12TH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, 8-12-18
Pentecost 12 B 2018
Texts: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33, Psalm 130, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6: 51
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Have you ever had a meal that was so good, so memorable that the mere thought of it gets your salivary glands going again? Have you ever had a meal that is so wrapped up in people and place that the meal and the context of the meal just can’t be separated?
As I was thinking about that this week several meals in my past came to mind. One memorable meal for me happened when I was senior in high school. It was memorable not only because the food was incredible, but also because the setting of the meal was so different from anything I had experienced before. I was dating a young man at the time who came from a background very different from mine. Randy’s family was very, very wealthy. They knew, enjoyed and shared the finer things of life. Right before I went off to college, Randy and his father took me out to dinner in New York City. They took me to a Michelin 5 star restaurant the likes of which I had never been in before, have never been in since and never expect to ever be in again.
Another meal that I had that evokes wonderful memories was in Iona Scotland at the Argyll Hotel. I had stopped in for lunch. I was by myself and sat in a small sunroom facing Iona Sound. The chef that day had made a very simple Cream of Haddock and Crab soup. And for my main course I had mussels, taken from the Iona Sound just a few hours before, steamed in white wine and garlic. From the moment I tasted the soup, which was easily the best soup I had ever had, and then eaten the mussels, I knew that meal had been a religious experience.
But the meal that means the most to me, the meal that fuses my past, my present, and my future hopes; the meal that warms my soul every time I think of it is my family’s Christmas dinner. When I was growing up, Christmas dinner was always at Aunt Trudie and Uncle Bill’s and then later as we outgrew the dining room in their small apartment; as boyfriends and husbands were added to the family and table the setting changed to our house.
The setting changed, but the menu did not. It was a simple menu, really. Nothing terribly complicated. It was always prime rib of beef, mash potatoes with gravy, creamed peas with pearl onions, green bean almondine, and burned rolls. In fact the hardest thing about preparing the meal was remembering to take the rolls out of the oven in time! I can tell you that no one ever left that table hungry.
Aunt Trudie, Uncle Bill, and my parents have been gone many years now, but on Christmas day I feel their presence in ways unlike any other time. For me hosting Christmas dinner, making the prime rib and the mashed potatoes, and even burning the rolls, feeds me not just on every December 25th , its memory feeds me throughout the year.
This dinner is so much more than just a meal for me, and I can only hope that it means something as special to our boys as well. I hope that as they grow and start their families Christmas will evoke memories of love and nurture and the familiarity of home even when we are apart. I think part of how special this meal is lies in its simplicity, sameness, and familiarity.
But sometimes we believe that simple things and familiar things are too common. Sometimes we think that if something is common it is not special, or is lacking in depth or meaning. Sometimes we can’t get past the simplicity and familiarity to see something in a new and deeper way.
This is the issue for the crowd that has followed Jesus since he fed 5000 of them on the hillside a few days ago. Jesus tells them that he is the bread that came down from heaven, he is the staple that makes life possible. But the crowd can’t quite wrap their heads around that.
Reminiscent of what their forbearer’s did in the wilderness when God gave them manna, now they are grumbling, “This is Jesus, Mary and Joseph’s boy. This is the kid that grew up down the street and played with our boys.” “What does he mean he is the bread of life? How can he come down from heaven? He is from Nazareth for Pete’s sake!” “How can this kid from down the block, a carpenter’s son, be from heaven?” “This isn’t believable! What does he mean that his flesh can feed us?”
In other words, how could someone so familiar-the kid next door, and so common-a man, a carpenter-be something so special? How can the man standing before them claim to be God? Make no mistake, they may not have understood the message, but they understood the assertion Jesus was making.
But how could they have understood? As David Lose, a Lutheran theologian writes, “Whoever heard of a god having anything to do with the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the dirty? Gods are made for greatness, not grime; they are supposed to reside up in the clouds, not down here with the commoners.”
Whoever heard of a God coming not in power but weakness; manifesting God’s self not in displays of great majesty but in displays of great mercy? Jesus’ claims just did not add up, could not be reconciled with what was familiar, simple, common.
Are we really so different from that crowd two thousand years ago? Do we expect to find, much less be fed by the simplicity, the familiar, the common in our Holy Communion?
How often do we see the extraordinary in the ordinary? How often are we able to see the sacred in the simple, the miraculous in the mundane? How often do we truly claim the freedom given to us in the familiar act of putting out our hands and receiving the body of Christ?
In a few moments I will be at this altar putting a host, a symbol of the manna in the wilderness, a piece of heavenly bread in your hands. I will be saying the words “the Body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” Really look at what you are eating. It doesn’t look like much. It is so simple: some flour, some water, a little yeast. Leavened bread has been around since 4000 years before Christ. As foundational as bread is to most cultures, it is not a naturally occurring food. It takes human skill and toil to grow, harvest, prepare and make it.
Bread is made up of different parts of creation and yet we believe that by making it, taking it, blessing it, breaking it and giving it we experience God and the totality of creation not just around us but in us.
We believe that we become one with God come to earth in Jesus Christ. What this means is that we become part of the incarnation. As a result of this and every communion, we become God’s incarnate body in the world.
As Christians we believe that the very ordinary stuff of life becomes the extraordinary bread of heaven. We believe that a familiar man becomes the food of eternal life. We believe that the simple act of stretching out our hands brings the sacred into our lives.
You know the old adage “you are what you eat.” Never is that truer than at this table. This meal is so mundane and yet so miraculous.
I cannot help but believe that all those Christmas dinners in the past, and all those in the future are surely eucharists as well. They are a coming together of God’s people in celebration of God incarnate and in thanksgiving for the gift of God’s Son. The simple gifts of creation are prepared and made into a meal that feeds us while we tell stories, share laughter and our love for each other.
And here at St. Luke’s we gather as a family, our table ever widening, as new friends and family join us. The meal that sustains us, the meal that brings together the saints of the past, the seekers of the present, the sorrowful of the future, is always the same. The body and blood of Jesus, the bread of life and the cup of salvation, is what will enable us to go forward and meet the challenges of this life as well as do the ministry and service that receiving Jesus’ body calls requires of us.
By receiving the Body of Christ we become the Body of Christ. You and me and every kid down every block who is drawn by God to God. Everyone one of us, even those of us that are so familiar, so simple, so common, all of us become a part of the freedom offered to the world by Jesus.
In us, the sacred work of Christ continues in the simple acts that we perform in his name. In us, the mundane of this world becomes miraculous because of the mercy shown to us and that we in turn show to others. At every Eucharist Jesus asks us to live a eucharistic life, to become what we have received.
I want to leave you with a quote from St. Augustine of Hippo concerning our common Communion:
“You are the body of Christ…In you and through you the work of the Incarnation must go forward. You are to be taken; you are to be blessed, broken, and given; that you may be the means of grace and the vehicles of eternal love. Behold what you are. Become what you receive.”