When I was a child, I thought that if Jesus loved me, he would rescue me from the trauma unfolding in my life. I envisioned Jesus coming down from heaven and taking me away from everything to a new, peaceful place. This didn’t happen, of course, and I misinterpreted what it meant. For the longest time, I though it meant that Jesus didn’t love me or that I wasn’t praying the right way.
As an adult, I see the prayers answered, not in the way that I had envisioned as a child, yet answered nonetheless. My faith journey, my endeavors to follow Jesus’ teachings, has led me to an unimagined peaceful place. Much of the trauma of my childhood informs the way I listen to people who share their stories with me. So much that I thought of as painful and shameful has turned out to be strengths in my relationships with others. It’s not that I am completely free from childhood trauma; I am not. However, the most painful moments have been transformed by love and allow me to be more compassionate, more understanding, more likely to extend grace and forgiveness than I might otherwise have been. Would I change my past if I could? Only if I could find another route to the person I am today.
This is the kind of struggle we witness in John’s account of Jesus talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It sounds disgusting and like no one in their right mind would want to do it. However, Jesus isn’t talking literally here at all. He’s talking spiritual stuff of great importance. Do we want eternal life? Then embody Christ, take spirit of the living Christ into your spirit. Then drink in the forgiveness Jesus poured out and let it pour out from you. This is eternal life. Live this way and we will never be forgotten as Jesus has never been forgotten. Because we remember, we embody, we act, Jesus lives – in us, through us, and around us.
Unfortunately, this isn’t as simple as it sounds, is it? If it were, there’d be a lot more Divine Love in the world and a lot less suffering. However, it has to be a matter of choice. Very few people in the history of the world can embody Christ effortlessly. It has to be an intentional choice, every minute of every day. Unfortunately, it takes a lifetime of practice and we still fall short more often than not. Yet, making the choice to embody the bread of life and forgiveness poured out seems the only possible way to eternal life. If we commit to embodying Christ – all the time and everywhere – then we truly join our story to Jesus’ story. We continue to create and participate in a story that truly never ends.
When Jesus explained this, many of his followers turned away. That may have happened just as John records it. It’s also a warning, though. This choice to take in the essence of who Jesus is/was and make it manifest in the world, is not for the faint of heart. Even if we don’t feel ready to advocate for and bring healing to the most vulnerable among us, this is exactly what we need to do. There is no room for silence in the public sphere. There is no ignoring the injustice readily apparent everywhere we look.
The choice remains ours. Do we seek to be the body and blood of Christ or do continue to pretend we don’t know why our congregations are getting smaller and smaller? Jesus went where the vulnerable people were. We expend so much effort to keep our buildings and our worship exactly as they have been in the memory of our oldest members. What has this got to do with being bread for the hungry and forgiveness for the broken?
The church needs a revolution, not a revival. There is nothing in our history that we should seek to revive. We need to allow the Spirit to reshape us into communities that are willing to risk everything to be the embodiment of Christ meeting the needs of the most vulnerable among us. God is not going to fix what has been broken; God will work through us to bring hope and healing.
RCL – Year B – Thirteen Sunday after Pentecost – August 22, 2021