Gen 14.18-20, John 6.51-58, 1 Cor. 11.23-26
Let me start to address today’s rather challenging topic by asking a simple question: what is this? (Holding an apple)
This is about 80 calories, 18g of carbohydrates and 4g of fibre. If you eat one of those every day, some people say, you should be able to keep the doctor away.
This is also, for some, the forbidden fruit of knowledge of good and evil.
This is also, for some, a source of income, a commodity that they exchange for money, to then buy other commodities necessary to their survival.
These are all properties that this object has (still holding the apple) – but there are many others we don’t see and know. Maybe it holds the cure to an illness but that has not yet been discovered? Yet, clearly, people will agree that there is something unique about it (we’ll call this essence), although it can take different forms (small, big, green, red). We often concentrate on one aspect of any object, which rings true to us but without ever knowing the full ‘truth’ about it.
Hegel, the19th Century German philosopher who considered himself as a Christian, argued that this not just a static object but it also acts and behaves. I quote: “If I eat an apple, I destroy its organic self-identity and assimilate it to myself.That I can do this entails that the apple in itself, already, in advance, before I take hold of it, has in its nature the determination of being subject to destruction, having in itself a homogeneity with my digestive organs such that I can make it homogeneous with myself.”
The same could be said of this (holding a big host). Different people will concentrate on a particular property,excluding any other. For some it truly becomes flesh, for others it is only asymbol. While we may come to disagree on what this host becomes once consecrated,it is much more difficult to disagree about its essence, to the deeper meaning it carries. And this for a simple reason: no one can fully understand what goeson – we call it a mystery as its full essence is hidden from us. But mostimportant, for Hegel, whether it is an apple or consecrated bread, they embraceand hold everything in themselves, and most importantly we are changed by it.
From the Old Testament reading, we recognise that consecrated bred was a concept that preceded Jesus – yet it was given a new and deeper meaning at the Last Supper.I want to question whether its essence actually changed. I’m tempted to think,and I chose to concentrate on these as they come up in all the readings, whilst still not knowing the full truth of its essence, that the deeper meaning of consecrated bread touches on sacrifice,faithfulness and freedom. Previously it might have been the sacrifice of atenth of belongings, a symbol of God’s faithfulness and freedom from enemies. Nowto us it embodies the death of Christ, God’s faithfulness through theresurrection and the resulting freedom from sin.
In thewords of the Psalmist: You have loosed mybonds. I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the Lord. I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the house of the Lord, in your midst, O Jerusalem.
There has been recently a lot of debate around what marriage is and what it is not, what forms it should take and which ones it shouldn’t. Let alone gay marriage, our view of marriage has changed dramatically over the past decades. Millennia in fact. If you read the Old Testament carefully, marriage could have been possible between one man and several women, and even left room for concubines as well!
Change and differences in how we perceive marriage is nothing new. What truly matters is its essence, which again is a mystery that no one, whether pro or against gay marriage, can claim to fully understand.
For one, Iwould argue that gay marriage has always existed. Of course not in legal terms or as a social construct, but rather as two people of the same sex who enter an intimate relationship that encompass that very same deeper meaning of sacrifice, faithfulness and freedom. (Freedom does of course not mean ‘doing what I want’ – there is no freedom in being subjected to one’s passions. What I mean by freedom is the freedom to grow into the person we are called to be through the love of another, however hard this place might be.) We only choose to give this phenomenon a name, ‘gay marriage’ but love of that nature between two people of the same sex has always been a possibility and I daresay with much assurance always existed.
We can approach the idea of Church in the same way. One thing that has certainly been constantly on my mind since I started here in Richmond is what is Church? I’m sure, well, I know, that people in the Church of England can disagree quite strongly about what form it should take. For some it is about tradition, for others mission. For some it is activities in and around the buildings, forothers it is presence in the community. For some we ought to be programmatic, for others accept uncertainty and rather seek to be creative in our response. And I haven’t even yet mentioned liturgy, hymns and Plasma screens.
But are we not too often missing what the ‘essence’ of church is. Again, it is a mystery – who can truly understand what it is to be the ‘Body of Christ’? In a Hegelian sense, if Church embraces and holds everything within itself, we can only become Church rather than do Church. Like eating consecrated bred and being changed by what it embraces and holds, becoming Church demands of us to be transformed by it rather than attempt to shape it.
But what does that effectively mean? What would it mean to partake in sacrifice, faithfulness and freedom? Andtrue to our Anglo-Catholic tradition, how can we incarnate those?
Sacrifice effectively means loosing our lives, wills and desires. “Not my will, but YOURS be done” as Jesus accepted to take the cup. Perhaps that means humbly letting go of what we hold on so dear and making more room to discern where God might be leading his Church. To take the marriage analogy, no crises are solved and no children are raised without sacrifices.
Faithfulness is being true to the promises made at baptism. Without faithfulness to our vows, however difficult they are to adhere to, we do not incarnate our beliefs – they are only words. Beyond unnecessary guilt, we become salt that has lost its saltiness – the love that once inspired us becomes stale. God’s transformation cannot happen through us in the same way a couple cannot grow together if there is no commitment on the part of each partner.
Freedom is about allowing ourselves to be in situations that do not necessarily feel comfortable, but where we are not guided by our predictable selves. That means taking risks and doing things we might not like, but where we are able let new things emerge that we never imagined. That may also mean enabling others to use their gifts even when we don’t quite get it or like it. Again, to use the same analogy, one certain way of killing a relationship is to not let one’s partner have the necessary freedom to be fully themselves.
Like this apple, one day we will return to the ground one way or the other. The question then is, will we, as many in the case of marriage, have limited ourselves in what we understand by the Eucharist and the Church? Or will we have in full faith let go of preconceptions and allowed the Body of Christ to transform us?