This is the Mystery

breadThe Pas Proper / Ordinary 21 – Pentecost + 14 – Trinity + 13
Year B
26 August 2018

Psalm 84 pg 817
1 Kings 8:1, 6, 22-30, 41-43
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:59-63

Gracious God,
although we once were strangers,
you receive us as friends
and draw us home to you.
Set your living bread before us,
so that we may be strengthened
to continue the work
your Son has commissioned us to do. Amen.

I like the gospel for today. Today we see that we’re still dealing with a very confusing aspect of our faith – the Eucharist, the body and blood of Christ, and where it comes from and what it means, spiritually as well as actually for us, and for the lives of all those who believe, who follow Christ.

At the same time, today we see the very human response to what Jesus has been telling each of us for the past few weeks – that Jesus, that the Christ, the Messiah, the one sent from God for the salvation of the world, is the living bread that is sent from heaven for eternal life.

Now, setting aside any sort of cultural misinterpretation, this is a very, very difficult concept to come to understand. Its something that haunts our imaginations, something that isn’t made clear until we arrive at the Last Supper, in the Upper Room.

And we can tell that this is both extremely important, and extremely complicated because for the past several weeks, the gospel follows one on the other when there have been overlaps of the most difficult verses of this chapter.

Jesus has said, over and over again, in our gospel passages, in the Gospel of John, “56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.” (Jn 6:56-57)

And this is where we find ourselves, today.

We find ourselves surrounded by mystery that begins and ends with God, and leads us straight through the Christ.

We find ourselves in the midst of the mystery that is the heart of our faith, and we like the disciples, like the villagers, wonder who is this madman, how did this happen, and how we can get out of it.

Regrettably, we like our mysteries to remain at arm’s length. We like them at a distance that we can, like the obelisk in Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” be examined from a distance while we ponder its meaning for our lives, in our lives, and to our lives. Or we like them like the average mystery novel where “the butler did it!” something we can puzzle out for ourselves.

“60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.”” (Jn 6:60-64)

It is a puzzle, it was a mystery over two thousand years ago, and it is still a mystery today. Yet Jesus speaks the truth, and adds the final piece to the puzzle – the ascension of Christ to where he came from, which we celebrate on Ascension Sunday.

Together, this comprises the mystery of our faith.

This is the cornerstone of the forgiveness of our sins that God offers through the Last Supper, is made real through Jesus death on the cross, and is realized, by us upon the cross, and the empty tomb.

Today, we see Jesus point to the Last Supper. Today we see Jesus point to the cross, and agree with the villagers, with each of us: “this is a hard teaching.” (Jn 6: 60b)

And from our perspective of being able to look backward at the situation these words doesn’t make it any easier to hear, to absorb.

We are able to look backward from our lifetimes, from our places of comfort. We’re able to look backward to the hilltop where Jesus ascends, to the tomb from which Jesus arises, to the cross where Jesus dies, to the upper room where Jesus makes today’s words real.

We’re able to see how Jesus makes real the words he speaks today. Yet, today, those who are grumbling cannot see Jesus vision. They cannot imagine anything other than he literal interpretation of what they see in their minds eye.

“60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”
61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?” (Jn 6:60-61)

It’s a hard teaching because we see ourselves as equal to God. It comes back to the original problem of trying to be God in God’s place.

It’s a hard teaching because we feel our decisions, and their outcomes are over and above the influence of God in our lives.

Now, interestingly, Paul talks about putting on the armour of God, today, in his letter to the Ephesians. Yet, no one today arrived in breastplate, helm, girded and armed with sword and shield. (Eph 6:10-20)

So, if we can take Paul figuratively, then perhaps Jesus words have more than the literal interpretation we are seeing the people adhere to in today’s gospel passage.

And as humanity, we have a habit of taking God’s word literally, giving ruse to some of the more sensational end of the world tabloid headlines.

We try to figure out all the in’s and out’s, and where we stand, like the early Hebrews looking at the Ten Commandments.

And instead of accepting them at face value, they decide to sit down and dissect every little aspect, every little portion of their meaning and flesh it out so that, for example, on a Sabbath, one can only walk so many paces. So that one can lift a donkey out of a ditch, yet not offer aid to one’s neighbour, as yet another example.

And Jesus catches us on such convoluted logic intended to keep us more righteous than holy.

And this is where we find ourselves, today. This is where the disciples find themselves, as well. The gospel tells us: “66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (Jn 6:66)

Surrounded by mind bending mystery, by the incomparable love of God that asks us only to believe, to accept, to wait, for the fulfillment of God’s love, we, instead, attempt to dissect it, and figure out why and how it ticks.

Interestingly, in the late 19th century, physicians, in their attempts to understand the physiology and the characteristics of the human body began the art of medical dissection.

And in their dissections, not only did they want to know where the organs of the body sit, and how they function in the grand mechanical scheme of things, but they also searched for the location, for the seat of the human soul.

Now, you’re wondering how this history of medical dissection relates to today’s gospel, and it’s really not all that difficult, after all, both are gifts from God, and both are total mysteries to the human experience, although todays surgeons have benefitted from the exploration of their historic forebearers.

Todays mystery is better demonstrated the in the Upper Room, on the night Jesus is betrayed.

“26 While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:26-28)

Now, we have the unique perspective of being able to look back at this situation, this mystery that John presents to us, today. A perspective denied to those standing around Jesus, those hearing his words, seeing his body language, and watching the reaction of the crowds.

“61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life.” (Jn 6:61-63)

So, this is where we find ourselves, today. This is the heart of our faith, that God comes to us, in the person Jesus, and shows us God. Through his teachings, through his sacrifice on our behalf, through his resurrection, and even to his ascension, we are able to see that the Holy Spirit becomes an active part of our lives, so that we can grow in appreciation of today’s mystery, if not fully informed about its effect on our lives.

This is a mystery.

It’s the heart of our relationship with God. It’s the culmination of God’s work at redemption in and for our lives since Adam and Eve had fresh ‘forbidden fruit’ salad in the garden.

Through todays words, we find Jesus offering us the path of redemption found in our confession and forgiveness. We find the path of eternal life, we find the heart of the mysteries that compose our lives of faith and belief.

We encounter, in full, the puzzle that drives away those unable to see beyond the words to the love of God. Those who cannot understand the desire of God to be an active part of each of our lives, still today.

Through today’s mystery we find a relationship with God that was never before possible and is still today one of the great mysteries of our faith as Christians.

Through today’s message, we meet the worst part of ourselves, and Jesus shows us a so much better image in the living out of this message, today.

Today, we encounter the Christ, we encounter love, we encounter eternal life, in the midst of the mystery that Jesus describes for us, to us, and with us today.

But, this mystery is not just for today, not just within the words of the gospels, but a guide for every day, and throughout our lives.


About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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