Sermons That Work

Food For The Senseless, Proper 15 (B) – 1997

August 17, 1997

In Eucharist, as in Baptism, simple elements reveal to us important truths about things deeply important to life. Our life. Our life meaning a life that is lived together: in community. This is what the bread and wine, and water and oil, seek to express. That life is ours. Plural. Life by its very nature is plural. Life is lived together with one another. Life is lived together with Christ. He dwells in us, and we in him.

From the very moment we are baptized, such life is ours. Renewed and reawakened each time we take bread, eat it, and say, “Amen.” Renewed and reawakened each time we look into the chalice and say, “Yes, I will share this cup with others as they share it with me. As He shares his very life with me.”

I am reminded of the story, whether true or apocryphal, of the man who came in off the streets of New York into Trinity Church, Wall Street, obviously homeless, and just as obviously “different” than most everyone else present. It was just as the clergy were offering communion to the people. He came skipping down that long and glorious center aisle, footloose and care free. Right up to the front of the church he skipped, stopping just in front of the clergy standing at the center, one with bread and one with wine. He asked, quite plainly, “Is that there the body of our Lord Jesus Christ?” “Yes,” answered the priest. “And is that there his blood?” “Yes,” said the celebrant once again. “Well then, I guess I will have me some of that!” exclaimed the man. And after eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ, he skipped up the aisle and out the door filled to overflowing with what Jesus calls life. Then, in the familiar and customary fashion, everyone else said their own “yes” to share the cup with each other, with Christ, and with this most extraordinary Eucharist guest! Life lived sharing the common cup!

It had to be that way for Jesus’ disciples that night before he died. Something they had done together every day with this man for none of us knows how long, break bread and share wine, suddenly and quite unexpectedly became a new and extraordinary experience. It was surprising when he said, “This is my body. This is my blood. Whoever eats this bread will live forever!” Suddenly table fellowship took on a whole new meaning.

Although we will never really know what happened or just how it happened that night, we do know it was as surprising and new as the homeless stranger who skipped into Trinity, Wall Street one day, extending the community of one flesh and one body in an entirely new way.

For those of us who come to this table week in and week out, it is not easy to come to it as something new and renewing and reawakening.

Over time we tend to come thinking: we know what this is; we know what this means. We come, we go. And life remains fundamentally the same as when we arrived this morning.

God’s word to us in Proverbs offers a suggestion: Whoever is simple, let him turn in here! To him who is without sense she says, “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Leave simpleness, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

We are to arrive simple and senseless.

Now let’s face it, we all come here freighted with everything we have been taught to believe this sacrament of Christ’s body and blood is all about. And if we cannot remember it, we have no fewer than eight Eucharistic prayers in our prayer book that go over all the cogent teachings and details of Eucharistic theology throughout the ages in eight rather remarkably wonderful and different ways, but still fairly limited in what they can say.

Because about this mystery, there is much that cannot be said. Which is why Jesus chose simple elements of every day life to be signs, sacraments, of what he is all about. And what kind of life he calls us to live. What kind of “way” he calls us to walk in. He knew words alone would not do it. Could not do it.

We are to arrive simple and senseless. Check our bags at the door. Let go of what we “think” this is all about, and experience Eucharist as if for the very first time every time. Be open to whatever surprises our God has in store. For if our God is anything, our God is the God who is full of surprises. Just remember the empty tomb that lies waiting at the end of Mark’s gospel! Talk about surprises!

For the minute we think we “know” what the Eucharist is all about, we are in trouble. We are not senseless enough to “get it.”

When parents worry when to let their children begin taking communion, at the heart of their quandary always lies the concern” I don’t think they understand it yet.

More often than not my most impertinent self rises to the occasion and asks, “Do you understand it? Can you explain the sacrament? How is this bread body? How is this wine blood? Should you receive it if you cannot explain it either? If you do not fully understand it?

Well, of course we should, sillies! If only because he commands us to. If only because there is some hidden and surprising chance that this time, when I look at the host in my hands and hold it over the altar suddenly a whole new awareness of what it means to be a member of this community of Christ’s body really means!

Sometimes as I stand at the altar, the light reflects in the chalice in some new and different way, and there in the cup a glimmer of the light of some new revelation is born. All my stale and old understandings of Eucharistia are washed away in one sip of new wine. I suddenly know I must rush out and find a new wine skin for this wine. The old ones will not do. A new bread box will be needed too! One of those electrified ones to keep the bread just so! To retard spoilage. To keep it from changing. To preserve this moment of “Aha!” To hold onto this new insight into kingdom living.

And then if I am lucky, I realize I am already creating new baggage to carry in the next time I come to this table. My “Aha!” becomes more important than my participation in the life of Christ.

It is so hard to come simple and senseless every time!

So we turn to new ways of looking at the old ideas, such as this passage from Norman Mailer’s attempt to be renewed by the Good News of God in Christ:

“In the evening, in the dark, I came to that house with my twelve, and we ate. I remained silent until I took the bread. Then I blessed it and broke it and gave a piece to each of my friends. I recalled the hour when I had broken bread in the desert and five loaves had fed five hundred(sic). In that hour I had lived in the miracle of God’s favor; so I said now: `Eat of me, for this is my body.’ And what I said was true. In death, our flesh returns to the earth and from that earth will come grain. I was the Son of God. So I would be present in the grain. I took the cup, and offered thanks to the Lord, and poured our wine, and recalled other nights when we had drunk together and had felt as if all were one, and things hidden would be revealed. Now indeed, was much revealed. The wine made me feel near my Father, and I looked upon Him as if He were a great king. Indeed, for these few breaths, my fear of Him was less than my love; I felt close to His long labors…as I gave them to drink, I said: `This is my blood, which is shed for you and for many.’ Whereupon, as I tasted the sorrow of the grapes that had been crushed to make this wine, I told them: I will drink no more wine until I drink it in the Kingdom of God.’ The Kingdom of God seemed near. My apostles stirred. One said: `How can a prophet give his flesh to eat and his blood to drink? I said: `Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you will have no life. But he who will eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life. I will raise him up on the last day. He will dwell in me and I in him.”
Norman Mailer, The Gospel According to the Son, p. 198-199

Tasting the sorrow of grapes crushed to make this wine. The warmth of the wine making Jesus feel near to His Father. The abundance of life lived at the table with Jesus. His presence in the grain that becomes bread. His presence in the earth from which comes the grain.

All of His insights recorded in Mailer’s fictional account can themselves point us to new understanding of church, and a new understanding of the world in which we live.

As Mailer’s Jesus reflects in His last supper, through His death he becomes one with the earth and all that is therein.

John Macquarrie relates that the Scottish churchman, George Macleod, used to watch the grain ships from Canada and the United States bringing their cargoes of wheat into Liverpool harbor, and he reflected that the wheat has the potentiality of becoming the body of Christ. This is the point at which sacramental theology spills over into the market place. Bread is not a mere commodity; things are not mere bits of matter. We can learn something of this from natural theology, but we learn it above all from Jesus Christ, the brad of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. (Macquarrie, A Guide to the Sacraments, p.156)

When we allow ourselves to come to this table, simple and senseless, we find an abundance of life that can be experienced in no other way, no other time, no other place.

Food for the simple and senseless. Food for life. For our life. Life lived together in the body of Christ. Surprising new life. Life made new. Every time we look at His body and drink His blood and say, “Yes, I will share this cup with others just as He shares his very life with me! Amen.

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Christopher Sikkema