My friend Farrell was a little shocked when I emailed her a file entitled “Eat Me” for her to print out. “You sure this is your sermon?” she yelled from her computer into the guest room where I was staying. “Yeah. It makes sense if you read it. Jesus tells us to eat him in the Gospel passage for today.” I walked into the kitchen where she sat looking at the screen, one eyebrow raised. “OK then…” she hit print.
(OT—Proverbs 9:1-6; Epistle—Ephesians 5:15-20; Gospel—John 6:51-58)
Christ Episcopal Church, Charlotte, NC. August 19, 2012, 5pm Service
Prayer—May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be pleasing to you, oh God, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
You would think that going to seminary would make writing a sermon easier—that a year of studying scripture and theology and history and Greek would somehow make the words flow onto my paper and out of my mouth. You would think.
Instead when I engage today’s readings, especially the Gospel passage from John, I am stumped on how to preach it. While looking closely at the Greek text for this passage is interesting for a geek like me, and while my class on Judaism certainly shapes the way I read this, and while I am especially intrigued by the personification of Wisdom in the reading from Proverbs I may pull in later, none of this provides a good enough take-away. None of it provides a morsel we can continue to wrestle with throughout the week. And that is what I’m aiming for—some wrestling time.
Our passage begins today with Jesus saying some interesting things about himself: “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.” Now hold on a minute, Jesus. Here you are, teaching in the middle of a synagogue in Capernaum, and you mean to tell a bunch of Jews that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life?!?” Don’t you know that “flesh eaters” in Hebrew tradition were considered the devil, and that consuming blood was strictly against kashrut laws outlined in Genesis, Leviticus and Deuteronomy?? What is going on?
Of course Jesus would have known all these things. He wasn’t teaching in the synagogue as in imposter. Jesus is called “rabbi, teacher” because of his extensive knowledge and practice of Judaism.
John’s Gospel begins with a beautiful depiction of Jesus coming to us: “And the Word became flesh and lived among us.” God incarnate. God with skin on. The Word made flesh. And in the Hebrew tradition, the words “flesh and blood” together connote the whole person. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood…” I’m giving my whole self to you.
Why would Jesus offer his whole self to us? “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Don’t you just love that word, “abide.” And yeah the flesh eating and blood drinking that prefaces it is kinda gross to think about, but I think maybe Jesus is trying to get our attention, trying to get the attention of those in the synagogue, trying to say, “HEY! Pay attention! This is different—this is set apart—you are set apart. I’m offering you something more.” God incarnate, dwelling among us, abiding in us, and us in God.
But why do we have to eat it? It’s a weird questions, I know. But how can we come to the table tonight without asking, why?
I’m sure many people could answer this question many ways, but I want to focus on three things: sacrifice, participation and thanksgiving.
First: the sacrifice. In order for Jesus to say, “eat my flesh and drink my blood,” he must be offering himself as a sacrifice. This is not a new concept, but I want to look today at this idea of sacrifice from the Jewish perspective Jesus would have known well. Lets look at the holiest of days in the Jewish tradition: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. One of the Yom Kippur traditions during Jesus’ time would have been to take a goat and a bull, both without blemish, to transfer the sins of the priest’s family onto the bull, and the sins of the people onto the goat, and then sacrifice them both. The blood from these sacrifices was then taken to cleanse the holiest part of the temple. Here’s the point—while blood is not typically something Jews would want to mess with, when offered as a sacrifice, blood is cleansing. And Jesus is offering himself in sacrifice. His blood is not offensive, it is cleansing. We can’t ignore the sacrifice when we come to this table.
Second: our participation. Jesus was teaching. People were listening. We do a lot of listening too. We listen to talk-radio, to our friends, our mentors, our enemies even. But you know that expression, “drink the kool-aid?” How often do we do that? How often are we all-in—actually ingesting what we hear and see so that it becomes part of us and we participate in it? That is what Jesus is inviting us to do. Words are important, but they only get us so far. Jesus is the Word made flesh. And he invites us to “drink the kool-aid” and participate in this Jesus movement. To be all-in. This isn’t just talking about Jesus, putting a Jesus bumper sticker on our car, posting Jesus-ism on our facebook walls. This is feeding the poor. Clothing the naked. Caring for the widow and the orphan. Welcoming the stranger. Loving our enemy. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” We can’t ignore the participation this table demands.
Finally: thanksgiving. Did you know the word Eucharist means thanksgiving? Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians today basically says be wise, understand the will of the Lord, give thanks together. Paul seems to think that giving thanks together, in fellowship, in communion, is a key component to being wise and understanding the will of the Lord. How are we to be wise? Let’s ask Wisdom…
Another of the readings in our lectionary today, but not in our programs, is from Proverbs. It was written before Jesus’ time and is presumably a passage Jesus would have been familiar with. It’s short, so I’ll read it to you:
Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her servant girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
“You that are simple, turn in here!”
To those without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of my wine I have mixed.
Lay aside immaturity, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
Wisdom calls out to those lacking her and says, “Come to my table and eat your fill! Pull up a chair, there is room for everyone, eat and be satisfied. Eat and live.”
Be wise, Paul says. Come to the table, says Wisdom.
Understand the will of the Lord, Paul says. Feast on me so that we can abide in one another, says the Lord.
Give thanks, Paul says. It is in giving thanks that we are wise. It’s in giving thanks that we understand the will of the Lord. It is in giving thanks that we come to this table.
So come. Remember, participate, and live in thanksgiving. Amen.