Deacon Cornellís Homily


Proverbs 9:1-6
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58


August 18-19, 2012 Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time - Cycle B

There is an old explanation of the difference between involvement and commitment that uses a breakfast of bacon and eggs as the example. For the chicken, that breakfast is an involvement; for the pig it is a commitment. If you have been involved with the readings over the past few weeks, you know that we are in the 4th week of our 5 weeks of listening to Jesus' Bread of Life discourse from Chapter 6 of John's Gospel. As I re-read this chapter it struck me that the Eucharist is an even better example of the difference between involvement and commitment. And if these 5 weeks of readings are a little unsettling to listen to, it is for good reason. The Eucharist is the most challenging of all the sacraments. It is a sacrament of initiation but on that we celebrate over and over again. So there is the challenge of keeping it fresh and meaningful. The Eucharist, of course, is the single most fundamental thing that separates the Catholics and Orthodox from Protestants. As Catholics and Orthodox, we believe that the Eucharist is the real body and blood of Christ. And I Protestants do not. I would suggest that how we believe the Eucharist has a profound effect on how we live out our lives as Christians. But the real question for us today, is what do we believe, you and I.

So what is Jesus really saying? The Protestant side of Christianity focuses on one verse at the end of Chapter 6 and based on that understands the whole chapter as metaphor. I think it requires a feat of mental gymnastics more astounding than those we just witnessed at the Olympics to conclude that Jesus is speaking symbolically or metaphorically when he says, "my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink." His listeners did not think he was talking metaphorically otherwise what he was saying would not have disturbed them. But he is not speaking literally either; no one could believe he expected people to come up and take a bite out of his are. So what does Jesus really mean what he said, then unless we eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, we do not have eternal life within us. How do we believe that? I would suggest that, as with so many important things in life, how we really believe that is reflected in how we live and act. We can look at this in a lot of different areas but I want to focus on one really important one: celebrating Eucharist and, especially, receiving Holy Communion. How do we understand what it is that we do week after week after week? How does this Bread of Life discourse help us understand that?

Jesus tells us that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood. When God made his covenant with Noah after the flood, in addition to all the green plants, he gave the flesh of animals to humans for food but flesh with its lifeblood was forbidden. Because blood represented life itself, that belonged to God alone. When Jesus tells us we must eat his flesh AND drink his blood, he makes it clear that this is not some cannibalistic ritual. He is telling us that we are to feed on his very self, his very live self. This should be even more disturbing to us than it was to his listeners because we know that Jesus is not just commanding us to feed on a human being but on God's very self. The inclusion of blood moves this from a strictly earthly or fleshly experience to one that draws us into the life of God, eternal life.

To me this is a reminder that the Eucharist is not a memorial of something that happened 2000 years ago. It is not a remembrance of the incarnation in the sense of a memory of something that happened and is over. The Eucharist is the continuance of the Incarnation, a participation in the Incarnation. In the Eucharist, we are formed more fully into the Body of Christ, the incarnation of God here on earth. How would we come to Mass each week, and how would we approach the table of the Eucharist if we really believed that God became human and walked the earth in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and when his time on earth was done, he called others, ourselves included, to become the the Body of Christ, of God, so that God continues to be present in the flesh today, here in Stow? Is that why you came to mass today? To be the Incarnation, the Body of Christ?

From ancient tradition, deacons have been assigned the ministry of the precious blood so I just want to end with a little focus on receiving Communion under both species. Now I know that there are good reasons why some people might never receive communion from the cup, and why some others might choose not to on a particular day. But for the rest of us, I would suggest that the decision to receive from the cup or not depends on what we believe is in that cup. For starters, in the Last Supper accounts in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and here in this Bread of Life discourse in John, Jesus clearly commands us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He doesn't say eat my flesh and if you are comfortable with it or you feel like it, drink my blood. So if we really believe that Jesus is God become human, and that he had commanded us to eat his flesh AND drink his blood, and he meant it so seriously that he said, "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you", would we choose not to receive from the cup? Do we really believe that this is the Blood of Christ? If so do we believe that we can become sick from drinking this Precious Blood?

To me, the fullness of the sacrament is revealed most challengingly in the Precious Blood. It is the difference between involvement and commitment. Of course we all want to be nourished and to be given the strength of this food, this bread come down from heaven. So we take the consecrated host and eat it. But the Precious Blood? That calls out to us to pour out our own blood, to give over our own lives for others as Jesus did, to enter into eternal life, the life of God who empties himself of everything for the life of the world. How easy it is to just walk by and not commit.

As we move from this reflection on God's Word to our physical participation in the paschal mystery that joins God and human, I would ask you to join me in praying for a fuller appreciation of the Eucharist so that when we approach the table we humbly submit ourselves to Jesus' command to eat his flesh and drink his blood so that we might become more fully, more effectively, the flesh and blood of God for the life of the world. S

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