Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pentecost 11-B, 2012: Food for the journey

Proper 14 Lectionary: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

En el nombre del Dios, Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

The Eucharist, our celebration of thanksgiving and praise, is the central act of worship in the Episcopal Church. It says so right there in the first sentence on page 13. The Eucharist is what we do on Sundays - our Sabbath day.

The Eucharist is also discussed in the Catechism on page 859. There it says that the Eucharist is “the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again… [The Eucharist] is the way by which…Christ… unites us to…himself…”

In the document entitled, “Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, put out by the World Council of Churches, of which the Episcopal Church is a member, the Eucharist is described as “...the sacrament of the gift which God makes to us in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. In the eucharistic meal, in the eating and drinking of the bread and wine, Christ grants communion with himself... giving life to the body of Christ and renewing each member. In accordance with Christ's promise, each baptized member of the body of Christ receives in the eucharist the assurance of the forgiveness of sins… and the pledge of eternal life... in the eucharist, ...we are sanctified and reconciled in love, in order to be servants of reconciliation in the world... to be... in solidarity with the outcast,... to become signs of the love of Christ who lived and sacrificed himself for all...”

The language used by Jesus in today's Gospel, bread as flesh and wine as blood, is language of ritual. Jesus was, after all, a rabbi, who presided over many ritual meals. In his book, Doors to the Sacred, Catholic theologian Joseph Martos says ritual meals, “affirm and intensify the bond of unity among the participants.” (Doors to the Sacred, Joseph Martos, 213)

Martos affirms the teaching that those of us who come to this sacred meal ought to reflect on what we’re doing, why we’re coming to receive this holy food, what is it that we are inviting into ourselves – our bodies and our lives – because in the sharing of the bread of life and cup of salvation, “we are being united into a body – the body of Christ.” (Martos, 215)

That means things are different for us because, as St. Paul says, “we are members of one another.” (Eph 4:25) We can be angry, but we must not let that anger cause us to sin, that is, to break our communion with one another or with God.

When we speak, we are to say only that which will give grace to those who hear us, remembering that when we tear another member down, or cling to bitterness and anger, or slander another member, we cause the Holy Spirit to grieve. So we think about this meal and make a choice to receive it knowing its power over us – the power to unite us to God and to one another in love.

Ritual meals like the Jewish Passover and our Holy Eucharist are also “re-enactment(s) of sacred vents” so that “those events become real and present to the people who share it.” (Martos, 213) This isn’t just a memorial for us, it’s a present reality. Christ is truly present, and we don’t just remember this, we live it.

When we hear the words, “do this for the remembrance of me” I hope we hear the voice of our Savior inviting us to come back into unity with him. Remember. Re-member... be a member again… be one with me again...

That’s why, in our tradition, all of our senses are engaged in our liturgies. We sit in the midst of the beauty of these stained-glass windows and the warmth of the wood that forms our chancel, altar, and pews.

We gaze upon the cross that was transformed by our Savior from a symbol of humiliation to a sign of victory. We light candles so that we have living light in our midst – a reminder that Jesus lives and is in and among us each time we gather. We hear the rich beautiful tones of our organ and engage our bodies and our minds as we sing prayers of praise to God.

In many churches, including our own chapel, the smell of incense becomes a familiar cue that we have entered a holy space where our prayers are lifted to heaven as we watch the smoke from the incense rise to the rafters and hang there like a cloud. And we imagine that must be where the cloud of witnesses prays with us. (I hope we can enjoy this sensory experience again one day here in this holy space.)

We walk up to the communion rail and kneeling or standing by someone we may or may not know, someone we may or may not like, we reach out our hands and take the bread of Holy Communion into our mouths and remember that we are one in the body of Christ. We taste the bread of communion as it melts on our tongues and that too becomes a signal to our bodies that something holy is happening and we are choosing to let it happen within us.

The smell of the wine greets us as the cup is raised to our mouths and the deep and momentarily harsh flavor of the consecrated wine stimulates our glands and our saliva mixes with the wine in our mouths, making manifest the union of our bodies to Christ. As we swallow, we can feel it as the warmth of the wine travels deeply into our bodies.

