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

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