Monday, June 27, 2011

The Bread of Life!

Jesus said to the Jewish crowds:
"I am the living bread that came down from heaven;
whoever eats this bread will live forever;
and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world."

The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying,
"How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
Jesus said to them,
"Amen, amen, I say to you,
unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you do not have life within you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
has eternal life,
and I will raise him on the last day.
For my flesh is true food,
and my blood is true drink.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood
remains in me and I in him.
Just as the living Father sent me
and I have life because of the Father,
so also the one who feeds on me
will have life because of me.
This is the bread that came down from heaven.
Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died,
whoever eats this bread will live forever." (John 6:51-58)

Many of us, when we hear the name of the feast that we celebrate today, the Body & Blood of Christ, think of the consecrated bread and wine. And, on one level, our thinking is true. If, however, our experience stops with this understanding and goes no further, then we miss something that is most significant. It is true, as I said, that the consecrated bread and wine are the Body & Blood of Jesus, but equally important, so are we. The ramifications of experiencing this second reality as well as the first and of experiencing only the first are enormous.

When our focus is limited to the consecrated bread and wine as the Body & Blood of Christ, we eliminate the need to love our neighbor. We confine our relationship with God to the spiritual and, in particular, what we do here in this building. In effect, we are able to separate our lives into the spiritual life (my life with God) and the profane life (my life without God). This artificial separation causes the profane life to become what is truly important to me.

When our spiritual life is solely connected with a church building or religion, we use the word holy to mean "to separate that which is sacred from that which is profane." Many of you remember when the sanctuary of a church (where the altar is) was separated from the nave of a church (where people are). Only those who had been separated out (ordained) through the use of holy oils were permitted to enter the holy space of a church building. This separation was reinforced by the use of a rail that clearly defined the area called holy (the sanctuary) from the profane (the nave).

Jesus uses the word holy in a different way. He tells us to be holy as God is holy. God, in the way that Jesus experiences God, is both separate from us and with us. The ramifications of such an understanding of the word holy is seen in the analogy that St. Paul uses when he speaks of everyone being a member of the Body of Christ.

St. Paul combines the holy with the profane. He says that each of us is a temple of the Holy Spirit, not because of what we have done, merited or earned, but because of what God has done for us. In Jesus the divine becomes human (we call this incarnation) to inform us that it is God's intention and design that the human become divine. The two are forever inseparable.

Recognizing Jesus in the consecrate bread and wine is good. It simply is not the total picture. When we make it the total picture we seek to limit God, and God can't be limited. It allows us to make distinctions. When St. Paul uses the analogy of the Body of Christ, he makes no distinctions. All, he says, are members of the body. In everyone and in everything God is present. Recognizing - experiencing - God present in me and in you, in each other, in everyone, in the world, is the whole picture. Only when we begin to see God incarnate - present - in the world (in the person that I hate, in the child that won't behave, in my spouse, in the person who has abused me, in myself) and stop belittling that which we call flesh, will the mystery of the consecration bring us to a sense of awe and thanksgiving. When God's presence is incarnate for us in the bread/wine and in all of creation we most often live in a holistic worldview. Instead of approaching myself and others with a dualistic mind (either this or that), I see life as one (both this and that). God is present in me and in you. Importance is therefore not based on who does or doesn't have God (or intelligence, or power, or money, or beauty). Importance is found in sharing who I am with you and you with me, because all is a gift. Being of service to each other, and the world around us, becomes a way of life. If everything belongs, then nothing can't belong.

This is what happens when we celebrate the Body & Blood of Christ, that we are the Body & Blood of Christ. We celebrate God present in me, in you, in all of creation, and in the bread that we break and the wine that we drink. We celebrate God not only in this building but also in our homes and at our places of employment. We respect the earth and the environment because God is equally present here. We are drawn into an internal struggle when we see injustice and want to condemn. We suffer with those who don't have enough to eat, or have to endure bombs being dropped upon them. We grieve with the parents who see their child being convicted of a crime committed. We rejoice with the person who has received the promotion ahead of us. We seek clarification rather than taking offense over a statement made. We beg God to help us forgive when another does something against us.

When we find ourselves living in this way, we will begin to know how to be holy as God is holy. We will meet the divine that is always and forever one with our flesh.

Peace and love,

Rev. Sue Provost

"This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. " (1 John 4:9-10)

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