Sunday, August 19, 2012

Pentecost 12 (Proper 15), Series B

Sermon on John 6:51-69
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 19, 2012 (The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Series B)

“You are what you eat.”  How often do we hear that said?  The origin of that saying is actually not Christian but atheist.  It’s meant to convey the idea that all there is to a human being is the physical existence.  The matter that composes our bodies is composed of what the body has absorbed from the food we have eaten.  And, of course, that part of it is true.  But the person who coined the phrase meant to convey that there is no non-physical side to human existence, that the body which is built out of the nutrients we have eaten, is all there is.  But there is one food of which we can truly say, “you are what you eat.”  That food is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Today’s Gospel lesson follows right after the ones we have heard about the past few weeks.  For some reason, the committee which designed the three-year lectionary that we and most other Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Episcopalian churches have been using for the last couple of decades, decided that right in the middle of the year that is devoted to Gospel lessons from St. Mark, that we should spend several weeks hearing the Gospel from the sixth chapter of St. John.  That chapter starts out with the feeding of the five thousand, and most of the rest of it is occupied with a discussion in the synagogue in Capernaum between Jesus and the Jews over the meaning and significance of what happened when those five thousand were fed.  The theme that runs through the entire chapter is that no earthy food can sustain God’s people, but only the bread and the wine of heaven, namely the body and blood of Christ.  The focus of the entire chapter is on the difference between earthly food and the bread of heaven, for the Jews expected Jesus to give them the former, but instead He gives them the latter by dying on the cross.

We confess as Christians that it is the Lord who gives us our life and all that we are and have, and that He is the one who sustains and protects us.  How does He do this?  He is the one who is really working behind the farmers and the distributors and the store employees, and those who drive the trucks, those who repair the trucks, and everyone else upon whom we rely to provide us with the physical things we need to survive.  God sustains our physical life, in other words, largely through providing us with food.  The foods we eat are processed by our bodies, and our bodies take the natural chemicals, the sugars and the fats and the proteins, and so on, as well as the water that is in our food and our drink, and those chemicals that make up the things we eat go into the bloodstream.  Our cells then use these chemicals as the building blocks to grow, to build more cells, and to repair damage in the body.  In other words, the information for how our bodies are constructed comes from our genes, but the actual materials that make up the individual cells of our bodies come from our food.  That’s the element of truth in the saying, “you are what you eat.”

According to what Jesus says in today’s Gospel lesson, our eternal life is sustained and nourished in a similar way.  Our eternal life is sustained by what we eat, namely the body and blood of our Lord.  If a person doesn’t eat, he dies.  If a person doesn’t eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, the new life that was begun in him in Holy Baptism will starve and die.  Life can only survive when it gets the materials it needs to survive.  This is true of eternal life as well as the life we enjoy on this earth.

Remember that eternal life is not some airy-fairy existence, floating on clouds like a spirit, or some other such popular picture of how things will be.  On the last day of this old creation, Christ will come again and raise up our bodies, yes the same bodies we have now, just like He was raised.  They will be perfected bodies, free from all the infirmities we experience now, but everyone’s body will be uniquely his.  The Scriptures tell us there will be a new heavens and a new earth.  Eternal life will be a bodily existence, not a dreamy, unreal, spiritual one.  It is hard to say exactly what eternal life will be like, but we can probably compare it to the garden of Eden.  Remember that Adam and Eve needed to eat in order to survive, just like we do, before they fell into sin.  God provided what they needed by giving them every kind of fruit and vegetable, growing naturally in the garden.  He even provided them with a tree that caused them to live forever.  Even in the state of perfection Adam and Eve had physical bodies that needed physical nourishment.  That’s the way it will be for you and me in eternal life.  The eternal life needs nourishment, just as life in this old world does.

No matter how well we nourish our bodies on this earth, they will eventually die. We are all sinners, and the wages of sin is death.  What if I were to tell you that I have available a food which causes the person who eats of it to live forever?  It would be difficult to believe, but if it were true I would eventually become a very rich man.  The thing of it is, though, that there is such a food which will cause us to live forever, because it is a food that unites us with Him who is the original Source and Creator of our life, namely God Himself.  This food is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, given to us in, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion.  And I’m not going to get rich off of it, because Christ our Lord gives it to us freely, here in this room, every Sunday.

What is the secret to this miraculous food?  Simply that it is God Himself who gives it to us and who is present in it.  Science has identified many of the reasons why people die in this world.  But once they solve disease that causes death, another rises to take its place, because the root cause of death is sin.  Christ our Lord became man, just like we are, except without sin, so that when He died, His death would be in our place.  And because He was innocent, death could not hold Him.  The new creation in which we will live forever was begun in the raising of Jesus from the dead.  He is alive and seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.  He lives forever, and He is the first-fruits of the new creation.  This is the body and blood we eat and drink in Holy Communion: Crucified to take away our sins, and risen again to give us new life.  And He is living, even as we eat and drink of Him.  Most food we eat in this life is dead when we eat it; it was once a living thing, but by the time we eat it, it’s dead.  Even if the cells of the fruits and vegetables we eat are still living when we eat them, and because of modern processing methods they usually aren’t, or even if some daredevil were to swallow a living goldfish whole, the food doesn’t survive our digestive processes.  It is dead by the time it is absorbed into our bodies.  But Christ’s body and blood is living.  He is living, in fact, He is life.  This is living food, food of eternal life.

Just as the Father is the source of life for the Son, so the Son is the source of life for those who receive Him.  Think of it!  We are being restored to the image of God by this food, because the relationship we have with Christ in Holy Communion is comparable to the relationship of Christ with the Father.  This is almost too good to be true.  Our relationship with God which is sustained by this food is comparable to the relationships within the Trinity, and we know this is true because of what Jesus says in the text today.

When Adam and Eve sinned, the Tree of Life was taken from them, so that they would not live forever in their sinful condition.  This was of course a huge punishment; after all, death is not a pleasant thing, especially when you include the sufferings of this life which are really a part of death.  But in a way, it was also a blessing.  You really wouldn’t want to live forever in a sinful world.  But now the Tree of Life is again accessible to mankind.  We can once again eat the fruit of that tree and live forever.  But the tree looks different now; it looks like the cross.  And the fruit of the tree is the body and blood of Christ, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins.  His crucified and risen body which is the beginning of the entire new creation brings us into that new creation, into eternal life.  We are united with the Son of God and through Him with the Father by this food.  He gives us what He is and makes us partakers in His glory.  With the new Tree of Life, and is fruit which is given us in the sacrament of the altar, it really is true that “you are what you eat.”  Amen.

+ Soli Deo Gloria +

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