I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So 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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.”
– John 6:51-58
Over the last few weeks several people have shared with me their concerns, feelings, and decisions about the Episcopal Church. I have also read the judgments, opinions, and forecasts about the Episcopal Church in various journals, articles, blogs, and e-mails. One thing seems consistent in all these. It is the last day.
For some it is the last day they feel they can be a part of the Episcopal Church and they have either left or are leaving the church. Others may not leave the church but still feel it is the last day of the church they have known and loved. And others hope it is the last day that the church will discriminate against and fear the presence of gay and lesbian persons.
It does not matter what “side” you are on; it is the last day for all of us. But the last day is not limited to the state of the church. We all come to the last day – the last day of physical life, the last day of a relationship, the last day of a dream for what life might have been and what we wanted. And some days the circumstances of life become so heavy and overwhelming that we declare enough is enough. It cannot go on like this. It is the last day.
We tend to think of the last day as some unknown time in the future, a day to be avoided. We fear it is a day of future endings, failures, and losses. And yet the reality is that every day is the last day. We have no guarantee of tomorrow. We do not know what tomorrow will bring or if there will even be a tomorrow. This day – this present moment – is all we have been given. So today is the last day. But it is not a day to feared or avoided. It is a glorious day full of grace, hope, beauty, and life. God guarantees that.
“And I will raise them up on the last day,” Jesus promises.
Every day is the last day. That is not just good news; that is great news because every day we are being raised up. Every day we are being renewed. Everyday we are being re-created. Every day we are being given new life and new possibilities. Every single day we are being raised up into the likeness of Christ. Whether or not we are conscious of it that is, I believe, why we show up Sunday after Sunday. We want to be raised up. That is the fulfillment of our deepest longing. That raising up is where we find meaning and purpose for and in our lives. And that, that is something worth celebrating
So today – this last day – is a day to celebrate and give thanks. We do that in the Holy Eucharist. God changes the bread and wine – the offering of all that we are and all that we have – into the body and blood of Christ. We eat and drink. God changes the last day into the new and eternal first day.
But how? How can we celebrate and eat and drink together when there is so much division, hurt, anger, and fear in our church? How can we celebrate when we know the reality of the brokenness, losses, and sorrows of our lives? How can we celebrate when most of the news headlines tell us there is nothing to celebrate?
We are not the first to ask. The religious authorities, the religious insiders, of Jesus’ day also had their questions. They too wanted to know. There was disagreement and fighting. They were arguing among themselves saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
But Jesus does not answer the question. He does not satisfy our need to be right, or fulfill our desire for certainty, to know and understand. Jesus ignores the question and, instead, responds to our deepest need – life. Life is what we most long for today, this our last day. That is what Jesus is offering. Jesus seems more concerned with life and relationship than with correct answers and right explanations. Relationship is what will change the world and our lives. And Jesus is giving priority to people, life, and relationships.
Jesus does not explain how he can give his flesh to be eaten. Instead, he invites us to taste and see, to eat and drink. He is like a loving parent setting new food before a child and saying, “Just try it. It is good for you.” He invites us into a relationship of intimacy with him and each other, to come together and partake of the one body and the one blood. “Just try it. It is good for you.”
The question is not how Jesus could give his flesh to be eaten. The question is not what Jesus will do or how he will do it. The question is not even for Jesus to answer. The question is for us. What will we do? Will we risk eating his flesh and drinking his blood?
He tells us that the ones who are eating his flesh and drinking his blood are living and remaining in him and he in them. He is speaking in the present tense. It is not about the future. It is about right now, here, in this place, in your life, and in my life.
Are we willing to risk being united, to eat his flesh and drink his blood, to be made one body and one blood? If we say yes, we are asking to be changed, to be made different. And God is always faithful. God will change us. We will be different. Our last day will be transformed into the new first day – the eternal day – the day in which we are raised up into the likeness of Christ. Our last day will be changed into the first day full of new possibilities, new relationships, and new life.
Our pain, our brokenness, and our differences will not be healed by doctrine, argument, schism, or certainty. Perhaps elimination of our differences is not even the goal. Maybe the goal is to be united not in spite of our differences but because of our differences. Because without each other we are incomplete. If even one person leaves this parish we are less than we are called to be. If one parish leaves this diocese all other parishes are impoverished. And if one diocese leaves the Episcopal Church we have wounded the Body of Christ. The Eucharist completes us. It takes the many along with all of our differences and unites us into one. It heals, restores, and perfects us.
When we participate in the Eucharist we literally take into our selves, our souls, and our bodies the fullness of who Jesus is. We digest his humanity in us. It becomes a part of us. We digest his divinity in us. It becomes a part of us. I cannot help but wonder about that old saying – “you are what you eat.” Could it be that when we eat the body of Christ and drink his blood that we become Christ? Yes. Yes, that is exactly what it is. And if you are Christ, and if I am Christ, and if “they” – whoever “they” are for you – are Christ then we are the one Body of Christ in the world. And there is nothing that can separate us from each other or from God.
Today we join with Christians across all times and all places in celebrating the Eucharist just as God’s people have done for almost 2000 years. God will consecrate our offering of bread and the wine. They will be raised up for all to see. Look at the bread. Look at the wine. See the body and blood of Christ. Behold what you are and become what you see.
We are his hands and his feet. We are his mind and his heart. We are the flesh and blood of Christ. We are the sacrament, holy food for a hungry world.
Jesus offered them life and they stood there arguing among themselves about who is right and who is wrong. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But what I wonder and what I want to know is this. How can we refuse to eat and drink his offering of life? How can we refuse to be raised up? How can we stand there saying, “No, thank you. I would rather die?”