Sermons

Proverbs 9:1-6; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

 

Nine years ago, this same set of readings were the texts for my first Sunday with you.  Standing in this pulpit for the first time, I ended that sermon with these words:

 

“We are beginning a terrific journey together today.  My heart is full with gratitude to God for bringing us to this place this morning.  A place from which we might begin to partake even more fully in being the body and blood of Christ.  This meal that we share, the bread we will break and wine we will drink reminds us that we are in community together not because it is easy, and not because it is always pretty and not even because it is a good idea, but because it is real.  Because it feeds us. It sustains us. And it gives us life.”

 

 

It surprised me that words I spoke to you nine years ago could still be just as true today as they were then.  Even with all the ways we have changed over these years. The ways you have all changed; those who have left and those who have joined.  How I have changed, and not just needing reading glasses.

 

And all we’ve been through together; illnesses and deaths, births, marriages, world events and local tragedies.

 

Even through all of the ways we have changed and grown as individuals and as a community, those first words still sit at the center of our shared truth.


When people talk about their experience of finding God in this place, I will often respond, “It’s in the blood.  It’s part of the DNA.”

 

Of course, sometimes it stretches us more than other times, and it challenges each of us in different ways on different days, but I do believe the transforming Grace of God that is responsible for all that is good and right in what we do is in our blood, in our DNA.

 

And believe that’s so because week by week, we put it there.  God offers it, and we say “Amen.”

 

Week by week, as we gather at this table together and share the bread and the wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, we partake in a meal of God’s grace, ingesting it so that it becomes a part of our very cell structure, courses through our veins, finds its way to our hands and feet and eyes and heart.

 

And while all food does that, this food, in a way we can never fully understand, affects not just the material make up of our body, but the spiritual.

 

I may have lost a good number of you here.  And, if so, you’re not alone. What exactly happens in the Eucharist, and when exactly it happens is a matter of great debate, and has been for centuries.

 

I take great comfort in the fact that two of the framers of the Anglican tradition of which we are a part didn’t care so much about the how, though they cared a great deal about the why.  Richard Hooker, theologian and Queen Elizabeth I both wrote extensively that what mattered most about what happens at this table is not so much in what I do, or Elise does, or any priest does with our hands, but what God does, and what you do.  What matters is what God does when we come forward and hold open our hands to receive this gift.


Is it simply routine?  Is it magic? Is it unexplainable by science and therefore to be dismissed?

 

Or is it an invitation for us to meet God in the bread and the wine as more than simply a collection of wheat and grape cells, but something so much more than that?

 

Is it a chance for God to meet each of us as more than simply a collection of human cells and molecules, but something so much more than that.  

 

Bread and wine, yes, but more than that.  Something like the very Body and Blood of Jesus as offered by Jesus himself.

 

The language is problematic for many of us.  It is hard not to sound like we are talking about Cannibalism and, indeed, that was a widespread criticism of the early church.

 

Mystery is hard for us post-enlightenment folk. We like to be able to classify everything we can see or touch or hear or feel as either one thing or another.  

 

And so we get stuck here.  Is it bread and wine? yes, but so much more than that.  It is actual flesh and blood? No, but something quite like that.

 

I often say that the youngest among us understand mystery many than us older folks do.  Watch a young child reach out for the bread before they know what it is or why we do it.  Over time, we unlearn mystery in pursuit of absolutes.

 

And so I return to a memory I have of my own childhood, receiving Communion at Epiphany Church in Providence, RI.

 

Perhaps it came from watching too many Popeye cartoons on Saturday mornings.  You remember Popeye?

Popeye was an everyday weakling and the target of constant bullying from Brutus.  When in trouble, Popeye would reach out for a can of spinach. He would squeeze the can and spinach would fly up into the air and into his mouth.  Immediately, we could see it course through his body as muscles popped and the weakling became the super hero.

 

Maybe watching that is why I would often imagine the same thing happening to me, not with spinach, but with the bread and the wine.

 

As I chewed the bread and felt the slight burn of the wine down my throat, I would imagine it coursing through my veins, warming my heart and giving me the power to turn from weakling to super hero, even if no one could tell just by looking at me.

 

I used to go back to my pew and sit there, imagining it moving through my body.  I’d stare at my hands, trying to see where Jesus body was taking up residence in my own.

 

And I think that’s Jesus point in this Gospel.  It is more than bread, it is more than wine when we gather and do this thing we call Eucharist.  Jesus tells his disciples, and us, that when we do this, the very Body of Christ enters us, and with abundant Grace, empowers us to be the Body of Christ for the World.

 

When you return to your seat after receiving Communion this morning, imagine God coursing through your veins.  Imagine Christ as part of the cellular makeup of your hands, and feet, and eyes and heart.

 

How might you move through the world if you knew that God was physically a part of you?  What difference might it make that when you reached out your hand, you knew were reaching out God’s hand.  Not metaphorically, but really. How might you look in the mirror differently, think about yourself or another differently?


At the Last Supper, not recorded in John’s Gospel, Jesus asks his followers to remember him -- “Do this in remembrance of me.”

 

In John, Jesus asks us to remember him not just in our minds, but in our very bodies.  Christ asks us not just to remember him, but to re-member him, to put his body, broken for the world, back together in our own.

 

That is what we are about.  That is who God calls us to be.  Not metaphorical images of God but living, Flesh and Blood bodies of Christ who, through the gift of God’s grace, are empowered to be the body and blood of Christ in the world.  For real.

 

AMEN.  

 

© 2018 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello

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