"Bread and Wine," August 19, 2012, Pentecost 12B
Jesus said, “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.” The religious leaders then 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 Human One 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 Creator sent me, and I live because of the Creator, 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.”
Will you pray with me? Creator of all that is, bless our hearing and our speaking today. Give us grace and wisdom to take in your teaching, your love, your presence in our lives today and always. Amen.
This reading reminded me of a Marsha Stevens song, “Don’t Change Me.” The singer says she wants to be filled and warmed by Christ, blessed and touched by Christ; but she doesn’t want people to look at her oddly, she wants to be “the same only better, free without fetter,” she tells God, “you can fill me but don’t change me.” She wants all the trappings of being a Christian, of being a good person, all the appearance of being a Christian—she has her new Christian t-shirt, her WWJD pin—and even many of the actions—she thinks maybe she should be a pastor—but, she says, fill me but don’t change me. “You can bless me God, but don’t transform me.”
Of course Marsha means the whole song ironically—because changing people is exactly what Jesus is most about. She is reflecting the attitude of people who want to be seen as Christian, but are terrified of what that mean if they really took in the message of Christ and made it part of themselves—if they were changed by it. Jesus healed people—which is change. He changed water into wine and one boy’s dinner into enough for a multitude. He asked a tax collector, Zacheus, to make him dinner and changed that man’s life. Jesus is about change.
Many of us here know this intimately. We have lived lives in which we did things we weren’t and aren’t proud of; like Paul, we haven’t done things we should have, and we have done things we should not have. And yet, with God’s grace, we have felt that change in us as we welcomed God into our lives. We have been changed, because we have taken in that spirit of love and hope and generosity that is God.
I am sure the people Jesus was talking to were shocked or at least surprised when he talked about eating his body and drinking his blood! After all, taken literally that is cannibalism on the one hand and a violation of the laws of Moses on the hand—blood must be drained from an animal before it is eaten. But Jesus is using a metaphor here—the clearest image possible of taking in something is by eating it. Clothes can be easily changed and besides, they wear out; hairstyles change, jewellery can be lost or removed, even tattoos are literally only skin deep. But when something is eaten—then it becomes truly part of you.
There’s a famous passage in Isaiah in which the prophet eats a scroll of scripture and it tastes as sweet to him as honey. It’s a metaphor for the prophet taking in the words of God, making them a part of himself, sweet and rich and nourishing.
But Jesus is talking about more than sweetness, more than a lovely extra—he is the very basis, the foundation of a full life—bread and wine, the most basic food and drink of his time. We talked about that a couple weeks ago if you remember. Bread is filling and nourishing and relatively inexpensive; it was the staple of the Mediterranean diet of the time. Wine was the main drink, with more or less water added—easy to make from plentiful grapes, when water was not always safe or available. So Jesus is naming himself as the very basics of life—the bread and wine that feed and sustain and strengthen human beings.
More than that, this bread and wine, this substance of who Christ is, is to be taken in, incorporated into our bodies, ourselves. We digest them, not in the literal sense, but in the sense of thinking about them, praying over them, meditating on them, and then assimilating them into the very fabric of our spirits and our souls.
But this is difficult—it is hard to be the person we are supposed to be, to show Christ in us to the world. And so we remind ourselves, at least once a week, of God’s presence in our innermost self through taking the bread and wine of Communion—eating the bread, drinking the cup—taking them, taking God, into ourselves once more, reminding ourselves of whose we are, of what we should be deep inside. We do it all together—because we know we need each other to be able to do this, and to see the Christ in each other reminds us of the Christ in ourselves. I do not know of a single Christian denomination in which Communion is habitually celebrated or taken alone. It is done with others, in mutual recognition and support of our shared identity and struggle and commitment to be the face of Christ, of God, to the world. When we join together in this act of remembering at God’s table, we do it together, sharing the remembrance, sharing the struggle, sharing the strength, sharing our gifts.
In one sense, this is just flour and water baked together, it is just juice from a bottle. But in another sense, it is so much more than that—it is a visible, tangible, symbol of God’s presence with and in us, continually renewed through our presence in community and a shared meal, expressed through our love for and presence with all God’s children.
In this week to come, remember that you carry Christ within you; in your quiet moments, reflect on the joy and responsibility that carries with it. In your busy times, of work and doing and action, be that face of Christ that is part of you. And remember too, that Christ is forgiving, so when you stumble, forgive yourself—get up and begin again.
Above all, know with every part of your being that the love of God which is Jesus Christ is in you, and part of your very being, today and always. In all God’s names, amen.