Archive for the ‘Eucharist’ Category

When it gets too hard do you wish to go away?

August 19, 2012

Pentecost 12

John 6:51-58

Marian Free

 In the name of God – source of life, wisdom and joy. Amen.

 “Do you also wish to go away?” Jesus’ question to his disciples in verse 67 catches us by surprise. These are the people with whom he has chosen to share his mission, his most private moments. In their turn, they have chosen to follow him despite what others might think. Why would they now want to go away? Today’s gospel helps us to understand the lead up to Jesus’ question. In fact, we have to go back to the beginning of chapter 6 to see how the tension builds to the point where some disciples leave Jesus and Jesus is forced to ask the remainder if they too wish to leave. The author of John’s gospel records the account of the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus’ walking on the water as do the other three gospels. According to the author of John, the crowds which have been following Jesus, discover that he is on the other side of the lake and pursue him. This provides Jesus with an opportunity to challenge their self-centredness and to elaborate on his role and his mission.

Jesus perceives that the crowds are primarily interested in what he can do for them – provide food, heal the sick and so on. These signs, while important, are not the real reason that Jesus is here. He challenges those who have followed to seek the deeper meaning of Jesus’ presence among them. Bread sustains the body for a limited time. Jesus asks his listeners to consider the sort of food that will sustain them in the present and more importantly for eternity. He asks them to look beyond their physical needs for sustenance and to seek the food that endures – the spiritual food that sustains the soul. This is the food that he provides to those who seek it.

As part of this argument, Jesus claims to be the ‘bread of life’. We are so familiar with this concept that it can be difficult for us to understand how such a discussion could create the sort of offense that would cause some of Jesus’ disciples to abandon him and Jesus to ask if others too wish to go away. Jesus as the ‘bread of life’ provides us with strength and courage, spiritual nourishment and support.  Perhaps if Jesus had left the argument there his disciples would have remained with him. However, Jesus has claimed to be the bread from heaven which endures forever – unlike the manna in the wilderness which sustained the Israelites in the present, but which was unable to give them eternal life. Among his listeners would have been those who would have heard Jesus’ suggestion that he was more important than – in fact that he had superseded Moses.

If that claim were not confronting enough, Jesus makes the even more disturbing claim: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this brad will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. 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.” Not only is the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood utterly repulsive, it is impossible for Jesus’ audience to grasp such a difficult and distressing concept. Many of them know Jesus, they know his mother and his father. They know that he is a human being like themselves – how can he say that he has come down from heaven? It is impossible for them to even begin to conceive that it is possible, let alone necessary for them to consume this man’s flesh and blood if they are to have eternal life! No wonder many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him! They say: “This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?”

They have failed to understand that Jesus, through this dramatic and uncomfortable language, Jesus is asking his followers not to physically eat him, but to become one with him, to allow him to become so much a part of them that it is as if they are indeed one flesh and blood. Eating and drinking are metaphors for this complete unity. In some way faith is a process of somehow absorbing Jesus into our lives and allowing our lives to be absorbed into that of Jesus.

Eating and drinking are strong images, but they are not totally unfamiliar. We say to children: “I could just eat you!” We don’t mean that literally, we just mean that we love them so much that we don’t want to be separated from them. This is the sort of relationship that Jesus is asking his disciples (and us) to have with him.

It is at this point that Jesus asks those who remain: “Do you also wish to go away?” To which Peter responds: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Peter, who so often fails to understand, who so often gets it wrong has cut to the core. He may not always understand what Jesus has to say, but he knows what Jesus means – to himself and to the world. Peter may not really understand Jesus’ teaching at this point, but he is sure of one thing – that there is nowhere that he would rather be, nowhere else that he would receive the sort of spiritual guidance that he has found in Jesus. He knows that in the present and in the future, it is his relationship with Jesus that has opened the doors of heaven.

I suspect that it is the same for us. There may be times when we do not understand – when scripture seems too difficult, when the events of our lives or the lives of others seem inexplicable – but we with Peter know that Jesus is the means to eternal life. We have thrown in our lot with Jesus, and nothing in this life or the next will separate us.





One in Christ

May 19, 2012

Easter 7  – 2012

John 17.6-19

Marian Free

 In the name of God who binds us together as one. Amen.

 One form of literature that is found in the Bible is that of the farewell speech – the instructions, words of wisdom or the blessing that a biblical hero gives before he dies. For example, when Abraham nears the end of his life, he gives instructions with regard to the marriage of Isaac. In his turn the blind Isaac blesses Jacob – inadvertently giving him his brother’s birth right. Later Jacob, on his death bed, blesses all twelve of his sons. Moses’ farewell speech takes up the entire book of Deuteronomy as he reminds the Israelites of the story of the Exodus, of their covenant with God and their responsibilities as people of God.

