Sunday, June 17, 2012

Dangerous Territory: The Eucharist

A sermon for Corpus Christi Sunday, June 10, 2012.  The lectionary readings are from the Book of Common Prayer, "Of the Holy Eucharist," Revelation 19:1-2a, 4-9, Psalm 34, 1 Corinthians 11:23-29, and John 6:47-58.

I used to serve a church that, for a little while, had a small sign posted in the sacristy.  I don’t remember the exact words, but it was something like, “omnes pavit; non est nocere.”  It was a working slogan for the sacristy, but also for the church and the way in which we celebrated the worship of God, and especially the way we celebrated the Eucharist.  The words translated simply enough:  All were fed; no one got hurt.

The idea that someone might get hurt may sound strange, until we recall that there has always been some fear around the sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.  Perhaps all the way from its primeval and archetypal roots, the idea of a sacrifice for us, is dangerous.  Perhaps, instead of the little Latin sign, we should have a sign near our sacristy that says, “Danger:  God Working.” 
The idea that the Holy Sacrament could be dangerous might be funny when you first hear it or think of it. After all, what could be less harmful than a wafer on the tongue and a drop or two of communion wine mixed with water? Bread and wine are simple enough, but if we really believe, in we believe Real-ly, our faith tells us that this bread and wine contain the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. As today’s Gospel puts it, “My flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. They who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” And that’s where the danger begins.

Way in the back of the Prayer Book is the Catechism, and in the section about the Holy Eucharist, it reminds us of the benefits of the Eucharist. “The benefits we receive are the forgiveness of our sins, the strengthening of our unions with Christ and one another, and the foretaste of the heavenly banquet which is our nourishment in eternal life.” But hidden within each of these benefits, there are dangers.

When we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ, we are forgiven. We are forgiven again. Our sins are washed away at Baptism, but the ongoing accumulation of sin in our life meets its match in Holy Communion. Saint Ignatius of Antioch called it the “medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, … that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ.” This is dangerous medicine, indeed, for anything or anyone who might be interested in keeping us in sin. The devil will not look on such medicine as innocuous or harmless, nor will his minions. And so, the Eucharist helps us. Like good medicine, it increases our resistance level. Like vitamins, it strengthens us.

The second benefit according to the Catechism has to do with strengthening our union with Christ and with one another. In a culture that suggests we should live only for ourselves, that we try to obtain all that we can for ourselves with little regard for others; in a culture that in any way lifts up people like the Kardashians as important, relevant or meaningful---- the unifying work of the Blessed Sacrament is dangerous stuff. 

In Communion we are reminded that we need each other. The common cup and common bread underline that we are not so different from one another as we are sometimes led to believe. Barriers of race and class and education, differences of national origin, or sexual orientation or marriage status are dissolved in the common chalice. They are diluted by the cleansing water of the Holy Spirit. And the blood of Christ, which is to say the blood of God our Creator, restores us into once again being fully human even as it fills us with what is fully divine.

Finally, the Body and Blood of Christ, this holy Sacrament, gives us a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Mindful of the present, grateful for the reality of here-and-now, we are made aware in the Eucharist that we are also living toward a great feast that has no ending. Today’s reading from the Revelation to Saint John the Divine is filled with images of this feast of praise and joy and love. We live into the salvation and power and glory of God. The voices of the faithful from all times and all places blend together in a holy noise that sounds like water rapids, like the clapping for joy of great waves, like a thunderstorm of laughter. This vision of heaven reminds us of our destination. This vision never excuses oppression or injustice or abuse in our age, but it reminds us of the country we are bound for. We are God’s children, and that can be dangerous information for a world that would belittle or beat down or diminish.

On this day when we baptize Linda Mahler; this day when we pause to contemplate the Holy Eucharist, let the danger begin. Let us risk blasphemy, as Jesus did, as we try to show the Body of Christ to the world. Let us risk being misunderstood, as Jesus did, as we go out of our way to feed the hungry, to lift up the poor, to release those held in captivity. And let us risk the danger of faith, as our Savior Jesus did, taking up our cross daily and following him wherever he leads.

Jesus says, “They who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day …. They who eat this bread will live for ever.” May we live into these words, both dangerous and delicious.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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