Saturday, August 22, 2009

Words of Spirit and Life - Sunday, August 23, 2009

Reflections on the Readings

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 23, 2009, Year B

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

By Dennis Hankins

Readings For This Sunday

Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"...After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer walked with him.

The words of Jesus carried power, life from above, borne by the Spirit that gives life.  "The words I have spoken to you are Spirit and life," he said.  Like sowing seed, his words fell upon hearts one might liken to rocky ground, where there was not much soil, and what sprung up had no root and was scorched by the heat of the sun.  

In the Capernaum synagogue, Jesus taught that he himself is life giving bread.  Drawing upon his feeding of the five-thousand, Jesus explained that in the sacrifice of himself he would procure not just another meal but life for the world.  And further, he gave the perpetual understanding that his flesh and blood alone is true nourishment, the means of us abiding in him and he in us. (John 6:55-56) This is the understanding of the Eucharist, a meal of another nature, bringing us into the depth of life as it is in the Father.  In this life there is no darkness of death nor anguish of separation.  Eternal life is what Jesus called it:  "He who eats this bread will live for ever." (John 6:58)

The body and blood of Jesus is a spiritual revelation, a mystery that was a stumbling block to some.  It is important to note what Jesus did not say:

"Hey folks, I didn't mean it that way!  Please don't leave me now, we've been through so much together.  Give me a chance to explain myself."

Our Lord asks his disciples closest to him if they will also leave.  And it was Peter who understood the presence of the Spirit of revelation, saying, "Lord to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God."  If there is any thing else to be learned here it is that the message is not tailored to ensure no one leaves.  Rather it is absolute, without reticence or equivocation.  Jesus remained intent to infuse the Church with himself, that she might be holy and without blemish, without spot or wrinkle. (Ephesians 5:27)

I remember in my early days of ministry reading and studying on how to make my local church more marketable and attractive to those looking for a church like ours. There was no end to advertising, special events, guest speakers.  Church growth books spoke of the need to be relevant, in touch, and how to connect with the unchurched.  I suppose there are some things to be gleaned from such things, but I cringe when I remember the energy, time, and expense expended and extracted from my family and church members.  Some have been very successful in this style of ministry.  

Jesus however, speaks of himself, how that all will find an indefinable life in him in the Holy Meal in which we partake of his body, blood, soul, and divinity.  This infusion of the life of Jesus in the bread and the wine has been the source and summit of the Church's power.  The very nature of evangelism is renewed for the Church at every consecration of the offering of the bread and the wine.  At every elevation of the bread and cup we should hear again in our hearts, "And I, when I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me." (John 12:32)

I remember singing in the church of my youth, "Though none go with me, I'll follow Jesus."  This is the sentiment of Peter's statement today.  The love that must have filled the air as Jesus spoke of himself in such intimate and personal terms must be allowed to seep into our hearts today.  If we are to bring the good news of the gospel to our family and friends it can only be good news to them if it is first good news to us. It is this transformation we want for others that must first be ours.  

The Church does not rely on slick advertising campaigns to sell the Church to others.  We rely on the ever present and ever powerful Lord of the Eucharist.  This Meal has been the daily offering of the Church from the beginning of the Church.  We read in the Acts of the Apostles how the early Church remained true to the apostles doctrine, fellowship, breaking of bread, and the prayers.(Acts 2:42) Some things never change and one of them is the way the Church embraces its spirituality as it is conveyed in the Eucharist.  This is the power and relevance of the Church.  It is here the face of Jesus is placed upon every communicant, so that the world may never forget that friendship with Jesus is as possible now as it was 21 centuries ago.

Let us pray: Dear Father, in the Prince of your love you give us the Kingdom.  Every Lord's day we pause to give thanks, to receive the precious body and blood of Jesus in the blessed bread and wine.  Herein is the way of love, the remembrance our Lord commanded and the fulness of the Spirit our Lord has promised.  Amen

Saturday, August 15, 2009

He Who Eats Me Will Live - Sunday August 16, 2009

Reflections on the Readings
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 16, 2009, Year B
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis Hankins

"...And the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh...unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."(Jesus)

I remember since I was a little boy wanting to be close to our Lord.  John the Beloved was close to Jesus.  He is the one who had lain close to Jesus' breast at the supper. (John 20:21) At the cross Jesus committed to John the care of his mother.  And it is to the believers of Jewish background he wanted to woo more deeply into the life of Jesus; thus the bread of life discourse in John's gospel, chapter six.

