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)