Fr. John Allison
John 6:35, 41-51
August 8, 2021
Christ Church, Hudson
Today our Gospel continues along in the sixth chapter of John with a series of readings that began last week and is known as Jesus’ Bread Discourse. It’s central to our theology, central not only to what we do here each week but also to how we are called to live: Jesus is the true bread that will bring eternal life to all that believe in him.
If you recall, the teaching began last week on the heels of the feeding of the five-thousand. The people he had feed had followed him to Capernaum in hope that he might give them more, and it’s here that Jesus distinguishes between bread that perishes and the “food that endures for eternal life” (John 6:27). His listeners are perplexed as he proclaims, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” He continues this week as his listeners complain and express doubt: “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from Heaven?’” In many ways we hear echoes of Mark’s Gospel (6:1-6) when Jesus returned to his hometown and was met with resistance and doubt from those who knew him. Indeed, it does seem that “prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.” Yet, the context in which Jesus offers this teaching in the Gospel of John is somewhat different. The teaching is meant to recall the story of the Israelites protesting and murmuring against God in the wilderness because they had no bread. Here, Jesus contrasts the bread God provided in the wilderness, the manna, which was only temporary, with the offering he makes of himself. His listeners, who do not know of his coming death and Resurrection, fail to comprehend the deeper meaning of his teaching; they cannot hear him. In fact, in the verses that follow, that we don’t hear today, they understand him literally and are offended at the thought of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The teaching is difficult, and, even now, the mystery of the Eucharist continues to exhaust our ability to express in words the transformation that takes place at the table and in our hearts. Nevertheless, we are compelled to follow and the experience of Holy Communion continues to feed us each time we gather. It’s our thanksgiving, the Holy Eucharist, that is at the heart of our relationship to God in Christ.
And yet, how do we express our participation in that relationship to God in Christ? What are we called to take with us to sustain us as we are sent out from here each Sunday? Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians gives us some indication. Actually, he provides concrete teachings on how Jesus’ followers are to live. At it’s core the lesson is simple; Mother Kathleen and I actually say it each week as the offertory sentence: Love one another as Christ has loved us and gave himself for us an offering and sacrifice to God. That’s it in nutshell. Love one another as Christ has loved us. On one level it sounds pretty straightforward. Paul even lists the particular behaviors that lead us to unity in Christ: Put away falsehood and speak truth to one another; you can be angry but don’t let the anger control you; don’t steal but work to build up the community around you and share what you have; refrain from speaking evil and saying malicious things about others; forgive one another.
If we were to look at this list outside the context in which Paul presents it, it looks quit similar to the any of a number of other ethical systems that spring not only from the world’s other great religions but even from secular society. And yet, the reality is that these behaviors are not so common. We live in a world where personal ambition and striving, and sometimes simple self-preservation often get in the way of loving one’s neighbor, of recognizing that we are “members of one another” to use Paul’s language. Paul is writing to a community who has forgotten that central truth of our faith. The attitudes and actions that he urges in his listeners are not simply virtues to be checked off but, rather, they are marks of who we are as brothers and sisters in Christ. They are marks of our baptism and when we forget, when I forget, when you forget, it grieves the Holy Spirit. Paul tells us to put away wrath, bitterness, anger, wrangling, slander, and malice. None of us want think that we engage in such behaviors, but if I deeply examine my conscience, when I’m really honest with myself, which we all know is hard, I know that I do have such feelings—on some level that may not be perceptible to anyone else but me and God. Quite often such behaviors grow from fear, so that we might protect ourselves or our image of ourselves. These attitudes and behaviors become a kind of armor. But as brother and sisters in Christ, we are called to a new way: to kindness, tender-heartedness, and forgiveness—attitudes that promote unity. Attitudes and behaviors that make us more vulnerable, whose character is not to protect but to allow us to be more intimate, to truly know one another and to be known. That’s what Paul means when he says, “put away all falsehood.”
As I said, the community to whom Paul was writing was one marked by division and in this letter reconciliation was paramount.
I learned this week that the word reconciliation has its root the Greek word for eyelash, “cilia.” It meant, literally, to come eyelash to eyelash with one another. That’s intimacy; that’s vulnerability. That’s putting away all falsehood. Deep within each of us is the hunger to live into such honesty with ourselves and with one another and it’s a hunger that is not quenched by the ordinary stuff of the world—by the bread that perishes.
Jesus recognized that in his feeding of the five thousand. Mark told us he looked upon the crowd and had compassion; he felt the need. He knew the hunger—both physical and spiritual—and he calls those who follow him to a new way of being. A way that begins in love and ends in thanksgiving.
What we have in our Gospel today is the model for not only what we do here at this table but also for how we are called to live, how we are called to love one another as Christ loves us. How we are to live Eucharistically.
In theological terms our Eucharist, the Holy Communion, is envisioned as a four-part process: we take, we bless, we break, we give. What we do together every time we gather around this table is to take the gifts God gives us in creation, represented here in the bread and the wine, and we bless them. We make them Holy in recognizing them as Christ’s Body and Blood; we make them holy in recognizing them as God’s gift to us and offering our thanks. We break them so that they may be shared among us, offered to all as we recognize that we are one body.
To live Eucharistically is to recognize that pattern in our lives and live from a place of Thanksgiving. A theologian of the early church said that the gifts we bring to the table to be transformed in Christ are not just the physical elements of bread and the wine but also what is represented of ourselves in the bread and wine—in the stuff of creation. We bring ourselves—all of ourselves, in all our imperfections and in all the ways we miss the mark—and we offer it to God. We take the stuff of creation, of the world, of ourselves and through Christ we are made new. We recognize ourselves as holy creatures made in God’s image and offer ourselves, share ourselves, in love. It happens here at this table, and, just as importantly, more importantly perhaps, it happens in our hearts. God’s love is shown in Christ and in receiving that love, in saying, yes, we go forth to love one another. May our hearts be opened to receive the food given us and live into the work we have called to do. Amen.