In today's Gospel reading there are no less than twelve exchanges referencing eating the flesh or drinking the blood of Jesus.  The dispute among the Jews is about 'how' this man can give his flesh to eat.  Not backing off a bit, Jesus presses home the point: "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."

Writing to the Church at Ephesus, St. Paul speaks of the Church 'always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.'  This is coupled with 'lifting up your hearts' or as Paul puts it: 'making melody to the Lord with all your heart.'  This is the same language and form of the liturgy of the Eucharist.  I say this to remind you of the continuity of scripture on this matter.  Whether Paul or John, it is the same Lord, the same faith, the same celebration.  The focus of the earliest Christians was the Church gathered to partake of the 'medicine of immortality,' the bread of angles, the bread of heaven. (CCC 1331) The life of Jesus is the encounter of all who eat his flesh and drink his blood.

The nearness of Jesus to his people is what the word 'eat' conveys.  Jesus is as close as the breath we breathe when eat the bread and drink the cup; a consummation of his life in us.  In his life we enter the presence of love, the life of the Father and of the Son, from whom proceeds the unimpeded power of the Spirit of love.  In this holy meal we receive the riches of his glory; that we being rooted and grounded in love, may have power to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fulness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

Herein is the true nature of the Church, of those who profess the holy name of Jesus.  Lifted from the muck and mire of the Fall we are raptured into an Abyss of Love, the unending story of God's enduring embrace of the whole world, as we taste and see that the Lord is good.  

Jesus did not make the cup and bread a symbol but rather a means of participating in the life of the living Father, that as he lives because of the Father, we might live because of him.  This life is as tangible as the bread on our tongue and the wine passing our lips.  Jesus in the Eucharist gives to us the power of his endless life to take into our world, our jobs, and our homes.  This is the power to forgive, to prefer others, to think pure thoughts, to resist evil and to courageously defend the truth.

In the Eucharist is the true source of our origin and the true summit of our destiny. It is the Lord who invites us to come to him and to eat, for he who eats this bread will live forever.

Let us pray: God of all life, renew us in the life that is above, the life that comes to us in the faithful eating of the Body and Blood of Jesus; the glorified Lord of heaven and earth.  May we always approach the Feast of the Church in the Spirit of love.  Amen.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Bread from Heaven

Reflections on the Readings
Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 9, 2009, Year B
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis Hankins

The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven." (John 6:41)

You can feel the tension building.  And if there was going to be any misunderstanding, wouldn't Jesus say something to tone it down? Until now, Jesus' teaching has been metaphorical; that is, come to Jesus and believe in him for salvation.  The metaphor however is not without complications. Jesus explains, "But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe." (John 6:35)

As Jesus builds on his theme, he is revealing the other side of the same coin.  Jesus said, "I am the bread which came down from heaven."  

"Hey Charlie, did you hear that?"  

"I sure did George!"  "I thought he was old man Joseph's boy.  He died a few years ago, and his mom I've known since she was girl."

"That's what I mean, Charlie.  So how can he say, 'I have come down from heaven?"

Jesus called it 'murmuring,' explaining that the Jews were a people who had been taught by God.  To this the prophets agree.  So being taught by God naturally gravitates to mean, being attracted to Jesus, who is from above, that is from God.  He is not Joseph's son, he is the Son of God.  

Jesus explains, 

"I am the bread of life.  This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.  I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh."

It is the most intimate meaning of Jesus' words. "If any one eats this bread, will live forever," Jesus says. The two sides of the same coin, metaphor and sacrament, are now joined.  I lived most of my Christian life not looking at the other side of the coin.  In retrospect, I always knew there was more.  The 'more' being the sacramental union with Jesus in his glorified humanity, partaking of his divine nature, through the bread which is his body and the cup which is blood. The same Jesus whom we love and adore and believe in with all of our hearts, is taken into our hands and our lips, Christ in you the hope of glory.  

