Twelfth Weekend After Pentecost (B/RCL): “Enthusiasm!”
August 15-16, 2015
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Manasquan, NJ
Coming on this Gospel cold would be jarring, without our prior knowledge of and experience with Holy Communion. Outside of worship, or Centers for Disease Control concerns about flesh-eating bacteria, or references to Hannibal Lector, or Hollywood offerings about vampires, we don’t usually hear about eating flesh or drinking blood.
But – the concept wasn’t as foreign to Jesus’ listeners 2,000 years ago as it is to us. Remember, the Temple was the heart of worship for the Jews. The Temple was so important because that’s where sacrifices occurred. Meat, vegetable and grain offerings were burnt on the altar, as a way of giving thanks, asking forgiveness, seeking blessings. Thing is, not everything was burnt. Some was left on the altar/holy barbecue long enough to be consumed, as a way of dedicating it to God. But a portion was set aside for the priest and his family as part of his benefit package.
The Jews weren’t the only ones who offered sacrifice. Pagans did, too. It was their custom also to immolate part of the offering to consecrate it to the deity (small “d”) and to give some to the priest or priestess for services rendered. The rest was returned to the worshiper, to share with family and friends at a holy picnic. The belief was that the god (small “g”) entered into the offering once it was dedicated to him. Those who ate the sacrifice consumed the god along with it. To eat the sacrifice was to eat the god. Their god was in the food they had consumed, so their god went home with them. The worshipers left (this will sound strange!) enthusiastic. Enthusiasm literally means filled-with-god-ness.
Jesus is the Host at this Table, the altar. The sacrifice occurred on the cross, once-for-all, a long time ago. But in this eucharistic celebration, in our holy remembering, the Host once again becomes the Meal. We don’t believe this is simply a memorial. We believe Jesus becomes really present to us as the community gathers in His name and obeys the command issued in the Synoptic Gospels: “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
The most important thing I’m carrying away from my study of this passage is the connection between the ritual of Holy Communion and our relationship with the Lord. The ritual exists to deepen the relationship between our Lord and us. This is why some kneel prayerfully at the Communion rail after they receive and why others kneel (or sit) in prayer back in the pew after they receive. We warmly greet human loved ones who enter our home. In prayer we welcome our divine loved One, our Lord, as He enters our heart. Prayer before and after receiving the Sacrament expresses our awareness that Holy Communion is a Who and not a what.
I like the comparison one Scripture scholar makes. He talks about the difference between a book on the shelf we haven’t read and one we have read and loved and made part of ourselves. You know: the kind of book you can quote, or whose plot or characters pop up in your mind for years to come as you live your life.
St. John loves the word dwell, abide. In the Last Supper Discourse, Jesus says:
“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine. You are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4-5)
Draw your sustenance, your lifeblood from Me, says Jesus, as a baby within the womb depends on its umbilical connection to its mother for life.
We heard a reference to dwelling in the memorial garden on Saturday morning when we gathered with Lois’ family at the columbarium:
“In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again to take you to Myself, so that where I am, you may be also.” (John 14:2-3)
In today’s Gospel, Jesus says:
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” (John 6:56)
We don’t have to wait for heaven to dwell with our Lord. Through the gifts of Word and Sacrament, we can dwell with, abide in, be intimately connected to our Lord every day of our lives. The ritual exists to strengthen, enliven our relationship with the living Lord. Instead of being like an unopened book on the shelf, Jesus can become the primary character in our story! No one loves us more than our Lord. No one knows us better. No one desires communion and intimacy with us more than our Lord does.
Our friend Lois was blessed with the gift of enthusiasm. I believe the Source of her positive energy and indefatigable spirit was her love of Word and Sacrament, her dwelling in God’s presence, her filled-with-Godness, sustained by her weekly presence in worship. Her life was a living example of how true enthusiasm overflows in loving service to God and neighbor.
May we, too, leave this worship service, this ritual encounter with our Lord, strengthened in our relationship with Him, ready to abide more closely in Him, and enthusiastic, in the best and holiest sense of that word! Amen
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham