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Saturday, 24 August 2013

Feed on me?

(25th AUGUST) 2013

Readings:        1 Kings 8.22-30, 41-32
                        Psalm 84
                        Ephesians 6.10-20
                        John 6.56-69

 There was a trend amongst biblical scholars in the mid-twentieth century to ensure that all biblical texts neatly fitted their preconceived notions of what the bible should say. To be honest there is a degree to which we will always read scriptures out of our own prejudices, which I precisely why we need to read interpretations and applications from around the world and across the socio-economic trajectories of faith communities. There are boundaries to interpretation – Jesus was not a pink fluffy duck from Alaska – but far less rigorist and tidy barriers than we sometimes like to think.

So in the mid twentieth century scholars divided along party lines. Liberal protestant scholars said that there was a strong eucharistic theme in the Jesus-language of eating flesh and drinking blood, but that the passages were added to the text later. Conservative Protestant scholars said that this was bollocks, and there was no eucharistic reference at all. Catholic scholars said this was all bollocks and of course there was and always had been a eucharistic reference because that’s exactly what Jesus intended. I confess I scraped through my first year at theological college by saying “A said … B said … C said …”, then more or less closing my eyes and dropping a pin to decide who I would agree with. Somehow I scraped through.
But are we here pointed towards the centrality of the eucharist to Christian faith? As Jesus speaks of his flesh and blood are we meant to make links to eucharistic feeding, the feeding we will share in the communion shortly? I do not think we can drive a wedge between this saying and Jesus’ intentions: over and again he made links between the meaning of his life and the knowledge that that life, that eternal life would be made manifest in the Christian liturgical rites of bread and wine. The “how” of those rites had nothing to do with later mediaeval arguments about the nature of the wine and the bread: they are based on the fundamental Jewish (and, incidentally, so far as I can see, Indigenous Australian) belief that past events are absolutely made present in subsequent actions that re-present them. In the Passover rites of the Upper Room the Hebrews’ miraculous escape from Egypt was made present once again. In the rites of Jesus’ last Supper past events of Passover and future events of his own passing over from life to death to life were made present, and he here commands his followers to make the events present by gathering and feeding on him over and again.

By which in part he meant eucharistic feeding. But I think there is an equally important ingredient of doing the works of Jesus, becoming the hands and feet of Jesus in God’s world. And for that matter, if I were tied up and tickled till I submitted, I suspect I would be forced to admit that the doing of justice is a far more important means by which, as it were, to “feed” on the life energies of Jesus. I make little secret of my belief that eucharist is the means par excellence by which we encounter the fullness of the meaning of Jesus, the fullness of God, but, if I may echo Paul, “if we have not love”, is all the eucharistic encounter in the universe worth a brass razoo? Are we not, if I may distort words considerably, not also called to be eucharist, to be the body and blood and incarnation of Jesus in the world around us?
This may indeed be why the disciples who were Jesus’ first audience were heavy-hearted. I doubt any of us can live up to this demand – and indeed Paul’s understanding of the matter is that none of us can. But we can open ourselves up again and again to the strengthening touch of God’s redemptive, renewing Spirit, who does have a habit of making perhaps not a silk purse but something somewhat improved out of the sow’s ears of our lives.

But what should we make of the “one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father” of the latter part of this Jesus saying? Are those outside the eucharistic fellowship somehow therefore to be seen as reprobate and beyond the reach of divine grace? That is certainly the premise on which much evangelistic and missionary endeavour has been built. I am less likely to see things in this way. If we are the hands and feet and body and blood of Jesus in the community then we must be energised and visible in our presence in the community, involved as a people of God even if sometimes, as we speak for the standards of God, we are far from flavour of the month (or any other period of time). As I suggested last week, in a time when our leading politicians appear to be devoid of any moral bearing on what may well be the number one ethical question of our time, perhaps we should be – like some of our brothers and sisters – conspicuous by our compassion and subversion. I admit however that ways to do so have slipped through my fingers by and large these past two years, and the question remains in my too hard basket.
I digress. Or do I? It seems to me that as Jesus challenges us to eat his flesh and drink his blood he is challenging us to be all that we can do to be his redemptive presence in our community. I happen to believe that the liturgical rites that he may or may not be as it were pre-alluding to are a source of strengthening, reinforcing us in the mission to be the hands and feet we are called to be. Perhaps the twentieth century biblical scholars could not see the wood for the trees: we all read the bible out of our own shoes, but we are all called to be the presence of God in the world. We can do that effectively only if and as we immerse ourselves in the disciplines of faith, of prayer, of fellowship, of study and of sacramental engagement, to name just some, to which he calls us. He is calling us to a whole-of-being commitment to which, ironically, we can only aspire with his help.

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