The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
We should be shocked by the concept of eating the flesh of of Christ and drinking his blood, just as we would be shocked if our friend or teacher told us that in order to live we would need to eat them. Jesus wanted his followers and critics to be shocked. He knew how offensive this would sound to them. We need to remember that Christ’s followers strictly observed Jewish dietary laws. Human flesh and blood are definitely not kosher, but the concept of Christ abiding in us can’t be made any more concrete than by our ingesting his body and blood in the form of sacramental bread and wine. Whether we believe in transubstantiation, or we believe that the bread and the wine are symbolic of Christ’s Body and Blood is almost beside the point, because how ever we understand the physical elements of the Eucharist, our faith and belief in Jesus Christ gives the sacrament power to bond us to Christ and to all who share in the Eucharist.
“We pray you, gracious God, to send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts that they may be the Sacrament of the Body of Christ and his Blood of the new Covenant. Unite us to your Son in his sacrifice, that we may be acceptable through him, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (BCP Eucharistic Prayer B)
Brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.
We have not received a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, and in this time there is much cause for us to be afraid. I’ll be the first to admit that having faith that all will be well is a challenge for me these days. Every day there is something new for us to fear but an antidote to fear is faith. Even when it’s challenging to maintain and nurture a positive outlook, we can help ourselves a great deal through prayer. Prayer can help to reduce anxiety and bring our minds back to more spiritual and positive thoughts. When we’re at our lowest and may have difficulty summoning the will or the words to pray we can meditate using the simple mantra of the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This has been used for centuries by monastics and other people of faith. It is repeated over and over silently as one would use a mantra during meditation. I was surprised to find how well this simple prayer works to ease my anxiety.
There is a wonderful pamphlet written by Brother Bede Thomas Mudge, OHC which is put out by Forward Movement called Using The Jesus Prayer.
“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away; for I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”
“Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” This is one of those phrases that we can’t hear enough. I say that because because anyone includes all of us. It includes our friends, our neighbors, like minded people and people who’s ideas we find repugnant. It means that we will not be forsaken. It allows us to feel safe in the knowledge that God’s love is a love we just can’t shake. God’s love is everlasting, unconditional and redemptive and it is up to us to choose whether or not we are willing to let it transform us.
“Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
Reading this has brought to my mind the first time I received communion in an Episcopal Church. It was the second time my husband and I attended the church to which we now belong. Not being Episcopalians yet, we didn’t know the protocol. During the Eucharist we followed the service intently, but when it came time to receive communion we froze. My husband and I stayed in our pew not knowing if we would be welcome to receive. At that point one of the women in the congregation, who must have seen that we were conflicted about what to do, walked over to us and said simply, “Go for it.” We did. We went for it, and we’ve been going for it ever since. I remember that first time kneeling at the alter rail and hearing the words, The body of Christ, the bread of heaven and receiving the body and then hearing, the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation and receiving the chalice. This may sound odd, but I felt different. My heart quickened. I felt a sense of welcome and warmth and of well being and belonging that returns to me every time I receive communion where ever I may be.
Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”
We all know what comes next in this passage, but how do we deal with scarcity in our own lives? Are we afraid, or do we trust that all will be well and that God will provide? Maybe we fall someplace in between. It may be easier to trust that God will provide us with lunch than with a mortgage payment. Sometimes in life we are put into tough positions, whether they are of our own making or because of some external influence, such as losing a job. I truly want to trust that God will provide, but that doesn’t mean that waiting to see how God will provide isn’t stressful. My father and mother were polar opposites in this regard. My mother worried a lot about money, and for years she had good reason to worry. My father on the other hand trusted that all would be well. When my mother questioned him about money, his standby answer was to ask, “You haven’t missed a meal yet have you?”
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
We humans are logical creatures for the most part. We look for the reasons things happen to us and to the people around us. The disciples assumed that it was sin that had caused the blindness of the man they met on the road. Today we think that sort of reasoning is ridiculous, but we do still require answers. We ask doctors our questions concerning physical maladies and we get answers as to the cause. I don’t believe that God punishes us with disease or catastrophe. Some things just happen. Pat Robertson and many other right wing fundamentalists believe in a vengeful God who punishes us all for the sins of a few. It’s a way for them to inspire hate among their followers for whatever group they are blaming for this weeks disaster. Why do they not believe that when bad things happen they are unfortunate, but they are also opportunities for us to glorify God in the way we react? I don’t think that God caused AIDS or the San Francisco earthquake of 1989, but I know that God was glorified by the brave actions and efforts of the folks who stepped in to help people who were suffering.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
I’d like to think that if I were placed in the same situation as The Virgin Mary, I’d also have the strength and faith to say, “let it be with me according to your word.” In my case however, it would be more comparable to Abraham being told that he would bear a child. The point is, that Mary risked everything to become the mother of the Lord, The Theotokos, The God-bearer. She embraced her opportunity to serve God even though she knew that it might have led to her rejection by Joseph, or an accusation of adultery and death by stoning. Most of us will never face any sort of physical danger in the practice of our faith, and that’s a good thing, but one does wonder what we would be willing to risk in the service of The Lord.
“Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
Sometimes it’s hard to remember that we are free. The Apostle Paul said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”(Romans 7:15) I think we can all identify with that statement. There are times in our lives when we really are slaves to sin. Our sin may be in the way we react to some sort of frustration or provocation, or maybe we simply lack the will to do what we know to be right. When we say The Confession in the Book of Common Prayer, we ask to be forgiven for the wrong we have done and for the good we have left undone. That covers a lot, but not if we’re simply reading the words. We must want to be forgiven if we expect our confession to have meaning. As it says in psalm 51, “a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Once we have come before God and laid down the burden of our sins, then we can delight in the freedom that was promised to us through Jesus Christ.
“When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him. Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
We can never know if what we are doing is pleasing to God, but if we continue in Christ’s word we can hope that we’re not doing too bad a job. We are given some instruction in the Gospels about how Jesus wants us to behave. If one wanted to simplify these commandments to an extreme degree, one would be left with, “Love God and don’t be a jerk.” This may sound flippant, but if we take Christ at his word when he tells us that the greatest commandments are to love God and love our neighbor, the result is that we will treat others with compassion and mercy, and we will love the Lord. If we were to only love our neighbor and not love God, we still wouldn’t be jerks, but there would be something big missing from our lives. There are some people though, who claim to love God, but don’t love their neighbor, these are the self righteous who spout biblical verse to justify their condemnation of people whom they don’t find acceptable. To them I would say, “Love God. Don’t be a jerk. You’ll be fine.”
Again Jesus spoke to the crowd, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”
I don’t know about you, but I could sure use the light of life right about now. It’s been a tough few months for many of us. We’re constantly assaulted by bad, and sometimes frightening news whenever we turn on the TV or look at our phones. It’s easy to become overwhelmed by horrifying, scandal after scandal and threats to rights which we once thought safe. Now more than ever our spiritual wellness is being challenged and we need to participate fully in our faith, whatever that may mean for us, in order to maintain our equilibrium and happiness. When I read this passage today my mind went straight to the responsive chant of the Easter Vigil, “The light of Christ…Thanks be to God!” We still have some time before Easter but that doesn’t mean that we have to wait to invite the light of Christ into our lives. Why not use this season of Lent to devote some time to spiritual practices that we find uplifting and thought provoking and that invigorate our faith and spiritual well being?