When we eat the bread of life and drink the cup of salvation, we make an offering of ourselves, giving our bodies to God who enters us, becomes one with us, and makes us one with each other.

It is a mystical moment, a moment of pure joy as we remember, even for just this moment, that our sins have been forgiven. It is a moment of deep peace as we remember that by this spiritual food we are renewed, strengthened, and made whole again.

Our daily lives can drain us. Our Christian life should drain us.

We should be giving out love and prayer and offering words of hope to someone every day, all the time. There are so many who need it. We should give it until it’s gone because we believe, we know there is always more. God’s grace is sufficient, so there is always enough to replenish us.

God granted Elijah heavenly food when he was used up, when he was “give out” as my husband would say. Let me die, Elijah said. I’ve had enough and I don’t want to go on. But the angel of God said to Elijah, get up and eat, and there before him was heavenly food.

Eat this food, the angel said to Elijah, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” (1Kings 19:7)

It’s true - the journey is too much for us too unless we are continually nourished and renewed by our spiritual food, the bread and wine of Holy Communion, “the sacrament commanded by Christ for the continual remembrance of his life, death, and resurrection, until his coming again…” (BCP, 859)

The journey is too much for us unless we continually affirm our bond of unity and remember that we are one with Christ and one another.

The journey is too much for us unless we stop the world, come into the presence of God and remember that our sins are forgiven and we are sanctified, that is, made holy, and drawn by the Father to Christ who will raise us up on the last day.

Remembering that gives us strength to go out to the world, again and again, as living signs of the love of Christ, imitators of God, and servants of reconciliation in the world.


Link to the Baptism, Eucharist, Ministry document:

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The prayer our Savior taught us

Every Sunday at our Eucharistic gathering we pray together the prayer our Savior taught us: The Lord’s Prayer, found in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Jesus said to his disciples: “Pray then in this way: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us to the time of trial, but rescue us from the evil one.” (Mt 6:9-13)

We pray believing that God hears and answers our prayers. We pray not so much to ask for what we need or want – God already knows that and is answering our prayers before we ask. We pray in order to bring ourselves into the presence of God whose Spirit fills us and leads us to wholeness again and again – as often as we go there.

When we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we know that this is already happening. That can be both comforting and frightful when we think about it. If God’s Spirit is in us, then what happens to us happens to God who is in us. Therefore, when we see the face of a suffering child of God, we see the face of God. When we give comfort to one of the least in the kingdom (or when we don’t), we give comfort to God (or we don’t).

When we pray for God’s will to be done, it’s because the only other option is our will – and even in our least humble moments, we know our will isn’t sufficient. We know our best gifts and greatest compassion and most self-sacrificing love can’t bring about reconciliation of the world to God. Only God can do that – and God chooses to continue that work through us. So when we pray that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven, we are asking God to change us. By our free will, we can choose to step out of God’s will. Sometimes we look up and find that we have stepped out of the path of God without realizing it. Mindlessness and habit can lead us to that. Prayer is our way of consenting to be brought back into cooperation with the divine will.

When we pray, Jesus reminds us to do so trusting in the steadfast love, mercy, and compassion of God who provides what we need – our daily bread - as we need it. When we truly believe that, then we become sources of that abundance to others. We are unafraid to “give it away” because we know there will always be more, there will always be enough.

Jesus also teaches us to remember to seek to be forgiving, just as God is forgiving. We are all children of God and we’re all bound together in that identity. The question is, what binds us – sin or love? If it is sin, we get stuck, held back from our true purpose or we hold others back from their true purpose. If it is love, we live in freedom and all things really are possible by the power of God working in us.

When we pray, we remember the truth of eternal life given to us as a gift (grace) from God, and we are able to live our lives in the eternal presence of God. Right here. Right now. From that prayerful perspective we can see clearly that the things of the world are tempting, but temporary, and we are no longer deceived by what they seem to promise.

We return our gaze to God who is the source of life, truth, compassion, and fullness of joy. This is the reign of God. This is the glory of God. Now and forever. Amen.