St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church
Ms. Elisabeth Turchi
Proper 16 Year B
August 26, 2018
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my Strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19: 14) AMEN.
Theresa and I visited with Mother Barbara Friday afternoon. For those unaware, Mother Barbara was bitten by a rabid fox on Thursday. She is recovering beautifully already, and I know that she is filled with deep gratitude for all the love and prayers you have been offering her. Please continue to hold both Barbara and Mary Grace who was with her and helped her to safety in prayer as they recover from this trauma.
While Theresa toddled about the Hutchinson household, I prayed with Mother Barbara and held space for her to share her experience including her sadness at not being able to be with us today. Not yet knowing what would become of today’s service, I heard myself saying, “If it would help, I’d be happy to offer a homily.” The words were out of my mouth before I had the chance to pull them back. “Thanks a lot, Holy Spirit.”
Mother Barbara’s only suggestion was “to not overthink it and preach it from your heart.” So, of course, I promptly began to overthink everything, but I will endeavor to lead from my heart.
In today’s gospel reading from John, Jesus presents his followers with a challenging teaching. He continues his teaching in the synagogue on “I am the bread of life,” expanding on the teaching saying not only is he, himself, the bread that will ensure eternal life, but that you must “EAT my flesh and drink my blood”. It bears mentioning that the word translated here as “eat” means not to consume for general sustenance but rather “to chew, or to feed upon,” indicating a slow process over time.
This seemingly cannibalistic idea was disturbing to many of Jesus followers. Indeed, it would be an offensive suggestion if taken literally instead of being understood spiritually. Puts an interesting spin on the saying “You are what you eat.” As we chew on what we eat, it slowly becomes a part of us. The last part of Jesus statement, I find to be the most powerful: “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” “Abide in me, and I in them.”
One of my favorite parts of the Rite 1 service is the Prayer of Humble Access, prayed just before communion. For some of us 10 o’clockers, who only get to enjoy it during the summer months, it may be a bit new and unfamiliar. It contains the words “Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.” A reference to today’s gospel reading and that “difficult” teaching that only 12 disciples could swallow (pun intended). To eat and drink that we may evermore dwell – that we may abide in him and He in us.
The writer of John uses the word translated as “abide” 40 times and in nearly every chapter of the book. This is clearly a point the author wishes to drive home.
This prayer is a reminder of what I all too often forget: that God abides with us – God holds space with us and for us at all times, in our joys and in our sorrows, in our victories and our losses, in our happiness and in our pain.
When we sing together, God abides with us. When we lose the game, God abides with us. When we turn down the job, God abides with us. When we make the team, God abides with us. When we face our fears, God abides with us. When the unimaginable happens and we rage against God, God abides with us. Whether we laugh or cry, God abides with us.
In the Rite I Post Communion Prayer, I would draw your attention to another line: “that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people.” We stand and kneel together as the Body of Christ, united by the bread we break and the cup we share. And through this communion, we are drawn into abiding with not only Christ, but with each other.
In a seemingly increasingly divided world, the idea of abiding the presence of others whose beliefs are different from our own may seem difficult. We choose the comfort of familiar beliefs and voices over the challenge of listening to others we disagree with or simply don’t understand. But we are called to abide with one another.
1 John chapter 4, which many scholars believe to be authored by the same individual who wrote the gospel, I believe holds the key to abiding with one another. “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another…God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”
I endeavor and struggle daily to make the choice the disciples made – to remain with, to dwell with, to abide in Christ, and acknowledge the abiding presence of Christ in myself and others.
I’d like to conclude with a version of a prayer that may be familiar to you. It’s a prayer I said before meals as a child that begins “God is great. God is good.” At home, we’ve changed the first few words to “God is love” and “By his hands” to “By innumerable hands.” For as Teresa of Avila said “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours…Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.” Your hands, your loving hands, are the innumerable hands of God, and so I pray: “God is love. God is good. Let us thank God for our food. By innumerable hands we all are fed. Give us, Lord, our daily bread.” AMEN.