Receiving God’s Gift of Life: The Eucharist and Gospel of John
Sermon by The Rev. Jodi L. Baron -August 16, 2015 -Pentecost 15, Year B: John 6:51-58
Many of you may know (but some may not) that the readings we select for Sundays come from the Revised Common Lectionary (which many denominations use). The RCL divides the majority of scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) into three years: A, B, and C. The year we are currently following is year B. Interesting fact about Year B Gospel lessons, it’s the only year out of all three that has us in John for five weeks in a row.
The majority of these passages over the last month of Sundays have had something to do with “Bread”.
That substance that most, not all, but most, people in the world have some form of, that they use for daily nutrition.
Some bread enthusiasts have traced this form of mixing flour, water, and yeast back 12,000 years.
In many cultures, in fact, bread is used as a peace offering.
I find that interesting for the obvious connection that makes to why Jesus chose to talk about it so much and why the author of John chose to use it as a guiding metaphor for the purpose behind the Incarnation.
This gospel has often been categorized as a theological exposition of the life and teachings of Jesus, not the events themselves but the application their deeper meaning has on the gathered community; from the Johannine community to Grace Church.
John takes events in Jesus’ life and then simultaneously holds up his present community’s experience, not in competition with each other but side by each; co-existing mysteriously, incarnationally, eucharistically.
In a way, you could say, as one of my professors in seminary used to say, these readings are conversations with the Gospel of John, of which our voice needs to be heard as well.
These readings may, on the surface, appear to be redundant.
But in actuality, these texts go straight to the heart of our Eucharistic Theology, as a church.
For example, the eucharistic prayer we’ve (as Grace Church in Holland, MI) been praying over this season after Pentecost (Prayer C found on page 369 of our Book of Common Prayer) has the language embedded in it:
“Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you.”
“Drink this, all of you: The is my Blood of the new Covenant, which is shed for you and for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
Even today, after 2,000 years of Christians remembering those words Christ spoke, instituting the Eucharist, it makes us think about bread and wine a little differently when we are together.
It sinks into our bones and becomes a part of us. So that every time we pass out bread, or food for that matter, we are extending God’s table to those we feed.
My own children, from before they were fully verbal, when we would sit around the dinner table at night and pass elements around (especially on Sunday nights) one of them would inevitably hold up the bread substance (rolls, toast, tortillas, etc.) and then break it and say,
“This is my body broken for you.”
Sara Miles wrote a whole book on what putting Jesus’ body and blood into her body did for her before she even knew what the Eucharist was.
Grace read it a few years ago, I do believe, right? “Take This Bread?”
It’s powerful, life-giving, life-changing.
But, couldn’t Jesus have just ended this lesson with bread and wine?
Why did he feel compelled to take it even further and superimpose himself as the bread and wine making his flesh and blood the elements he commands us to consume?
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Bread, wine, flesh, blood…
These are all components of the daily human experience.
The language Jesus chose was intentionally provocative.
He was trying to get through to them that the incarnation was all about collapsing the divide between the sacred and profane.
God didn’t come to earth and take on human form to be kept inside a box, right?
God became flesh to be closer to his creation so they could learn his voice and hear him whisper that they are his beloved.
Jesus was that incarnation, that Word made flesh that the Gospel of John opens with in chapter one.
“And 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.” (John 1:14)
So, yes, he did need to take it one step further. He needed to take his followers into the very sources of what keeps them living and breathing, walking and moving.
Without food and water, you will die.
Without flesh and blood, you have no life in you.
“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
That’s a good question.
I’m glad you asked.
Because I get asked that question a lot, so I know you aren’t alone.
So here’s the thing with this gift of life in Jesus that we celebrate when we participate in the Eucharist.
It isn’t something that can be explained or defined or agreed upon definitively by humans, at least not this side of the eschaton, apparently.
But to the people in the Johannine community, this participation of consuming the body and blood of Jesus through the Eucharist was, at its foundation, about relationship and presence.
Eucharist isn’t something you do alone.
And it certainly isn’t something you do from afar.
It is done in community,
with people who look like you and not so much.
With people who grind your nerves, and folks you spend every minute of every day with.
The Eucharist invites us to listen to God’s word and respond in faithfulness by asking for forgiveness, passing the peace of Christ, and walking up to the Table he has set before us.
The Eucharist embodies and re-members all the parts of Christ’s body through one unified act.
Jesus told us that if we participate in this act, of eating and drinking his gift of life, we will be entering into an never-ending dance that goes on for eternity with the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
That together this dance is always resurrecting, always redeeming, never forgetting, always re-membering those who believe and receive.
That’s pretty incredible, when you stop and think about it.
This thing that we do every week is what gives us life.
But we can’t take it. We have to receive it.
Receiving something requires a certain amount of vulnerability. Taking is for the powerful, receiving requires humility and gratitude.
It’s vulnerable when we walk up to the table and hear the words,
“This is the body of Christ, broken for you.”
“This is the blood of the new covenant poured out for you.”
And then hold out our hands in an open posture, and say after we get our gift “may it be so.”
That’s what, I think, this morning’s gospel is opening up for us today.
When we have the courage to be ourselves, no matter where we are
When we feed people,
or give them laundry soap or toilet paper,
or give them music to heal their souls,
or coffee and conversation…
We are being the incarnated loving manifestation of Christ’s body and blood to a world desperate to hear words of peace.
And we have the courage to do that because we eat him at the Eucharist.
Not our doctrines or catechism or who our priests are or aren’t.
None of that really matters.
It’s what we do around this table and in these pews.
We consume God’s Word and Body and it changes us.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
Holding space for new conversation, for new life in Christ;
that’s what we do when we dare to take what we eat on Sunday and share it with our neighbors and friends, our co-workers and people we don’t get along with.
That’s the space where we can dig deep into our bags of courage and go to the vulnerable places. The places where the people are who Jesus told us to invite to the feast.
Not in here.
This is where we come for the experience of communing with God in a formal, communal, liturgical way.
But outside these walls is where the message is needed, that the christianity our community practices is radically inclusive, hopelessly open, painfully incarnational, and has, absolutely, room for all around God’s table.
Even a sinners like you and me.