Saturday, August 29, 2009

Take and Eat

20 Sunday B #119

Prv 9, 1-6
Ps 34
Eph 5, 15-20
Jn 6, 51-58

Deacon Tom Cornell
Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
August 16, 2009

For the past three weeks and again today we hear Jesus speak of himself as the bread of life, “The Bread of Life Discourse” it’s called in the Sixth Chapter of John’s Gospel. We’ll hear the rest of it next week. This is the center to our lives of faith: Jesus gives us his own body and blood as food and drink. Next week we will read how many of the Jews who heard these words turned away from Jesus. “This is too much to bear!” they said. It sounds like cannibalism, doesn’t it? Outrageous! Disgusting! Especially from a Jew to fellow Jews who were very careful about what they ate! The very improbability of Jesus’ claim that we must eat his body and drink his blood recommends its truth. Nobody could have made it up.

“How can you believe such a thing?” some people ask. We believe because we want to believe, not because we can prove anything, but because we want to. The very wish to believe is a gift of God. We can not begin to understand the mystery of it, the reality of it, the real presence of Jesus Christ, body, blood, soul and divinity in what looks and tastes like a little wafer of bread and a sip of wine unless it is given to us to believe. How we accept that gift or reject it will play out in how we spend eternity.

Spiritual hunger and thirst in our time is palpable. Too many people look for satisfaction, as for love, in all the wrong places – Tarot cards, psychics, fundamentalist sects, crazy religions that spring up like mushrooms in the woods after a spring rain. On the other hand, you will hear some people say that they aren’t “religious” or that they are not “believers” but that they are “spiritual.” Wish them well. Without a tradition of faith, without a community of faith, I wish them a lot of luck! Maybe in fact they will grow spiritually. God is good. They are admitting a thirst, a hunger, for God, whether they know it or not. They yearn for meaning, meaning that we are blessed to find in our Scripture and our sacraments, in our tradition and our community of faith.

Every human being hungers and thirsts for meaning beyond what we can see and touch. There is a reality that is beyond our vision, beyond our grasp, beyond measurement and weight, beyond what we can locate in time and space but a reality that gives meaning to all the rest, and meaning to our lives. Call it the reality of spirit.

Perhaps it was easier in times past to believe in spirit reality than it is today. For the past couple of hundred years or so, we in America and in Western Europe have become better and better at measuring and weighing things, locating things in time and space, so good at analyzing things that we now have a scientific mind-set and tend to assume that what we can touch and feel, weigh and measure, things, is the only reality. Nothing could be farther from the truth or more menacing to our common welfare. General Omar Bradley, a hero of World War II, once said, “We have learned the secret of the atom, but we have forgotten the Sermon on the Mount.” We here have not forgotten the Sermon on the Mount! But too many have. As a society we have forgotten the Sermon on the Mount, if ever we got it!

Maybe it was easier in times past. Grandma was more aware than many of us today of the reality that lies beyond the reality we can measure and touch, the reality that underlies things, the spirit reality that gives meaning to everything else. She spoke to Saint Francis and Saint Clare, to Saint Anthony and the Blessed Mother, to Jesus, to God every day as if they were right there with her in her kitchen. And they were! We can do the same. Turn off the TV and try it! That’s the point of Saint Paul’s words to the Ephesians today. Quiet down, listen, pray! Forget about things and get in touch with reality.

To believe is a gift of God, pure grace. God gives his gift to the simple and to the not so simple alike. Saint Augustine said, “Believe, and you will come to understand” (“crede ut intelligas”). Saint Augustine goes on to describe grace as the quiet assurance of God’s love. That love comes to us in the form of bread and wine consecrated at the hands of our priest, God’s gift to his people.

The bread of life, come down from heaven. This bread, Communion as we call it, nourishes our souls and strengthens our faith. The word communion is from the Latin, cum, which means with, together with, and unio, a state of being one. In receiving Communion we not only remember Jesus, his sacrifice and the example he left us us, but we become one with him, one with God and one with each other in the Mystical Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints. In this experience of faith we come to understand, little by little. In this Communion there is no Republican or Democrat or liberal or conservative or black or white or Jew or Gentile or Irish or Italian or Polish or German or Chinese or Korean or Vietnamese or male or female. From the realization that we are one flows an impulse of charity, or love, to be the guide and the lodestone of our lives. In this realization we understand more deeply, grasp more firmly the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, the way to live, the way to life. And maybe some day we will rid the world of the atom’s threat, with God’s help.

God has called us here, to this table, to be one with Him and to be one with each other and all God’s people, the ones we see and the ones we don’t see, in love, in justice and in mercy, and to stand humbly and gratefully before our God. This is our faith. We are proud to proclaim it.