Preached by the Rev. Mark Sluss at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 16
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
When I was little I remember those Saturday morning educational commercial shorts, you may remember the ABC's “Time for Timer” series, the segments never carried official titles, but are referred to by memorable catch phrases in the songs' lyrics. Perhaps most memorable was "I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese" in which the character Timer, recast as a cowboy with a thick Western accent, suggests "wagon wheels," sandwiches made with cheese slices and crackers as an easy and nutritious snack. (When Timer prepares one on a kitchen counter, he rolls it down the counter on its edge and proclaims, "Look! A wagon wheel!") Others included “Quickie Breakfast" (leftovers and other foods as an alternative for kids who don't have time, or are unable, to cook breakfast), and "Sunshine on a Stick" (how to make ice pops with fruit juice, an ice tray, and toothpicks, and of course "You Are What You Eat" (a simplified explanation of nutrients and how the body uses them), " When I began studying nutrition and metabolism in college, I saw how the various components of the food we eat are transformed by the enzymes of our body, into components to build our bodies, we truly are what we eat. The food we eat is broken down into it’s components and is transformed into the useful molecules that can be incorporated directly into our cells to become part of our physical body. What is a little disturbing here is that Jesus insists that his flesh is the bread that he will give for the life of the world. He says that who ever eats his body will live, because of him. You know it’s no wonder that those early Christians in Rome were accused of cannibalism.
How can we be expected to eat God?!? It seems so disrespectful. We have for the majority of our lives been taught about the food chain, that the stronger animals kill and eat the weaker or the smaller. How can we be stronger than God? How can we eat God?
It is the mystery of god in Christ, it is the gift of grace that allows us to understand this. God cares about us so much, God wants us to be together with God so much, that God is willing to come among us and to die. When God as Jesus came to be with us, Jesus strives to teach us, he tells us how things should be. Teaches us how we should treat one another, how we should treat God. But Jesus also teaches us that time, and what we currently understand about life and death are changed. We understand through life experience that to take and eat flesh means that the source of flesh must be killed. What Jesus leaves us with, by his life and resurrection, is that death is not the end of living, but a transition into something greater. Through his death, and the implementation of the Eucharist, Jesus spreads his life out to all of us. We become a part of Jesus and he becomes a part of us. Just as those bits of carbohydrates, and amino acids become integrated into our bodies, Jesus becomes a part of us. So Jesus through the act of dying on the cross, and offering himself as food for the world, spans time and jumps through us the saints and children of God to our present time. What we share at our Eucharist, is the same feast offered in that upper room prior to Jesus’ arrest. It goes on, and on, even though he is not physically with us. If we are so intimately connected to Jesus and understand this, how can we not know Jesus when he returns? We surely will be able to recognize that part of us that has been missing from us.
Jesus is a part of us and not just physically, for when we learn about nerves and how thoughts and memories are triggered by releases of chemicals in our nerves and brains, we can understand how Jesus can be a real component of our thoughts it’s also most assureadly that what we consume not only becomes part of our thoughts and memories, but the experience of eating also becomes part of our thoughts. Realistically, the action of eating also can become memories for us. Memories of meals can be some of the strongest memories we have. I remember quite vividly memories as a child, sitting with my twin brother Mike, on our dad’s knee, eating stick donut’s and drinking chocolate milk, while dad read us the Sunday Comics. That is a very treasured memory. Who among us hasn’t learned many lessons of life, sitting at the dinner table? Who hasn’t learned proper behavior or etiquette, at the dinner table? I think it is the same for us, at our Eucharistic meal, by what we hear and learn through the scripture readings, Jesus’ teachings become part of us as well. Jesus lives in us, and we in him. He promised us this. It is a mind blowing revelation that Jesus LIVES, through the lives of each of us, personally and individually. More importantly is the revelation that we live in Jesus as well. Our frail humanness becomes complete and divine through that relationship. God, through Jesus takes on our bodily form, to understand us completely. To reconcile our relationship to the God creator, by atoning for all our shortcomings and sins. We through Jesus, return to the same type of relationship humankind enjoyed with God in Eden. So how can we treat the members of our community differently or with hate or disdain, since we are all returned exiles, we are all citizens of Eden? Citizens of Eden we should rejoice at our homecoming. Welcome home to Eden.