Fr. Dominique Peridans
At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Chapter 11, Jesus’ ministry is in full swing: soaring sermons, holy healings, companion commissioning and town tussles. If Jesus had a Facebook page, it would be bursting at its seams! [A good question to ponder: if the Incarnation had occurred in our time, would Jesus have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account?]
Jesus then underscores the unbelief and the resulting inhospitality of his own people. Early Church Father, Saint John Chrysostom (+407) says that Jesus “puts this question, showing that nothing had been omitted that ought to be done for their salvation.” In other words, God gave His people all that they needed for their encounter with their Savior, and they did not believe in or welcome Him.
Contrasted with this, from a place of vulnerability, we have a surprising, surprisingly intimate moment, a conversation with the Father—and we get to eavesdrop! Jesus thanks the Father for sharing His secrets (i.e., what He carries deep in His heart) with those whom one might not expect: not the leaders of His people, but with the child-like. “You…have revealed them to infants.”
In so doing, Jesus reveals the key to receiving the secrets of God: being child-like. Is that it? You mean: no ascetic practices, no social justice campaign, no theology degree, no moral perfection, no yogic stillness, no perfect church attendance? No. These are all secondary—important, perhaps even intrinsic, but secondary. Children are not ascetic or engaged in social justice, have no degrees, are morally immature, cannot typically sit still and, on their own, would probably not attend church because too boring . The child-like: those who trust, who judge not, who welcome.
Now, what is beautiful, and so hope-filled, is that God actually wants to share His secrets. It is His wish. He does not need to. God, however, is love, and love, by nature, radiates. God simply wants to share His secrets, and His true(est) secret is Himself. God opens His mystery to each of us. And thus the great(est) secret in our lives is God, is Christ.
From this intimate conversation with the Father, Jesus extends the unconditional invitation that we read in verse 28: “Come to me.” You will notice, as suggested, that there are no contractual terms. Jesus does not say, “Come to me all you who can pay dues, all you who understand the divine mysteries, all you whose track record is impeccable and have your act together.” Au contraire, we are invited to “come” as we are: indebted, misunderstood, hobbling, incomplete, uncertain, scared, indifferent—“all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens.” What an invitation!
There is one unusual condition in the un-conditional invitation, however. If we are to experience the rest of which Jesus speaks, rest that comes directly from His heart, we must take upon ourselves His yoke and His burden. And this is where Jesus loses me.
Another yoke does not equal rest! And, so, I respond, “Jesus, if you give me your yoke and your burden, I’ll be pressed to the ground, and will never find rest.” Well, if ever there were a man of his word, it is Jesus. And, Jesus promises rest—somehow, in taking His yoke and burden upon us. This, of course, can only make sense if the yoke, is, in fact, a source of liberation and strength. What liberates and strengthens? Love.
Now, which act of Jesus—although burdensome at one level for a time, in fact, supremely communicates divine love? The Cross. The mystery of the Cross. And so, I think Jesus says, “Meet me at the Cross.” Which does not translate: “Meet me, in your imagination, in Jerusalem on Calvary.” or “Meet me in your ascetic attempts at imitating the Cross”. Instead, “Meet me in my pouring forth of divine love—which can even occur in your suffering.” The love that Jesus poured forth at the Cross is eternal. The horrific pain that he endured at the Cross was momentary. The love liberates and strengthens, and attracts us to Jesus, who says—unconditionally—“Come to me”.
If we accept the invitation, we are set free from all that keeps us from loving, i.e. burdens of the heart, and we find rest for our souls. Our souls can only find rest in our Source, in God, our home. “Come to me” can otherwise be said, “Come home.” We have only to let ourselves be drawn, to accept the invitation. Jesus will take care of the rest. Jesus deposits His Spirit within us Who, within us, “takes care of the rest”.
Let us then “rejoice greatly” and “shout aloud!” “Our King comes to us…triumphant and victorious, humble” (first reading), gracious and full of compassion, of great kindness…loving to everyone” (psalm).
Sermon prepared by the Rev. Dominique Peridans
for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost
Preached by the Rev. Dr. Tricia Lyons.
A Sermon prepared by Fr. Dominique Peridans
for Corpus Christi Sunday
June 14, 2020
Set aside the eye-glasses of faith for a moment and, with fresh, naked eyes, imagine entering a church, our church, for the first time, as also your first time ever with a group of Christians, hearing “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” for the first time, from their religious leader, Jesus Christ, unfamiliar to you, and observing what the people then do after a few prayers and hymns (something that they do every Sunday): Eucharist, Communion.
You go home and, when asked about your experience, say, “Really weird. They claim to eat the flesh and drink the blood of a guy who lived over 2,000 years ago. Really weird.”
If Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park fame, creators of the musical The Book of Mormon, were to create The Book of John, they could draw plenty of weirdness from this passage! I actually hope that we never grow too accustomed to the weirdness, truly.