While I was courting Debbie, I kept AT&T in business.  The post office appreciated my business since I was writing at least once a day.  I adored her and believed in my heart she was the one for me.  Everyone who is married will agree with me that believing is wonderful.  But it is not so wonderful that you live the rest of your life as almost a husband and almost a wife.  On the day of our marriage, I received Debbie as my wife, and she received me as her husband.  She was the same Debbie, but I came to know her in a way I had never known her before.  We both entered into a deeper reality of each other, an awareness that grows with each day together.

What Jesus is revealing to us is the deep things of himself to us and of our relationship with him.  There is more to being just acquainted with him; Jesus asks us to be one with him.  This is a step of faith.  The human reasoning of flesh without faith will find Jesus' words repugnant.  It is the heart alive with faith which knows there is more, there is deeper, there is life in him, with him, and through him.  Peter described it to the early Church as partakers of the divine nature.(2 Peter 1:4)

The power of an endless life is what we celebrate in every Eucharist.  From this life is derived the power of the Spirit to resist bitterness, anger, shouting and malice.  Life in Christ imparts to us the desires to imitate Christ and live in love with one another.  How to be sacrificial is learned at the altar of God.  It is here we commune with our heavenly husband in the Spirit on the Lord's Day.  Face of Jesus shine on us!

Let us pray: God our Father, in whom is life and love, be glorified this day as we commune with you through the Son of your love by the Holy Spirit.  Amen.



Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Bread of Life

Reflections on the Readings
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time - August 2, 2009, Year B
The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
By Dennis Hankins

Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life...Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life..." (John 6:27, 35)

There are things that perish with the using.  Food is in that category.  We eat to sustain our natural lives, but in the end, mortality will claim each of us.  There is no fountain of youth, or miracle meal that will stave off the inevitable.  Jesus teaches us not to look for our heavenly hope in food which perishes.

Life, eternal life is in him who said, "I am the bread of life."  We will read on future Sundays, the dismay and consternation hurled at Jesus for proclaiming himself 'the bread of life.'  Jesus said, "My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven, and gives life to the world."

There is food which connects us to God.  Bread which nourishes us for our journey to union with the Holy Three in One.  It is bread that gives life, life everlasting.  Everyone who eats this bread shall never die.  It is a mystery which is revealed by the Spirit, a revelation which only faith by a renewed mind can explore. (Ephesians 4:23)

"I am the bread of life."  They are such simple words, but words which draw each of us into an important and necessary relationship with our Lord.  Standing there among those who had been filled with the loaves earlier, Jesus invites a deeper and more profound belief, a belief in him whom God has sent into the world.  

Jesus' audience listened intently, interacting with him as they drew upon their history of being miraculously fed for 40 years in the wilderness.  The manna had sustained them.  Jesus is now talking about a bread from heaven that will lead them to another promise; the promise of a new heart, a new mind, and a new love.  This bread of which Jesus speaks is himself, the bread of life, and they said to him, "Lord, give us this bread always."

Since the beginning of the Church, it is the Eucharist which has sustained us.  It is the source and summit of our faith. Instituted by our Lord on the eve of his betrayal, Jesus revealed himself to his apostles in a deep and profound way.  When he had given thanks, he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples and said, "This is my body."  In the upper room, a new dimension of faith formed in the hearts of his disciples.  All except Judas.  He would labor for the bread which perishes.

John's meditation on the 'bread of life' reminds us that in the Eucharist, we are participating in the divine nature.  The prayers of the Church, the teaching of the apostles, the life of the saints together in fellowship, speak of the life and power of the Eucharist.  (Acts 2:42) St. Paul describes the Eucharist as a participation in the body and blood of Christ.  In the fulness of faith there is life.  It is not symbolic life, but real life, the power of an endless life, the hope of eternal happiness.

Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst."  Let us be more deeply transformed by his life in us and be the face of Jesus for each other, our brother and sister.

Let us pray: Our Father, you give us the true bread, the bread of life, even Jesus our Lord.  Pour out your Spirit upon us so that in this life we may bring to all the bread of life.  Amen.