s132g00 Somerton Park 20/8/2000 Sunday 20
"Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you."" John 6:53
A long time ago, I think it was when I was in Theological College, I recall being told that one of the Fathers of the Church interpreted the parable of the Prodigal Son with Jesus being the younger son, who left the presence of the Father to come and share our humanity (the far off country) squandering the Father's property in dissolute living. The Cross in this interpretation, is Jesus' return to the bosom of the Father after finding little or no comfort or charity amongst humanity. I am sorry that I can't recall which particular Father of the Church interpreted the parable in this manner - it was probably Origen - but I cannot be certain. (Perhaps one of my more learned recipients might inform me :-)
Such an interpretation has the effect of shocking us out of our preconceived notions of what the gospel is all about, just as the words of Jesus served to shock the preconceived notions the religious authorities of Jesus' day had about religion.
I often yearn for the "easy life". The sentiments of the Collect: "give us such knowledge of (Christ's) presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life" have universal appeal.
Yet real life is not easy. The epistle tells us "the days are evil".
And we are wont to forget that the words of comfort and strengthening are contained between the statements: "Jesus Christ, gave himself as living bread for the life of the world" (not just us) and that the strengthening is "to serve you continually". Jesus did not give of himself just for us alone to lie comfortably down "in green pastures".
For one has to ask which of the two sons of the Father in the parable had life in them? Surely it was the younger, the one who lived life to the full - as would be said today, the one who lived life "on the edge".
A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to do a memorial service for a young lady killed in the canyoning accident at Interlaken in Switzerland 12 months prior. Here was a young person who was living life to the full. The particular person was the head prefect at her school and had obviously made a huge impact on her school community, teachers, family and friends. And I wonder if we in the Church can affirm that energy and enthusiasm for life, and mourn with them that it was tragically cut short?
At that short service the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 was read by two of her friends, where St Paul says (in the King James Version) "love ... believed all", and I spoke briefly about God believing in us. God believes in all people, not just us.
As I was preparing what to say, I thought wryly, there's nothing in the Bible about women canyoning. I might be quite wrong, but I've always thought of the Jordan as a river one was more likely to row along, not canyon down. Women didn't do those sort of things in Biblical times, and perhaps there's a glimpse of good news that such things are possible these days. I have no doubt that she wasn't harming anyone in her activities. But she wasn't doing anything "Christian", she was simply enjoying life to the fullest.
And I wonder if we are game enough to allow that she had eaten of the bread of life precisely because she was living life to the full. God believed in this young person as she was living life to the full.
And I wonder if we could take a leaf out of her book, that it is up to us to make the best of life? We do not have to be doing things for God all the time. We could do a lot worse if we didn't seek to enjoy our lives (of course not at the expense of anyone else) and allow others to do likewise.
For the flesh which Jesus gives us to eat, is not just a "passport" to heaven, if the words of Jesus can really be interpreted in this way anyway. The flesh is equally about our life now. If one separates the "now" sections from the "future" sections in our gospel passage for today - we have:
The "now" sections are 53 "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." 54 "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life". 56 "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them." and 57 "So whoever eats me will live because of me."
The "future" section is 54 "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, I will raise them up on the last day".
In the light of this it is a bit hard to know whether 51 and 58 "the one who eats this bread will live forever" refers primarily to a present reality or a future existence.
Whether we enjoy living "on the edge" physically or perhaps more safely, soaring spiritually, the blessings we know in the presence of Christ are for everyone. If we look to the Holy Sacrament to give us life in all its fullness or rest and recreation, we can't deny those blessings to anyone else.
For surely the words of Jesus which form the words of my text today: "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." cannot but imply a complete and thorough - going identification with the mission and ministry of Jesus. One cannot receive the unmerited benefits of the self giving sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ present in the blessed sacrament, without realising that no one else has to work for those same benefits, any more than we have had to.
We may not have anything to give another person (out of our own personal collections of treasures, material or æthereal), we are not asked to give anything away to others which in the least impoverishes our lives - except those things for which we ascribe merit to ourselves. The rich young man had both material and spiritual treasures which he perceived as things he had earned. He was bidden to give both of these away to those who needed them rather than keep them to himself. Because he perceived that he had earned them, he believed he had a right to hold on to them for his own.
For again, like the five loaves and the two fish, we are blessed as they are given away.
No one has earned the privilege of having Jesus die for them and no one ever can. So why on earth do we as the Church or we as individuals expect others to live up to a set of rules and regulations, dignified in Church law or our personal whim?
If God believes in us, we too are bidden to believe in others, people of other denominations, people of other faiths, people who doubt, people who have lost their faith and people with no faith - all who do what they can the enjoy life to the fullest and allow others to do the same.
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