We are in chapter six of John’s gospel, in which there is an interesting succession of events: from the feeding of the 5,000 to Jesus walking on water in the middle of a storm, to the crowd chasing Jesus down and demanding more bread, to Jesus seizing this opportunity and saying that he is the bread, the Bread of Life come from heaven, to the anger of some upon hearing this. Then, rather than backing off, Jesus makes it even weirder, by saying that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life.
Jesus seeks to deposit this revelation in the hearts of his listeners. Some disciples eventually leave. It’s hard to blame them. Really weird. The Twelve, however, as weird as it may seem to them, stay. They will carry this revelation in their hearts until Jesus gathers them at the Last Supper, when he celebrates this, giving them his flesh and blood for the first time: Institution of the Eucharist.
There, Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, recalled in our second reading today. Jesus does not address the Apostles’ difficulty in understanding the weirdness. Jesus simply commands “Do this in remembrance of me”, words that Jesus, in the person of the priest, echoes during our celebrations. This is really the gift that most unites the Christian Church. We do not all believe the same thing about the gift, alas. Thankfully, Jesus simply (and forcefully) says “do this in remembrance of me”, not “understand this in remembrance of me” Do this—in remembrance of Jesus, in living remembrance of Jesus, in Jesus.
Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran minister, described by the Washington Post as a “tatted-up, foul-mouthed champion to people sick and tired of being belittled as not Christian enough for the right and too Jesus-y for the left.” She says:
“What unites us isn’t a doctrine, it’s a table—a table that is open to all, in which we receive this Bread of Life come down from heaven. The body and blood of Christ is what unites us and makes us a church. Hopefully not in a
prideful see-how-inclusive-we-are way, but in a Lord-to-whom-shall-we-Go?-way, a You-have-the-words-of-eternal-life way.”
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, to receive the bread and wine, which are the body and blood of Christ. Some of us have perhaps grown so accustomed to this Church “practice”, that we don’t realize how radical, how wonderfully weird this is.
Jesus is adamant about Communion. Indeed, in today’s gospel, Jesus doubles-down on what he says. To those who grumble “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” he responds “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Jesus is adamant about Communion because he is adamant about loving us, forever. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. That is love.
We are welcomed each week at this altar, which is also a lavish table, along with surprising guests, guests we might not have included on the list. But, recall who was at the Last Supper: one betrayed Jesus at table, all but one abandoned Jesus in his hour of need. That God would become human, walk among us, and offer his own flesh for the sake of life that lasts forever, and do this knowing who was gathered around the table.
That is love. It can be hard to accept that persons we may not like receive the same overflowing love, that Christ welcomes all of us. It is sometimes even harder to accept that Christ welcomes all of me: the part that gave at my spouse the silent treatment this week or yelled at my children, or drank alone, or has a problem with lying, or hates my body; the part that suffers from depression and can’t admit it, or is too fearful to give some of my money away, or is riddled with shame over sexuality or cheats on my taxes or judges and is afraid of getting sick and/or old and dying.
All of us and all of me are invited to this feast. We unfortunately cannot gather yet to celebrate it. But, we are invited, and we respond affirmatively, by expressing our desire to participate and partake. This desire and the response of Christ, touching us as if we were present, is called “spiritual Communion”. Respond affirmatively and, in your response, bring the broken pieces of our world and lives. In return, Chris will share Himself. We will, hopefully soon, re-gather in person and celebrate and rejoice. In the meantime, let us believe in Jesus, Bread of life, knowing that “whoever believes has eternal life.”
Proper 7 Year A
Fr. Dominique Peridans
There is too much in this gospel with which to wrestle.
And, it seems to spill out in no logical order.
Jesus, all over the map:
from foreboding and fatalistic to sweet and supportive
to harsh and hard.
On first hearing, someone unfamiliar with Jesus might be inclined to think that He is emotionally unstable or has quite an ego.
Well, we are familiar (enough!) with Jesus, to know, to presume
that all that spills out of His mouth—really, His heart, is loving.
This too, somehow, is a revelation of divine love.
This is a revelation of the urgency and the absoluteness of divine love--
which brought us into existence, sustains us and awaits us at the end.
If revelation of divine love,
then we must be willing to engage Jesus “de face” (“head on”),
for love is the fitting response to love and love is receptive.
We must, of course, also probe
beneath the unpredictable unevenness and the apparent courseness.
A revelation of divine love that includes things not easy to hear:
Jesus: the master at messaging and marketing!
There indeed is too much in this gospel with which to wrestle.
Let us thus focus on one aspect.
This may seem like an easy out, and you may be right!
Let us focus on divine love as providential, on the Lord as Provider.
Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?
Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.
So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.
St. Jerome, the 4th-century theologian, born in what today is Croatia,
a prolific writer, know for his translation of the Bible into Latin,
patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists, says,
“The hairs of your head are all counted”
shows the boundless providence of God towards man,
and a care unspeakable that nothing of ours is hid from God.
St. Hilary, also from the 4th-century, says,
That we should know that nothing of us should perish,
we are told that our very hairs are counted.
No accident then that can befall our bodies is to be feared.
God watches over us. God provides.
God provides because God is love.
