a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 14B - 13 August 2006

John 6:35-51

Many of us Anglicans, especially the High Church ones, find great comfort and peace in this reading from John's Gospel. 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.' After 2000+ years of Christian Tradition and worship, we know what Jesus is talking about here. Every Sunday we approach the Altar with awe and joy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ and to enjoy all of the graces and benefits that God gives to us in these holy mysteries. But imagine what these words would have sounded like to the original audience. Especially when Jesus adds, ''¦and the bread that I will give to the world is my flesh.' The Jews were horrified! How dare this simple carpenter from Nazareth suggest such an abominable practice. Even to this day many Protestants refuse to accept the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist because they are offended at the suggestion of eating our Lord's flesh and drinking his blood. I get asked questions all of the time like,

'So, is it the pre-resurrection or post-resurrection Jesus that you're eating?'
'Why does it look like bread and wine if it is the body and blood of Christ?'
'Isn't that just cannabilism?'

If I were a Lutheran or a Roman Catholic, I'd be able to give them very well worked out philosophical answers to these and other questions. But for us Anglicans, these questions take away from the nature of 'holy mystery.' Yes, privately we each have an opinion about exactly how it is that Christ is present. But officially, we, following the ancient Tradition of the Church, still preserved in Eastern Orthodoxy, are content to say that Christ is truly present'¦ and leave it there. We believe this, in contrast to the 'symbolic' views of our more Protestant brothers and sisters, because it is clearly taught in Scripture by our Lord Himself and is the unanimous witness of the Early Fathers. It is also the experience of our faith and worship.

But why is this such an important issue? What is Jesus saying when he says he offers his very flesh and blood for the life of the world? Why are we fed with the Precious Body and Blood of Jesus Christ in the Sacrament of the Altar? Well, I'm not going to go through the Scripture and the Fathers and offer 'proof texts' for the belief in the Real Presence (although if you'd like that send me a note privately and I can do that for you). Instead, I want to talk about the Sacrament in general and its place in our life (and spiritual journey.)

First, we need to go back to Baptism. In our baptisms we were united to Christ and made members of His body, members of the community who share in the life of God. When we were raised from the womb of the font, we were sealed by the Holy Spirit and made a new creature. From that moment we began, what will be a lifelong process (and for some of us this process may continue in the life to come) of becoming like Christ. This is in fact the goal of our lives: to become like Christ- which is really another way of articulating being united with God. To help us on this journey towards Christ and God, we are given grace at Baptism to assist us in our struggle to let go of the 'the world, the flesh and the devil' as the old prayer book stated it, and to turn to God. God continues to offer us grace and strength through the Holy Eucharist. In the Eucharist, the body of Christ gathers and assembles as One to partake of the One bread and the One cup. In this holy communion Christ offers his body to us, so that in our partaking, we may become what we are- what we were created a new to be at Baptism: the Body of Christ, present and active in the world. By partaking of the very life of God in the Body and Blood of Christ, we are sustained in our continuing struggle to be liberated from 'the world, the flesh and the devil' and are empowered to continually turn towards God. We receive holy communion often because we need the grace it gives. Our struggle against our 'fallen' selves and the evil in the world can be a struggle rife with suffering and failure. How many times, like St Paul, do we find ourselves bemoaning our sins and confessing our desire to live more like Christ? Paul wrote:

21So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25Thanks be to God'through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (Romans 7:21-25)

The Early Fathers acknowledged this struggle in the Christian life as well. The 'rescue' of course is Christ; and the holy communion offers a temporary aid or cure to our 'sin sickness.' The Fathers called holy communion the 'medicine of immortality' because by it we find spiritual restoration. By this 'medicine' Christ, to quote the Orthodox saint, Hesychios, 'will enlighten our mind ever more and cause it to shine like a star.'

We are offered the Body and Blood of Christ so that by receiving the life of God, we may become the Body of Christ. St. Augustine wrote:

Let us rejoice, then, and give thanks that we are made not only Christians, but
Christ.... If he is the head and we the members, then together he and we are the
whole man. If, therefore, you are the body of Christ and his members, it is your Mystery
placed on the Lord's table; it is your Mystery that you receive.... Be what you see,
and receive what you are.

But before we can receive the life which unites us and forms us as the Body of Christ, we must present ourselves to God. In the Offertory we present bread and wine to become the Body of Christ, but in order for us to receive its benefits, we must also offer ourselves as living sacrifices, so that the Holy Spirit may descend upon us as well, and through the holy communion we may also become the Body of Christ. When we do this together, we are united with others who are also journeying towards union with God, and we are also united with those in glory who already know the fullness of God.

And the promise and the hope, given by our Lord Himself in today's reading from John, is that those who are nourished on His Body and Blood, will be given life- abundant life, and on the Last Day, Christ will 'raise them up' into the eternal Life of God. On that day, the victory won by Christ by the offering of Himself on the Cross and through His glorious Resurrection, will be realized and known by all who have engaged in the struggle to resist the world and to turn to God. Thanks be to God.
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:15 AM


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