The language of zombies

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 20
Focus Text: John 6:51-58

This sermon is a revision of a sermon I preached on August 20, 2006 in the Parish of Three Harbours as their rector.

I am a late bloomer in Anglicanism. I encountered Anglicanism in my university days and was confirmed when I moved back to PEI to start working. When the time came for my confirmation classes, the rector decided I was not in need of too much one-on-one teaching. He gave me a copy of “This is Our Faith” by Ian Stuchbery and told me to come back when I had some questions.

I came to Anglicanism from a straight up-accept Jesus as your Lord and Saviour yes or no Baptist background. Not a lot of ambiguity in my faith journey up until that point. When I finished the book, I had one question for Fr. Ted. “OK, so, we’re not Catholic and we don’t believe that communion is Jesus in the flesh. But it’s not just a memorial, like when we do it in the Baptist church. It’s a sign, but not just a sign. What does that mean?” Ted laughed and shook his head, as he would do a lot when we had such conversations. “When you figure it out, fill the rest of us in. ”

When we are faced with something difficult to understand, our tendency is to focus on the technicalities. I thought if I could hear and then give a clear explanation, then I would “pass” and be a real Anglican. If we can tear apart and understand the technicalities, or dismiss them entirely, then we can lose our discomfort. Technicalities are safe when there is a deeper truth that we don’t want to deal with.

This gospel reading has a kind of shock and awe value to it. To have life, you must gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood. Paying attention now? Not a lot of mystery there. That’s pretty strong language, kind of gory, actually. What would compel Him to speak so strongly about this feast?

On one hand, it is the language of zombies and vampires. Yes. Zombies and vampires. It is not symbolic language. Eat my flesh, drink my blood. That’s what those who were with Jesus would have heard. It’s visceral. We want to explain it away, cloak it in sacramental words of worship. My husband calls this, “the reading where Jesus says, ‘Bite me'”.

It is the language of yearning, Jesus’ yearning to dwell with us, and for us to dwell with him, that he talks about being consumed by us and us by him.

We can imagine what I mean when I say the word yearning. That feeling deep in your gut, of longing. It is the pain of not having and, at the same time, knowing in hope that the emptiness will be filled. When one is hungry, what do we yearn for? I yearn for bread-soft, filling, nutritious bread, prepared by loving hands. If Jesus is the Bread of Life, he can fulfill our every yearning. The language of sacrament is the language of connection and relationship.

To know me, Jesus says, you must eat my flesh and drink my blood. This is not about tasks or duty, this is about Jesus knowing our every yearning, and promising to fill us, to make us whole. Herbert O’ Driscoll writes “… we must fully internalize our own religion before it becomes a grace for us. . . we must take our Lord, his words, his life, his pattern of response, into our own lives. One must blend with the other. . . We take his spirit into our spirits.”

The language of John goes even deeper. Jesus does not only want to love and be loved by us, Jesus wants to abide in us, and for us to abide in him. If, each time we take communion, something of God enters into each of us, so also, something more of us enters into Christ. Communion requires two or more, the giver and the recipient.

It is like the language of marriage, I— all of me— love you— all of you— with all of me. Nothing will satisfy us, short of Jesus Himself.

As Jason has taken us through the letter to the Ephesians, we have heard the call to imitate Christ, being filled with the Spirit, living lives filled with love. We receive the body of Christ so that we become the body and blood of Christ.

I have two questions to leave you with. First, how many times in your life have you received the Eucharist? For an adult, the number could easily be over a thousand. A thousand times to have come into God’ s presence and received the Body and Blood of Christ. A thousand times asking God’ s Spirit to dwell in you. A thousand times God has offered Godself to you and you have received God into your heart. And for all of those thousand or more times you have received the Body and Blood of Christ, how much have you been transformed?

Jesus offers us his body and blood for us to receive with our inner-most being. There is something beautifully visceral about the language of food and body, something that John and Jesus understood when Jesus called himself the Bread of Life. In this Eucharistic feast, as we gather for this sacred meal, and we receive Christ and become part of Christ, it is our souls that are nourished. One could come forward, have a sip of wine, a piece of bread, and carry on, untransformed. Or, we come forward in faith, receive the body and blood of Christ, and allow ourselves to be transformed.


3 thoughts on “The language of zombies

  1. Thank you for sharing, Dawn. I wish I could have been there (either time)!.
    I come from one of those yes-or-no Baptist(y) traditions, though I grew up with nothing (I’m a convert to what you emerged out of, I guess).
    In our peculiar tradition, though, a couple of things are intriguing. One is that we have ambiguity, mystery, struggle, self-critique, and exploration. Even though were a Bible-based group like evangelicals, we are restorationists, in that we always go back to the Word of God (i.e., Jesus), returning through the word of God (i.e., Bible) to the present, allowing the past to critique us.
    That’s at our best, of course. And perhaps our worst.
    Second is that we believe that communion (and baptism) is a sign, a symbol, a ritual, a liturgical moment, obedience, etc. All those things. But it is more. Why we aren’t accepted by evangelicals, is that we believe it does something. What it does, we say not. We think it is more than symbol, though.
    Perhaps this is one reason I am consistently drawn to Anglicanism. There are other reasons–you are one of them Dawn, as we worshiped with you in Antigonish. My grandmother was an Anglican, and 2 or 3 important profs. And the people I have ended up studying–Newton first, then Wesley, then C.S. Lewis, all Anglican.
    I may be one of these converts yet!

    1. Dawn

      Oh heavens, as much as I would love to claim you as our own, you are exactly where you need to be.

      I’ve spent the past few days reflecting on what you said above, allowing the past to critique us.

      Can you say more about that?

      Man I wish you were closer!!

      1. I wish we were closer too, Dawn. But your time for PEI is still long from now, I believe. We could use you here, though.
        You spoke in Antigonish once of the three-legged stool of Anglicanism. My tradition is tricky in that we have many legs as part of our “heritage” leg. We are a unity movement, bringing in Congregational, Methodist, Baptist & Presbyterian legs. But the idea of the past echoes still.
        My community (when it works, which it doesn’t) engages in a continual radical theological self-critique where the contemporary culture is the “destination language” of our translation of the gospel, but not the determinative value of our theological formation (so not like Schleiermacher or even Tillich).
        But that gospel isn’t immediately evident to us, for all kinds of reasons our generation implicitly understands: culture, language, distance, text, history, geographical flavour, and the reading site issues of us biased-bound individual readers. So we read the gospel as living text (word & Word), I believe, understanding we don’t have immediate access to all truth. So we read (and this is my addition to our tradition) allowing all of Christian history up to the present to aid us in our self-critical project of reading the living text and then living it out, sharing Word in Eucharist and word in Mission.
        In this way, I am not (ideally) just a Canadian, white, Scottish-descended, denominationally-bound, rural-urban, straight married father, etc. But I am all ages, all traditions, all experiences as I allow them to critique my reading.
        So it means knowing the theologies of the past and today. It’s a big project, and impossible to complete. But I think that’s the point. So we throw ourselves into the fellowship of invisible Sisters and Brothers in all times and all places, an emerge with a reading of the gospel that critiques our lives and traditions today. Then we translate that to our culture.
        Does that make sense?

What think ye?

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