I invite each of you to close your eyes and remember a time when you were really looking forward to doing something with someone. Maybe it was at Christmas, when you went to visit your cousins or your parents or grandparents, and you knew that you would have a great time eating and playing and hanging out at their house.
Maybe you are remembering a visit with a friend. Did you meet for a meal? Did you go out somewhere with them that you enjoyed? A pub, a restaurant, a theatre, a walk in the park?
Something I really look forward to every year is going with my daughter to the Porchester spa on a wintry day. I love getting on the bus and riding all the way to Queensway in west London. The colder and more miserable the day, the better. Best of all is when it snows. Then there is the sheer pleasure of walking into a cosy, warm building and getting a lovely welcome from the woman on the till, and knowing that a whole day stretches out in front of you, to swim, to lie in the sauna and the steam room, to plunge into the cold tub, to relax on a lounger and read, to eat a salad lunch in your dressing gown, and perhaps on a really good day to have a massage or a salt scrub.
When we have something to look forward to, we can’t wait to do it. We count down the days and the hours. Perhaps some of you remember the excitement of waiting for the release of the new Star Wars film. People in their twenties might remember queuing up to get the latest Harry Potter book as soon as it was published. Really old people like me can remember the thrill of buying the latest LP by Simon and Garfunkel or James Taylor as soon as it was in the shops. Or even better, actually going to hear one of our musical idols live.
Now compare and contrast that feeling of anticipation, of not being able to stand waiting any longer, with the feeling we get when we do something we have to do. Do we always look forward to getting ready for school or work on a Monday morning? Are we excited about getting the groceries in or going to the dentist?
And let’s be honest, how do we feel about getting up and going to church on a Sunday? Maybe we come because someone tells us we have to. Maybe we come because we are looking forward to chatting to our friends afterwards, or hearing some lovely music.
But we probably don’t get a flutter of excitement and a deep sense of anticipation about coming to a church service. For most of us, it has become a routine thing to do, perhaps even a duty. We don’t expect very much. We might even assume that we will be bored.
Today, though, I hope, is different. Because today, five young members of our congregation, five people who were baptized long ago when they were very young, are taking a big step in their journey of faith. They are going to receive Holy Communion for the first time. I hope those five, at least, are feeling a sense of excitement and anticipation today. And I hope their parents and grandparents and friends are too.
Receiving Holy Communion means having a personal meeting with Jesus Christ. He is the host. He is the one who has invited us to be here, not me or Timothy or Kimberly or even Bishop Rob. Jesus says to each one of us, I want to be in a relationship with you. I know you and I love you. I want to feed you at my table and enjoy spending time with you. I want to fill you with the strength and the enthusiasm to share my love in the world.
Just imagine for a moment if your favourite celebrity popped up in church just now and said, come and spend some time with me. Think for a minute who you would most like to see step up to you and offer you their hand. It doesn’t have to be an actual person who is alive right now. It could be a character in a book, or a person from the past. One of the people I wish I could meet right now is the actor Alan Rickman who has just died. I loved watching him on stage and in films. Maybe some of you are thinking of David Bowie. Wouldn’t a lunch with him be a treat?
Imagine how excited you would be to meet your idol. And then stop and remember that a real person, Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago but who was raised by God and is alive right now, wants to spend time with you here and now. The very same real person who was mobbed by thousands of people as he walked the roads, preaching and teaching and healing, is here and he is calling you by name.
We heard in today’s gospel that two really old people, Simeon and Anna, were waiting in the Temple in Jerusalem for the arrival of a special baby. They knew that he would be the Saviour of their people. They were filled with excitement and anticipation. They knew they wouldn’t live to see Jesus grow up and do his life’s work, but they trusted that God would make things right now that Jesus was here.
Remember that moment in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe when Peter and Susan and Edmund and Lucy hear Mr and Mrs Beaver talking about Aslan being on the move?
And now a very curious thing happened. None of the children knew who Aslan was any more than you do; but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something to you which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning—either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into that dream again. It was like that now. At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in his inside.
Simeon and Anna felt something jump in their insides when Mary and Joseph brought their baby Jesus into the Temple. They knew this was the one they had been waiting for. They didn’t know how things were going to turn out. They knew it wouldn’t all be plain sailing. There would be challenges and sadness as well as joy. But they knew that Jesus was bringing salvation for everyone.
Something should jump in our inside when we come to church to receive Holy Communion. Someone is here who is mysterious, beautiful, dangerous, loving and beyond all our imagining. We haven’t gone looking for him – he has come looking for us. He is inviting us to his meal. He wants to spend time with us.
A wise monk once said that when it is time to pray, we should run to our prayer-place, so that we can start to feel excited about spending time with God. I am not suggesting that we should run up to receive Communion, because we might trip some other people up, but I want you to feel the excitement, the jump in the inside, because what is happening is deep magic. The one who created the whole universe is looking right into your eyes and calling you by name. That is pretty exciting, isn’t it?