Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost—Year B—August 19, 2012
Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham
Let the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
What happens at the altar, during communion, when we gather around the Lord’s Table?
If I were to ask that question to a group of seminarians or pastors, the conversation would surely devolve into a conversation about theology and physics and church history. Words like transubstantiation, memorial meal, substance & accident, real presence, in/with/under, and tabernacle would start flying around. Some would try to pinpoint the moment when the bread and wine become body and blood; is it during the words of institution, the elevation, the fraction?
Some of that heady theological language would probably still come up if I asked any regular church-goer…the various controversies and theologies are buried deep down inside our brains, leftover from Sunday School, First Communion class, and Confirmation.
But honestly, all the time the church has wasted over the centuries arguing, about what would reign as orthodoxy, and then about the proper terminology to describe that orthodoxy and all the heresies that resulted, has obscured what is actually central.
And although it might seem a little over-the-head rambling from Jesus, today’s readings do not work to answer those arguments, but instead point to what is central: Jesus invites us to the table, offers his body and blood, so that he may abide in us and us in him, and this transforms us individually and as the body of Christ.
Jesus invites us to the table and promises to show up.
We are invited to the table even though we are “simple” and most of the time “without sense.” We do not have to understand, and if we are honest with ourselves, we never can understand. Jesus invites us and says that he will be present in the elements, and that is all that matters.
This is how I always start off First Communion Classes. I say, “today we are going to talk about communion, I’m going to teach some vocabulary, and we are going to talk about what it means, but do not worry you will not be tested on this stuff. I do not expect you to understand it all today, or really ever. I do not even fully understand it, and I never will. Jesus keeps his promises, and that is part of what makes it so awesome.”
It is the church’s practice to have some kind of instruction before communion people for the first time, but I see this more as an opportunity to make sure that people know that it is more than a snack and to answer as-well-as-humanly-possible any questions they have about communion. It is not by any means a way of deciding if someone is worthy or has earned it. For it is simply a gift from God. Its’ truth and effectiveness are not influenced by our understanding. As I always say…Jesus knows where to be and where not to be, and invites us to meet him there.
God not only provides for the meal and invites us, as any good host would, but goes as far in the hospitality category as to be the menu. Jesus offers his own body and blood to us.
Throughout history and the Bible, God has been linked with the idea of food. We hear all the time about God, the Creator, providing food, in the Garden of Eden, in the wilderness, and to Elijah. Today, we heard about God’s Wisdom being host for God’s people at a banquet. Jesus also hosted meals for all kinds of people. However, now Jesus moves one more step, from provider, to host, to meal. Jesus no longer simply hosts the meal; he is the meal. That is how much he cares for us and wants to be in relationship with us.
Jesus tells the crowd to “eat of his flesh” and “drink of his blood”, and they take that literally and are therefore confused. We do not literally eat flesh and blood during communion, but we truly eat of Jesus’ body and blood, and therefore we “abide” in him, and he in us.
Think about it in terms of regular food. When we eat food, our digestive systems break it down and use the basic building blocks (amino acids and fats and vitamins) to strengthen our bodies by repairing damaged tissues by replicating cells or using and storing the energy that makes it possible for us to move and grow and live. So parts of our food literally become part of who we are. “You are what you eat” people always say. Through communion, Jesus transforms us.
The good news of Jesus Christ gets integrated into our very beings. It changes how we live our lives, how we function in our everyday lives, and how we relate to one another. Jesus invites us into this incredibly intimate abiding relationship with him at communion, but also models another intimate relationship. We become the body of Christ.
It is like the recent commercial for Pediasure Sidekicks. Two women are standing on the sidelines at their children’s soccer game. One mom comments that her child is “looking a little slow.” The camera cuts to a child wearing an oversized French fry costume and you hear her say “maybe we should have skipped the drive-thru.” The commercial ends with a shot of the goalie missing a save because she is dressed as a donut and the ball goes through the hole in her center. “You are what you eat.”
We are what we eat…the body of Christ. And we are also called to be how we eat…gathered together as one body keeping no one out because we do not think they deserve or understand enough to partake. There are no human regulations on the Lord’s Supper, because it is just that…the Lord’s Supper…a pure gift, provided, hosted, and consisting of God. And there is nothing we have to do to earn it and there is nothing we can do to undo the love and oneness that is expressed in it.
Through the Lord’s Supper, God invites us, defends us, sustains us, builds us up as one body, stays with us, abides with us, helps us, blesses us, transforms us, and saves us as the body of Christ. Amen.