“Eucharist as Inclusion”
a Sermon by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
13th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 15, Year B – Aug 19, 2018
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church – Indianapolis, IN
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51-52)
The use of the word flesh by Jesus sparks controversy among the hearers. Some commentators point to the original Greek as suggesting a rather heated disagreement among the Israelites. John’s Gospel often presents such questions put to Jesus as opportunity to offer detailed explanations.
Jesus in John continues by stating: “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.” (John 6: )
Jesus stating that they eat his flesh and drink his blood is a departure from the prophetic symbolism of The Last Supper accounts in the Synoptic Gospels of Mark, Matthew, and Luke, where Jesus offers bread and wine as his body and blood.
To understand this we must first recognize John’s Gospel often uses what scholars note as “antilanguage.” And today’s passage is a perfect example. Anthropologist Michael Halliday first coined the term “antilanguage” as Bruce Malina and Richard Rohrbaugh reference Halliday in their excellent Social-Science Commentary on Gospel of John:
“Antilanguage” is the language of an “antisociety,” that is a society that is set up within another society as a conscious alternative to it. It is a mode of resistance.” (Malina and Rohrbaugh,referencing Halliday, p. 7)
John’s community was an antisociety. A group of Jewish followers of Jesus within the larger Jewish community. To those outside of the antisociety of John’s community, Jesus’ words to eat flesh and drink blood urges cannibalism. In the terms of “antilanguage,” as Malina and Rohrbaugh explain: to eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood is synonymous with the words to welcome, accept, receive, believe into, and the like. In Israel’s tradition, the question of eating flesh and blood raised in passages dealing with sacrifice. In this perspective the nuance here is accepting Jesus even in spit of his being “lifted up” and “glorified” on the cross. (Malina and Rohrbaugh, p. 134)
So here we can begin to make some sense of John’s “antilanguage.” Jesus, of course, is not urging cannibalism. The Gospel of John is making a connection between the celebration of the Eucharist and Jesus, now the Risen and Ascended Christ, offering his flesh and blood in sacrifice on the Cross. It would seem John draws a straight line to the practice of participating in the Eucharist as partaking of spiritual flesh and blood through the presence of the Risen and Ascended Christ.
For John’s antisociety, the Eucharist was all about inclusion. It was all about walking in the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life. Recall how “flesh” and “blood” were synonymous with welcome, accept, receive, believe into.
Welcome into the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life, Accept the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life, Receive the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life, Believe Into the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life!
Jesus wants those who follow him to enter into relationship. With God. With each other. With those in need.
Life centered on knowing and following Jesus is intended to change us for the better. Life centered on knowing and following Jesus is intended to change the world for the better. That is the Way of Love for a Jesus-centered life.
Worship is an important aspect of The Way of Love – of living a Jesus-centered life. Remember John’s antisociety understood the centrality of the Eucharist as inclusion. Synonymous with welcoming, accepting, receiving, and believing into.
Our celebration of the Eucharist is also intended as an act of welcoming, accepting, receiving, and believing into. In a society that so often excludes and oppresses, we offer an antisociety. We offer resistance to a culture of exclusion, oppression, and injustice. Eucharist is practicing the Way of Life. Eucharist is a bold and wonderful expression of how we participate in a Jesus-centered life. And how we invite, welcome, and include all to experience the Way of Love in practicing a Jesus-centered life with us.
Franciscan priest and author Richard Rohr, in a presentation titled Eucharist as Touchstone, offers the following reflection:
The mystery of Eucharist clarifies and delineates Christianity from the other religions of the world. We have many things in common, but Christianity is the only religion that says that God became a human body; God became flesh, as John’s Gospel puts it, (1:14). Our fancy theological word for that is the Incarnation, the enfleshment. It seems that it is much easier for God to convince bread of what it is than for God to convince us. Incarnation is scandalous, shocking – […] intimate […]!
He did not say, “Think about this,” “Fight about this,” “Stare at this;” but He said “Eat this!”
A dynamic, interactive event that makes one out of two.
If we did not have the Eucharist, we would have to create it; sometimes it seems that outsiders can appreciate it more than Christians.
As Gandhi said, “There are so many hungry people in the world that God could only come into the world in the form of food.” It is marvelous, that God would enter our lives not just in the form of sermons or Bibles, but in food.
God comes to feed us more than just teach us.
When we start making the Eucharistic meal something to define membership instead of to proclaim grace and gift, we always get in trouble; that’s been the temptation of every denomination that has the Eucharist.
Too often we use Eucharist to separate who’s in from who’s out, who’s worthy from who’s unworthy, instead of to declare that all of us are radically unworthy, and that worthiness is not even the issue. If worthiness is the issue, who can stand before God?
Are those who receive actually saying they are “worthy”? I hope not. It is an ego statement to begin with.
The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender or, as Thérèse of Lisieux said, “It all comes down to confidence and gratitude.”
I think that explains the joyous character with which we so often celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense gratitude and joy for such constant and unearned grace.
It doesn’t get any better than this!
Eucharist is presence encountering presence – mutuality, vulnerability. There is nothing to prove, to protect, or to sell. It feels so empty, naked, and harmless, that all you can do is be present.
The Eucharist is telling us that God is the food and all we have to do is provide the hunger. […]
Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to Eucharist is hunger.
As Richard Rohr reminds us, all we need to approach and receive the Eucharist is hunger. A hunger to know Jesus. A hunger for peace. A hunger for justice. A hunger for reconciliation. A hunger for the Way of Love in practicing a Jesus-centered life.
So come with your hunger and let Jesus feed you. Then go and feed the hunger of the world. Amen.