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.