Monday, August 17, 2015

Food for Our Souls, Not Our Minds

Brad Sullivan
Proper 15, Year B
August 16, 2015
Saint Mark's Episcopal Church, Bay City, TX
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

“[Lord] Deliver us from the presumption of coming to this Table for solace only, and not for strength; for pardon only, and not for renewal.  Let the grace of this Holy Communion make us one body, one spirit in Christ, that we may worthily serve the world in his name.”  These words are from Eucharistic Prayer C, the third option of Eucharistic Prayer in our Rite II, modern language liturgy.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, instituting the sacrament of his body and blood in remembrance of him.  This was just before he went to the cross and died, a meal that we would eat for the forgiveness of our sins. 

In John’s Gospel, a meal is not mentioned at the end of Jesus’ life, but in the middle of his ministry.  Jesus talks about eating his body and blood, the bread which came down from heaven, after he had just fed the 5000 with the loaves and fish.  They were no longer physically hungry, and yet Jesus knew they were still spiritually famished.  They needed a different meal, spiritual sustenance, not just to prepare for the end, but for their whole lives.  We consume Jesus, take him into ourselves, and have him become a physical and spiritual part of us so that we can journey through this life, so that we can work for the Gospel, not for solace only, but also for strength; not for pardon only, but also for renewal. 

While countless Christians eat this meal every week, we can never really consider it to be routine, and certainly not mundane.  We come here for an encounter with the divine, the creator of all that is.  The enormity and power of that cannot be overstated.  Then, at Jesus’ invitation, we are bold enough to eat his flesh and blood in word and sacrament.  The enormity and power, and even audacity of that action cannot be overstated. 

I wonder if we’re not always aware of the enormity of what we’re doing when we come here.  We come for an encounter with God, asking his to take part in our lives, possibly not even really ready for him to say “yes”.  Author Annie Dillard writes about Christianity and her faith, and in Teaching a Stone to Talk, wrote about the enormity of what we’re doing here at the Eucharist.
On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions.  Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke?  Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it?  The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning.  It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets.  Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews.  For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.

Kids mixing up a bunch of TNT.  God just may draw us out to where we can never return, may call us to follow and convict us so strongly, that the whole trajectory of our lives may change.  Considering the danger to our comfort and routine, one might wonder why we risk coming here at all.  I think the answer is shown in how Jesus spoke about us eating his flesh.  He talked about us eating his flesh, but the word he used did not describe a dainty eating of a nice, easy meal.  The word he used for eat connotes a ravenous ripping and chewing, the kind of eating done by someone who hasn’t eaten in two weeks.

Jesus is emphasizing the hugeness of our spiritual hunger.  He knows how much we need his life within us.  He knows how ravenous our souls are for him.

We don’t look particularly ravenous when we come here do we?  We’re sitting nicely, listening as we partake of the first part of this meal, the reading and hearing of scripture.  Jesus is the Word of God which spoke creation into existence.  So in the first part of our worship, we hear the Word of God proclaimed through scripture.  This is a meal in and of itself, an eating of Jesus’ flesh, for as Jesus said, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, “one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”  We are fed by the reading of scripture and the hearing of God’s word.

Then, in the second part of our meal, we are fed by the bread and wine, the flesh and blood of Jesus.  Considering the enormity of what is happening in this meal, I can’t help but note the neat and orderly way we approach the table for Eucharist, for a meal that Jesus says we are starving for.  It seems we would be clamoring pell-mell to the table if realized our hunger.  I realize our orderly approach is also out of reverence and awe, and I’m really glad we don’t knock each other out of the way to get to the Altar Rail and receive communion. 

Jesus tells us we are starving for this meal, but he doesn’t really tell us how this meal works.  In John’s Gospel, he doesn’t even give us instructions for how to eat his flesh at all.  He simply says to do so, and he tells us what we receive in eating the meal of his flesh and blood.

We receive Eternal life – God’s life within us.  We receive life everlasting, living forever with God.  We receive a dwelling of God within us, abiding with God in Jesus.

We don’t know exactly how that works.  Jesus didn’t say, and we don’t need to know.  For a lot of parents, it is important that their children know what is going on in the Eucharist before they eat the Eucharist.  I always encourage parents to let their kids have communion as soon as they are baptized.  While none of us fully understand, kids do seem to understand almost instinctively.  This is not an everyday meal we share.  This is something else, something special.  It is a mystery, and it is a joining with God and each other.

As physical food goes, there’s not much to it, not much that would have a kid think “I just got a yummy snack.”  As food for our souls, however, this meal is enormous, and a meal which children seem to absolutely get in their souls, if not in their minds.  It is a meal, after all for our souls, and not for our minds.  We share this meal, we feast on Jesus’ flesh and blood, and he promises us life eternal, abiding with him forever…strength for the journey now, and life everlasting when our journeys have ended.  It is a meal for the ravenously hungry, who are bold enough to take this meal, to risk joining with God, being strengthened by him, and following where he leads.  Amen.

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