+ A sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Year B) / Proper 15B / Ordinary 20B at Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Bellevue, WA on August 19, 2018 +
Texts: John 6:51-58
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
There’s a story I heard this week about a congregation not unlike ours – it was during a regular Sunday worship and, just like every week, the pastor was standing at the table ready to celebrate Holy Communion.
But on this occasion, the pastor writes, “When [he] repeated Jesus’ familiar words, ‘This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you,’ a small girl suddenly said in a loud voice, ‘Ew, yuk!’
The congregation looked horrified.”
I think for many of us, the Eucharist has become such a regular part of our week, of our lives, that we may gloss over the radical nature of this meal.
We may gloss over the really carnal nature of those words too.
The words that I say every week may loose the shock value that they would have for a first time listener.
Many of us have heard these words our entire lives – how might we explain them to a visitor – or a small girl – who hears them for the first time?
“This is my body, this is my blood.”
This is what we heard in today’s reading – this is how Jesus introduces the Eucharistic meal to us in John’s gospel.
And like the girl in that story, the religious leaders of Jesus’ time balk at his description of this meal.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they wonder aloud.
And Jesus only intensifies their discomfort with his reply, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
At first this sounds like pure cannibalism.
And even more, the word that Jesus uses for eating suggests more of a gnawing, a crunching on the bones.
It’s a truly grizzly description. I can certainly understand why the crowd, and that girl, is alarmed at Jesus’ words.
He wants us to gnaw on his flesh and drink his blood?
Sounds pretty gross.
But I think focusing on the more gory parts of this might be missing the point.
I don’t think Jesus is trying to gross us out.
And while these words get our attention, I don’t think he’s talking of a gruesome feast on his body.
Remember, Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
The living bread.
This is a meal of life.
I think Jesus is trying to tell us that he is giving his entire self for us – body and blood – the wholeness of Christ, given to us.
This is one of the primary reasons that Jesus has come to earth – to give us the fullness of God that we can see, taste, and experience in our lives.
This true food and true drink is meant as a living gift for us.
And like a loving mother giving food for her family, like a person eat a meal with someone living on the street, like a nurse giving a drink of water to his patient, this is an intimate and lasting gift.
Food has a special way of becoming a part of us.
I’m sure we’ve all heard that expression, “You are what you eat.”
Because when we take food or drink into our bodies, it becomes part of our body – it gives us fuel and energy, it nourishes us with vitamins and minerals, it sticks to our bones and strengthens our muscles, it courses through our veins reaching every part of us.
It’s essential to life.
And that’s why we are told to eat vegetables, whole grains, and fruits to nourish our bodies rather than the empty calories of junk food that lack in true substance.
Because you are what you eat.
But Jesus tells us that this food is different, that this drink is unlike anything we’ve ever known – this is himself that he is giving to us.
And I think that John is helping to clue us into the truly remarkable gift this is.
Way back at the beginning of his gospel, we hear the familiar and cryptic words:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” (John 1:1-4)
And a few verses later,
“The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth… From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:14,16)
This is what we call the incarnation, when the Word, God, became flesh and dwelled among us in the person of Jesus.
And now, Jesus is telling us that he is giving us his flesh.
He is giving us his flesh to become part of our flesh.
In an act of intimacy and communion, we gather around this table as we hold Jesus, the Word of God, the fullness of God, in our hands and then we ingest Christ into our bodies.
Then this bread and wine, Jesus’ flesh and blood, becomes a part of our body – it fuels us for lives of discipleship and service, it nourishes us with grace and love, it sticks to our bones and strengthens our souls, it courses through our veins reaching every part of us.
Through this meal, through this sacrament, the Word that created the universe chooses to dwell within us, to become a part of us, to fill us and unite us with God.
In the fulfillment of the incarnation, the Word became flesh and dwells within us as we are transformed into bearers of the Word of God, bearers of Christ in the world.
Or as one spiritual teacher put it, “When we eat material food, it becomes us. When we eat spiritual food, we become it.”
We receive the body of Christ and we become the body of Christ – the living bread of heaven given for the world.
Now, we still may wonder how this can happen.
We still may echo the religious leaders who wonder aloud, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
How can this bread be Jesus’ flesh and how can this wine be his blood?
And we’re not alone – for centuries theologians have pondered this mystery and come up with all sorts of explanations of how this could happen.
In seminary, I learned all about these theological explanations and how different denominations view what happens at this table.
I learned about doctrines like transubstantiation, real presence, a memorial feast, and more.
I learned about the disputes, the battles, and the schisms that this theologizing caused.
And while the theological nerd in me loves to grapple with these different views of the Eucharist, to ponder what each means for us and for the church, if we look at Jesus, he doesn’t spend time explaining how this could happen, but only telling us that it does.
He doesn’t answer the question ‘how could this be?’ he only promises that it is.
He tells us that he is giving himself for the life of those who receive him.
This isn’t something that doctrine alone can encompass because this gift surpasses our ability to fully comprehend it.
This isn’t something that we necessarily have to understand to benefit from – we don’t have to believe correctly, to ascent mentally, to grasp the theology – but we only have to receive this gift of life.
As I said four weeks ago when we first started looking at this chapter of John with the feeding of 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish – the same people, by the way, that are around him in today’s gospel reading – Jesus has come among us so we can experience abundance.
An abundance of grace, an abundance of love, an abundance of life.
And this abundance is intended for the here and now – not just constrained to when we die.
This is a gift of sharing in the life that God intends for us and for the world, in experiencing the love of God in our lives and in our bodies, in sharing the divine life that God knows and the divine vision God has for the creation.
A life where the Word has become flesh and dwells within us.
We take the body and blood of Christ into our hands, into our stomachs, into our bodies and like the food that we eat, Christ becomes a part of us and we become a part of Christ.
We become so intimately connected, so intrinsically united, that nothing can separate us.
And through this gift, Christ has promised to always be a part of us, to stick with us no matter what.
That God’s love for us is so deep, so intimate, that God has chosen to unite with us forever.
And just as this food and drink spread to every part of our body, Christ’s love spreads through our entire lives.
So that no matter our joys or struggles, no matter our hopes and fears, no matter our successes or failures, no matter our family situation or our rough day at the office, no matter our medical conditions or new adventures, God has joined Godself to all of them through this gift and promise – that God’s love will forever be present in every aspect of our lives.
So come, come again to this table.
Come and receive this piece of bread and this cup, hold the fullness of God in your hand as you hear that Christ’s body and blood have been given for you.
Taste this heavenly food as it enters your mouth and feel Christ flow to every part of your body.
Come and receive Christ’s promise, Christ’s body, Christ’s love for you, forever.
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