Sunday, August 16, 2009


Proverbs 9:1-6; Psalm 34:9-14; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

If someone who had never read scripture came to church tonight, someone who had heard of Jesus and wanted to know more of the story, we certainly would have welcomed him here. He would have been invited to sit with one of you, I’m sure, and we would have helped him find the right service in the prayer book. Perhaps he would have smiled to himself as he heard Wisdom say, in the reading from Proverbs, You that are simple, turn in here! Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. It’s not that he would consider himself literally simple or senseless; it’s that he might have felt we were welcoming him in the same way Wisdom calls out to us all. Turn in here! After we worship together, join us for dinner - come eat of our bread and drink of the, well, tea we have mixed...

We would have helped him find the page for reading the psalm, and when we all stood for the gospel reading, he would have stood up, too. The Holy Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, he would have heard me say. Finally, this was the story he came to hear. This was the person he wanted to know - our Lord Jesus Christ, who said, Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you...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.

Our visitor, I suspect, would now begin to wonder just what he had stumbled into. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood... Unnerved, he would glance first at one of us and then another, expecting to see us as startled as he was at the words he was hearing, but of course we wouldn’t be, and that would unsettle him even more. If he convinced himself he had imagined it all, it wouldn’t be long before he would hear in the Eucharistic prayer, Take, eat. This is my body, which is given for you... Drink this, all of you. This is my blood... I don’t think our visitor would stay for dinner, the one at the altar or the one after the service, for fear that, with what he would perceive as our penchant for cannibalism, we would be planning on making dinner out of him!

For four weeks now Jesus has been offering us food for thought - bread, to be exact, and lots of it. And if turning five loaves and two fish into a feast for five thousand weren’t strange enough, his words about living bread, bread from heaven, and bread that is his flesh and blood have only made things more strange, curiouser and curiouser. Indeed, along with the crowd these past four weeks we have been following Jesus like Alice following her White Rabbit, wondering just who he is and where he’s going and what he’s muttering about along the way. And like Alice we have found ourselves deep inside a rabbit hole filled with things labeled “Drink Me” and “Eat Me”. This is getting curiouser and curiouser! Alice marvels as she samples the fare and finds herself growing and shrinking and growing again. Just as she thinks she has gotten the hang of things in Wonderland, a new surprise awaits around a corner or up a tree or at a tea party table.

My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink... Eat me... Drink me... Some of those in the crowd took Jesus literally. How can this man give us his flesh to eat? It would be an abominable act in Jewish faith and practice. Yes, sacrifices were made and flesh was eaten in the temple, but these were rams and doves and bulls and pigeons, not people. Not since the time of Abraham, who led his son Isaac to the offering table, had God asked for a human sacrifice, and even then God stayed Abraham’s hand. Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? Live for ever? It was madness.

We’ve heard it so many times, though - week after week we ask God’s blessing upon bread and wine. Send your Holy Spirit upon these gifts, that they may be for us the Body and Blood of your son, our Savior Jesus Christ, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him. We come hungry to the table, but hungry for the presence of Jesus Christ not hungry for food. Goodness knows the little wafers we eat are hardly enough to satisfy our stomachs! Instead it is the depth of love divine, the unfathomable grace, as Charles Wesley once put it, that more than satisfies our longing to be filled.

Bread and wine, body and blood and heavenly banquets are quite real to us, but we move easily to metaphor when we hear or speak of them. We know that Jesus was no more made out of bread than the wafers we consume are made out of flesh and bone (or bread, for that matter). But they are related to one another in a deep and abiding way, and the life of Christ is conveyed into us, somehow, through that relationship. And so, writes the Reverend Sharron Lucas, “We lift our hands willingly for the morsel of bread that is wise and true, that strengthens us for the journey and affirms Jesus’ promise of life eternal.”

Our liturgies, like the scriptures from which they are drawn, are filled with metaphor, defined by Wikipedia as “a figure of speech that portrays one word or phrase as being or equal to a second word or phrase in some way.” This bread is my body, which is given for you... This wine is my blood. Metaphors are poetic and powerful, painting with words images of things which are otherwise beyond our imagination. The word metaphor itself is something of a word painting, derived from two Greek words, meta meaning “between” and phero meaning “to carry”. A metaphor carries us between one thing and another.

There is a danger, though, in playing with words and meaning this way. We risk losing ourselves in the poetry and forgetting the reality of what is being carried by the metaphor. My flesh is true food, we hear, and our minds are carried by images of bread and wine, not flesh and blood. We risk drifting from metaphor into simile, that other figure of speech in which one thing is portrayed by another using the words “like” or “as”. My flesh is like true food and my blood is like true drink... It is gentler, it is safer that way, lifting us out of Wonderland where nothing makes sense and suggesting that the madness was all made up. The bread is only like his body. “Oh, I’ve had such a curious dream,” said Alice, and she told her sister, as well as she could remember them, all these strange Adventures of hers...

But it wasn’t entirely a dream, nor is a metaphor entirely poetry. There is truth, there is reality in both. And so we return to taking literally Christ’s words to those who followed him, allowing the purest form of the metaphor to carry us between the bread and wine we can understand to the flesh and blood that make far less sense. You that are simple, turn in here, Wisdom invites us all...

Bread is sustenance, as Jesus taught us to pray give us this day our daily bread, give us what we need for life. And flesh and blood are life. And so it is that Jesus, living bread, bread of heaven, offers us his real life, his vitality, his real body, which in fact, as a community of faith, we already are. We are what we eat and drink when we come to this table where we are filled over and again with the grace of God. It is poetic, yes, but it is also powerful beyond our ability to imagine for the meal is offered by Infinite Love, Jesus Christ, who shared our human nature, who lived and died as one of us. He stretched out his arms upon the cross and offered himself, in obedience to your will, a perfect sacrifice for the whole world.

Jesus’ offer of living bread, of flesh and blood, of eternal life, Eat me, Drink me... It is every bit as shocking and radical as it sounds, as is our willingness to come to this table for bread and wine in remembrance of him. Filled with soul food, filled with Christ, we go back out into a world that becomes for us a Wonderland of strange Adventures and marvelous opportunities and amazing grace, as the poet W.H. Auden describes: He is the way. Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness; you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.

We come to this table simple and senseless, for who can understand the power of God? We leave full of metaphor, full of reality, full of strange Adventures, full of grace, full of Christ. Let us pray in the words of an ancient prayer: O food of wayfarers, O bread of angels, O manna of heaven dwellers, Christ: Feed those who are hungry. Do not deprive of sweetness the hearts of those who seek you. Amen.

Artwork: "Bread of Life," by Kelly Ann Timmins; Communion "Bread"; "Bread and Wine," by Glenis Berger De Yong; "This is my Body, this is my Blood," by the Reverend Susan Goff.

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