Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sermon; 12 Pentecost, Proper 15B; John 6:51-58

Jesus said, “I am the living bread.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; the bread I will give is my flesh.”

This, of course, caused some consternation among the people.  How can this be?  How can he give us his flesh to eat?  And rather than say something like, “It was a figure of speech,” Jesus goes off on a cannibalistic homily that does nothing to minimize his words and everything to cause his disciples to begin wondering if they had made the right choice.

Chapter 6 of John has generated a lot of discussion for a few thousand years as to its meaning.  Some take it to be a dissertation on faith.  Others take it to be the foundation for Holy Communion.  And there are plenty of other interpretations and meanings to be found because this is, after all, John.

I want to spend time looking at the sacramental aspect of this passage.  If we understand this passage to be a forerunner or explanation of Holy Communion – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life; Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him – then I think we need to look at the entirety of Chapter 6.

The official position of this church is that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion.  It doesn't matter in what part of the Christian alphabet you were baptized – TEC, RC, UMC, PCUSA, ABC, SBC, AG, ELCA, LCMS, NALC, LCWS, AMEC – if you were baptized in water in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, you are welcome to receive Communion.  And there are no age requirements; baptized means baptized and that means eligible.

Many of us remember a time when that was not so.  Reception of Communion had to wait until one was Confirmed; which for most of us meant 13 and at which time you now understood what happens at Communion.  But be honest . . . how many of us understand exactly what happens at Communion?  The argument against this practice arose in conjunction with the development of the 1979 BCP, and it went something like this: Do we make a child understand how nutrition works before we feed her?  No, so why make people wait until Confirmation before they can receive Communion?

As with both biological and adoptive parents, we begin feeding our children as soon as we welcome them into our household.  We can worry about education later.  And, if we are looking at Chapter 6 as a whole, this is exactly how Jesus is operating.

One of the problems I have with some feeding programs, or with places such as Gospel Rescue Missions, is that they often subject their recipients to a mandatory church service of some kind before they are allowed to receive food.  These particular programs either want to drive home the fact that the food is being provided by a Christian organization, or they want to try to convert as many people as possible.

Notice, though, how Chapter 6 is laid out.  Jesus talks a lot about the bread of life.  He tells people to work for the food that endures for eternal life.  He basically equates himself to God.  And today he explicitly tells people they must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life.  He is instructing the people that it is only through him that eternal life can be granted.
But this may be the most important thing to notice about this chapter: all of that talk about the bread of life, eternal life, equating himself to God and eating his body and drinking his blood all comes after they have been fed.  Jesus doesn't make the crowd sit through a long dissertation about God, or on the meaning of what they are about to receive.  The crowd gathers, food is found, people are fed.

In other words, feeding takes precedence over instruction.

Another thing to notice is that Jesus doesn't really instruct the people.  He doesn't give a presentation on how to be part of his movement.  He doesn't even ask people to come to understand the meaning of his body and blood.  What Jesus does is to make this less of an instruction manual that people need to understand, and more of a series of promises in which he invites people to believe.

I will give you the food that endures for eternal life.  Do you believe me?
If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have eternal life.  Do you believe me?

As I said, the official position of this church is that all baptized Christians are welcome to receive Holy Communion.  Through baptism one is recognized as a member of the household of God.

What this means, of course, is that if you are not baptized you are not canonically eligible to receive Communion.  It means that you need to express an interest in baptism and then, as the bulletin says, speak with me after the service about being baptized into the community of faith.  In other words, we need to have a conversation and instruction about this whole baptismal thing before you are eligible to receive that holy food.  Which, by the way, is totally not how Jesus did it.

Feed the people, then we talk.

Aside from having a theological conversation about whether or not this church should continue to restrict Holy Communion to baptized Christians, this should get us thinking about the holy mystery that is the sacrament of Christ’s body and blood.

Eat my body.  Drink my blood.  Believe in the promise that this meal provides the food that endures for eternal life.  By partaking of this meal, by receiving the bread and wine that is body and blood, by receiving holy food, we are participating in the promise Jesus made of being with us always.  Those who eat his body and drink his blood abide in him, and he in them.

Eat my body.  Drink my blood.  It's not cannibalism.  It's a promise that, for as long as we turn to Jesus for nourishment, he will abide in us and we in him.  And in that act we will live forever.

The challenge for us, as it was for Jesus and his disciples, is letting people know this is a good thing.



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