Following this pattern Jesus, in John’s gospel, takes advantage of his last meal with the disciples to give his farewell speech. In it he warns this disciples that he is going to leave them, he provides instruction for the community which will emerge in his absence and finally, in chapter 17, he prays for the disciples, for those who will come to faith through them and he prays for the world. Two of the themes in this prayer are pertinent to our weekly Eucharist. First of all, Jesus acknowledges that the faith of the disciples is lived out in the world even though that might be difficult. Secondly, Jesus prays that the disciples might be united in the same way that Jesus and God are one. Unity with the world and with Jesus are central to our Eucharistic celebrations.

Last week we looked at the Daily Office and discovered that it is a very particular type of prayer. It is formal, objective and dispassionate. However, when we say the Office we are connected with Christians all around the world who are saying the office at the same time as us or who are beginning and ending as we end and begin. This regular pattern creates a continuous cycle of prayer around the world – hour after hour, day after day, week after week, year after year.

Even though the Eucharist too has a set form and is repeated on a regular basis all over the world, its function is quite different. If the office is objective, disinterested praise, the Eucharist is personal, intimate and relational. Whereas the office is a means of taking the self out of our worship, the Eucharist provides an opportunity for us to bring our whole selves and all our concerns to worship. We seek to engage and be engaged by God and to be connected with God’s action in the world. As such, when we come to the Eucharist, there is no need to leave our self behind – we come as we are with all our flaws and all our desires. In the Eucharist there is no room for pretence and no need for disguise. We are not seeking to be detached and indifferent, but to be completely involved, to enter into a relationship with God that is real and authentic.  For this reason we come to the Eucharist just as we are – broken, flawed and needy – believing that in this time of worship, God will heal our wounds, fill our emptiness and make us whole.

There is nothing dry and unemotional about the worship we offer in the Eucharist. It is worship that is both passionate and deeply honest. From its inception as Jesus’ final meal, the Eucharist was coloured by the ambiguities, foolishness and pride that characterise human nature. The brokenness and betrayal that are embodied in the Last Supper are at the centre of our worship. We share with those first disciples our vulnerability, our confusion and our failure to understand God’s purpose. In our prayer and in our confession, we identify in our own lives moments of betrayal and we recognise that we are broken and weak. From the start of the service we are laid bare – we worship the God from whom no secrets are hidden. Later we recognise that are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under the table. It is this self awareness that gives our worship depth and meaning and which enables us to engage with God openly and genuinely.

At the same time, as members of the community around us and of the whole human race, we come to our worship bearing the anguish and despair of the world and laying them before God in the hope that they might be redeemed. Through our own brokenness and pain we are united us to each other and to the suffering of the world. We are united in our frailty. We who come to worship are not distinct from the world by virtue of our goodness or our morality or our uprightness. We share with all people our vulnerability, our potential to do wrong and to cause harm to others. Despite our faith we are not protected from loss and grief. Through our brokenness we united to the brokenness of the world. The pain and the suffering of the world becomes our pain and suffering. We cannot be truly whole until others have the opportunity to be whole.

Brokenness is not only our condition as we approach the Eucharist, brokenness is at the heart of the Eucharist. Jesus identifies with the brokenness of the world by becoming one of us and allowing himself to be broken and poured out for us. Our unity with the world is based on our brokenness. Our unity with Jesus is a consequence of his brokenness. Week after week, we remember Jesus entering into our human experience and giving his life for our sake. Jesus becomes one with us so that we might become one with him. Jesus is broken for us so that we might become whole. In the Eucharist as we eat the bread and drink the wine, we signify our union with Christ and his with us. As we share the one bread and drink from the common cup, we signify our common life in and with Jesus. “We who are many are one body, for we all share in the same bread.”

In sharing our humanity, Jesus restores our humanity. In the sharing of the bread and the wine, we one with Christ and we are restored and made whole. When Jesus instituted the Last Supper, he not only gave us a perpetual remembrance of his death and passion, but he established this meal by which we would be forever connected to him and united to each other.

Throughout the gospel, Jesus has made it clear that he and the Father are one. Now, in this his final prayer, he expresses the wish that his disciples might share with each other the sort of intimacy that he has with the Father. He gives no instructions as to what this unity might look like, or how it might be achieved, instead he gives himself completely and through this meal asks them and therefore us, to enter fully into the experience so that by being intimately connected to him we might also be connected to one another.

It is hard to say what this unity should look like. I don’t imagine that it means that we should all think the same or act the same but rather that we should have the courage to acknowledge our brokenness and to recognise that in the light of our own imperfections our differences are of little consequence and that our union with Christ binds us together in a way that nothing else can.

When we say: “We are the body of Christ” we are signifying that collectively and individually we are the continuing presence of Christ in the world. May we strive to live as the body of Christ – united to each other in love and united with God in our compassion for the world.

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