praying or blessing the bread and wine, you can hear from the back of the church, the rustle of a Sainsbury’s plastic bag and the clunk of tins of food being placed within and people saying thank you in far too loud a voice.

One day though, I realised that this was not a problem but a great Gospel truth, for as I raised the bread and wine at this altar and began those words “draw near with faith, receive the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ..” , at that moment, at that very moment, one of our church members was at the altar at the far end of the church, bringing out a tin of Spaghetti and some pasta hoops for a grateful visitor, and I realised just what a thing worship was and that whether it’s sacramental bread being broken at this altar or a plastic bag being opened at that one, it’s all part of the liturgy, it’s all part of the worship, if the words of the onion seller are true. Liturgy is eternal. Worship goes on forever.

Our Gospel passage starts with a real yearning. Jesus is saying to us that from his very heart, God desires to give us his kingdom, we just need to clear a space in order for that to happen, we just need to look around and be ready for where his treasure is to be found on offer. We need to wait for when he comes in the guise of a servant or as a visitor, crossing your threshold on any pretence whatsoever. He will join you at the table where you find yourself, be it the worship we know and love at this table, the table at the back of the church where the Foodbank is, the table in the north aisle where coffee is served, the table of your home, or the desk at your place of work, he comes to places like these at an hour and a time you least expect him.

I have to admit to you that when Luke wrote this passage, he had different ideas. He believed, and so did those to whom he wrote, that Jesus would return in a decisive way in their lifetime. There would be an end to the way we lead our lives now. We would no longer be concerned with day to day routines, but we would be wrapped up in the eternal. Like the onion seller said, A liturgy without end. Worship that is eternal.

Two thousand years later and we still wait. Luke would never have believed it.

“Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again”. When you sing that I wonder what you think? Is it a faithful statement about the future about whose timing and dating we know nothing, or is it a truth that becomes realised in our every waking moment.

This is what I’m getting round to “ that our life at St Matthew’s is about being part of an eternal liturgy in which we continually welcome him at the various tables and offering places in our lives.

Maybe he comes bearing a string of onions for sale when we are on our knees in prayer. Maybe he comes as the 1.15 appointment on a Tuesday at the Foodbank for which we don’t yet know the face but have only a name. Maybe he comes in those testing moments we all face, when we don’t know what to do with someone who appears in our life or something happens and we are flummoxed.

How shall we recognise him amidst all those who clamour for us? I think we recognise him by giving our fullest attention and our best priority to the liturgy and worship we share in this building for here we pray that our eyes and our ears and our hearts may be ever more opened. Here, we see where he is in biblical word and holy sacrament and then more readily find him beyond these encounters, and then grasp the reality of the gift of the kingdom.

A string of onions and a Sainsbury’s plastic bag, you may think it’s stretching a point, but did he not say he was Emmanuel? Did he not say he was God with us? Did he not promise his Holy Spirit so that we could definitely know it? And are we not inheritors of that promise?

LUKE12: 32-40