Providence is easier preached, however, than believed and practiced at times,
the rough times when life throws an unexpected curve ball:
health issues, financial challenges, death, divorce or depression…
Where is Providence in all of this?
Well, if we are expecting God to be the big fixer of problems,
we may be underwhelmed or disappointed.
Through the rough times,
God is providing what we need to be in intimate relationship with Him
and to love those around us.
The rough times do not have the last word in our hearts and lives,
for Providence touches us in all that we love and live.
The 6th-century monk, St. Thalassios the Libyan, says,
Being Master, He became a servant,
and so revealed to the world the depths of His Providence.
So revealed, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, the 17th-century French mystic, says,
Do not be afraid to abandon yourself unreservedly
to His loving Providence, for a child cannot perish
in the arms of a Father Who is omnipotent.
To abandon oneself unreservedly to God’s loving Providence
is to do what Jesus says at the end of this Gospel:
to lose oneself for His sake and, in so doing, to find oneself in God.
Jesus invites absolute surrender
so that God can truly and lavishly provide for our hearts and lives.
The surrender must be absolute
because the love with which we are loved is absolute.
“Well, I am unable to surrender absolutely!” you might say.
Join the club!
It is intention and desire: “Lord, I want to surrender”.
It is not about feeling surrendered.
A word of advice from St. Francis de Sales, the 17th-century Bishop of Geneva:
In all your affairs lean solely on God's Providence, by means of which alone your plans can succeed. Meanwhile, on your part, work in quiet co-operation with Him, and then rest satisfied that, if you have trusted Him entirely, you will always obtain such a measure of success as is most profitable for you, whether it seems so or not to your own individual judgment.
Trusting in Providence makes sense if we love.
Let us trust that the Lord is providing in the midst of all that is happening,
as we seek to grow as individuals, as a Church and as a society,
seeking justice and peace for all, inner and outer freedom for all.
My prayer is that we grow in the divine love that sets us free
and enables us to trust in our Lord as Provider.
“If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)
“Do not be afraid.” (Matthew 10:31)
On Hoskin Avenue in Toronto, Ontario, Canada two esteemed institutions of theological training face one another from opposing sides of the street: Wycliffe College in the Evangelical or low-church Anglican tradition and Trinity College in the Anglo-Catholic tradition. Several years ago, a friend of mine visited both schools during Eastertide, and upon arriving at Wycliffe she discovered a large sign out front that proclaimed, “He is risen! He is not here!” She further discovered, however, that someone had taken a large marker and underneath scrawled, “He is across the street!”
While this humorous slight was surely done in jest, the reality is that we often find ourselves in truly pitched battles about the right ways and the wrongs ways to do things, and we quickly lose sight of the higher and deeper calling we have to transcend our divisions for the sake of the Gospel. Nowhere better do we see this than in today’s Gospel reading. The stories of Jairus and the hemorrhaging woman display in sharp relief the reality that God’s work in the world transcends every single constraint or parameter that we might want to put on it.
On the one hand, we find Jairus, a man of power and influence. As leader of the Synagogue, it is clear that he is a man who “should know better.” His compatriots scorning of Jesus suggests that his kind of people do not need help, do not need healing, do not need a savior. In the tragedy of his daughter’s illness, however, Jairus sees his own brokenness and is humbled in his helplessness. On the other hand, we find this unnamed woman who has suffered from twelve years of hemorrhaging. She is left destitute, and her affliction puts her in a state of constant ritual impurity according to Jewish law. Her kind of people seem beyond help, beyond healing, beyond salvation. Yet, her audacity compels her forwards. Both this unnamed woman and Jairus fall at the feet of Jesus in recognition of his Kingship, in recognition of his healing and transformative mercy. And what does Jesus do? He simultaneously names and acknowledges the faithfulness and sincerity of both the unnamed woman and Jarius, the low in this story and the high, the poor and the rich. Christ transcends all of the seeming constraints in order to respond in mercy and love. Let us pray that we too can have the same humility to recognize our own powerlessness and the same audacity to ask the creator and redeemer of the universe for the truly life giving transformation that we all desperately need.
And what do we as the Church become when we live into these principles corporately? We become a community of generosity, wholeness, and love. We become a community that incorporates the rich and influential insider and the marginalized and oppressed outsider simultaneously and seamlessly. Imagine what the Church would like today if we recommitted ourselves in earnest desperation to the heart of the Gospel, if we put aside our divisions to welcome everyone in love in the name of Christ. Imagine if the prayer on our lips every moment of every day was, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Imagine the witness that this would have in the world, in our nation, and in our very city.
At the end of the day, the sign at the beginning of the sermon was not completely wrong. Yes, Jesus is risen and not in the tomb, and yes Jesus is with us when as we gather ourselves in this congregation to worship him, but Jesus in case we forget is also across the street. Jesus is out there as much as he is in here. When we live into our mission to be a Christ-centered, Kingdom-centered faithful community, filled with generosity and love, we play our part in bearing witness to the truly earth shattering and transformative healing that Christ offers to a broken and hurting world. Let us therefore be reinvigorated in our faith, renewed in our hopes, and reoriented towards the work that truly matters. Amen.