This is a very special evening here at St Brigids. We’re going to slow things right down during the Eucharist and take some time to talk it through, to learn about some of the amazing symbolism, and deep imagery related to our central liturgical practice as Christians. I’m looking forward to this!
A quick aside, when I was a kid, I was a server. Our parish priest was quite adventurous for the time, and he often spoke about symbolism and imagery in church. One of my young server friends asked the priest, about the symbolism of the two candles on the altar. He replied with a deep and serious tone, “during the early days of the church, the clergy used two candles instead of one, so that they might see the table more clearly.” There was a pause, and then we all got it.
Sometimes a candle is just a candle.
What we’ll find this evening though is that much of the liturgy of the Eucharist is a series of images and symbols that are doorways to deep and profound meaning. This section of the liturgy, known as a homily or a sermon, is based on an ancient idea of teaching.
A rabbi, for example would comment on a meaning of a particular section of the text read that day. One tradition, still done today during the 10:30 service at CCC, is that the Bible is closed by the person reading the Gospel, so that the preacher can more conveniently place their notes.
But this actually harkens back to a rabbinic tradition that holds that the rabbi doing the teaching is not reading from the scroll of the Torah, but from his or her notes about the scroll. This is to suggest that the teacher is commenting on the text, not adding to the text. A subtle but important distinction.
Today’s Gospel reading is similarly ripe with imagery that requires we go through a doorway past the literal. And I want to say, that this is my thinking, based on others teachings, about this profound passage. There are other ways of thinking about it.
A big question that quite reasonably flows out of the text is ‘Is Jesus asking us to be cannibals?’ In fact it is exactly what the people in the narrative ask. And quite frankly, there are some days when I ask the same thing. Rather than saying, “no, no, that’s not what I meant,” Jesus seems to drive home the point;
“Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man 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.”
So what is going on here?
Jesus is pushing a very big button. A button that operates a switch that we all share; the choice switch.
This switch exists in each and everyone of us, and it is reflected time and time again in the Bible. You and I have a choice; we can choose love, or we can choose hate. In making that choice, your perspective changes. If I choose a hate perspective, then the world looks pretty hateful. If I choose to hate gay people for example, then, in my worldview, even my idea of god can hate gay people.
It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If I choose love, if I choose to love and honour love, even love I might not share, then my worldview will be one filled with love and mutual regard. Even my idea of god will love everyone.
Jesus turns the tables on those of us asking about eating flesh. Remember that this is the same Gospel filled with images of God as Love. If I get caught up in a hate filled, scarcity mind frame, then Jesus is simply one more cannibal, metaphoric or otherwise. If however I am looking at the world through a lens of love, a whole different understanding appears.
Love is not just out there somewhere. It’s everywhere. We need to ingest it, to bring it inside of our very bodies. Love is nice and everything, until we incarnate it, make it so real that it is part of our very cells and souls.
It’s not that I am eating a human, I am ingesting the essence of love, the essence of forgiveness. I am ingesting the power of standing up against power. I am ingesting the courage to stand before my indigenous brothers and sisters during these 22 days and say I am sorry. I am ingesting the courage to serve the sick, the weak, and the disenfranchised.
I am ingesting the power of love through the ages, from the creation of the universe, through the various life forms, through the first humans, to the humans who told stories of love and courage, through Abraham and Sarah, Moses, The Prophets, and into Jesus, whom we call Christ. The power of love found in Diethrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and in each and every one of us.
And so in a few moments, we will learn and share together in this special Eucharist. It is my hope and prayer that your switch is switched to Love. That you find in our Eucharist this evening a touchpoint that symbolizes love for you. And that touchpoint emboldens you, strengthens you and holds you as you make the difficult choice to love.