PROPER 15 B
The language of this reading is nearly offensive to me, and I wonder what a newcomer to the church would think about it. It is so visceral – flesh and blood – eating flesh and drinking blood. I’ve always had a problem with it because I’d like to think that we’re too civilized for cannibal language. The Jews who heard it would have had a problem too, especially about the blood, because of their dietary rules.
I think part of the shock to our ears happens because we live so far from the production of our own food. We go to the store and buy food already cleaned and wrapped in packages. It’s easy to forget that plants and animals have to die in order for us to live.
Pastor Irv reminded us of an old joke in Text Study this week, a joke about a pig and a chicken. The church in a small town was having a breakfast to raise funds for mission. In a farmer’s barnyard, a chicken walked up to the pig and said, “The church is having a ham and eggs breakfast this Sunday to raise money. I think we ought to go.”
The pig said, “No way!” “But why not?” asked the chicken, “it’s for a good cause.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” replied the pig. “They only want a donation from you, but from me they want a total commitment.”
Isn’t the ultimate commitment that of giving yourself for others? Wasn’t it just this sort of commitment that Jesus had that led to his death?
If, as I noted last week, we can understand the metaphor of feeding as meaning much more than just food, but as taking care of us in many other ways, then this must be present in the body and blood, the bread and the wine as well.
We can see this clearly in the reading from Proverbs, where Wisdom, personified as a woman, prepares bread and wine, invites those in need of help, and urges them to eat, laying aside immaturity and walking in the way of insight. Long before Jesus, the idea of food for the soul was alive and well.
Ephesians addresses the issue of wisdom even more specifically. “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise . . .”
This reminds me of an old Indian tale about an elder teaching his grandson about the trials of being a grown-up. He said, “There are two wolves that live inside each of us. One urges us to do the right thing, to walk in love and harmony. The other urges us to do evil, thinking only of ourselves.”
“But Grandfather,” the little boy asked, “which one wins?”
“The one you feed,” he replied.
So, which one do we want to feed and how? Fast food or slow food; junk food or soul food?
This Gospel makes clear that one of the purposes of communion is that it allows Christ to abide in us and we in him. That means there is a direct connection or relationship between us. Receiving bread and wine that has been blessed by God allows us to lay aside our hurts, our brokenness, our anger, and wrangling, in order to become more like Jesus – to put on the mind of Jesus, if you will. To see things as He would see them. In other words, it is a source of insight – seeing into ourselves, or others, or the world, and seeing below or beyond the surface of things.
Something else Pastor Irv said this week. He has noticed that while most people receive bread with open hands, as we were all taught to do, some of them now take it from him. This is something I’ve also noticed and assumed it came from the relatively new use of intinction, so that the person is already holding the bread for dipping in the wine. But he saw it as the difference between receiving and taking. Subtle, perhaps, but something worth considering.
Our ritual should say something about our attitude and open hands make it clear that we are the parties receiving – not just bread and wine, but the gifts of grace, love, forgiveness, healing, care and wisdom from our God.
One of the commentators for last week’s lesson quoted from the work of Carl Jung, a Christian student of Freud. “Freud has unfortunately overlooked the fact that man has never yet been able, single-handed, to hold his own against the power of darkness. . Man has always stood in need of the spiritual help which each individual’s own religion held out to him. Man is never helped in his suffering by what he thinks for himself, but only by revelation of a wisdom greater than his own. It is this which lifts him out of his distress.”
This is the insight that Wisdom offers us in Proverbs; it is the wisdom we are encouraged to in Ephesians, and it is the wisdom and insight offered to us every week in the Eucharistic meal of bread and wine – a chance to connect with and receive from the living God, not just food, but healing, love, forgiveness, courage, and wisdom.
As I noted the last time I preached on this text, the Greek is even more visceral than our translation. Rather than to eat and drink, it’s more like to chew and gulp.
Well, to chew the flesh of Jesus and to gulp his blood is a proactive grasping for the Word, an attempt to incorporate it so completely in our lives that we are actually able to live as Jesus did. This is the act that goes far beyond believing or understanding or any other form of analysis. It operates at the gut level – literally.
Mere belief and intellectual consent are not enough for Jesus. We must commit ourselves body and soul as well. We do that by hearing the Word of God each week, eating the Word of God each week, incorporating that Word into our very being, and then going out into the world to make the Word come alive, to be the Word in the world. This is food that transforms us, so that we have the wisdom and courage to go forth into the world to transform others.