—The Rt Rev Andrew Proud, 26 May 2016
John 6. 51–58
I’ve found the time between Pentecost and Trinity Sunday this year extraordinarily beautiful. And I’ve felt really challenged to look for the hand of God in things—to see the glory of God—all around—and to see myself—and others—as He sees us.
Gosh...it is so easy to say all of that.
You will know—as well as I do—that it is really hard, because to see ourselves as He sees us takes real discipline. It often takes even more to see Him in others and to discern His hand in the events of our days and years. And it is often especially difficult for us to discern His hand in the working of our structures and in conflict.
I have a theory—that it is so difficult because we have forgotten (as a society, certainly, and as a Church, too) how to really SEE—at all.
Let me come at this slant.
I’ve been dipping into a very beautiful book recently: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by the American writer Annie Dillard. I came across her when I was reading Eugene Peterson’s deeply insightful book on ministry, The Contemplative Pastor (he cites her work several times). And both these books really stand out amidst a lot of fairly mediocre writing on ministry and spirituality.
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was Annie Dillard’s first book, and it won the Pulitzer prize. It’s not the kind of book you skim through in the odd idle moment. You need to sit in quiet to savour its richness, because it is ripe with glorious descriptions of what she sees all around her as she takes the time to look and to watch and to describe the little world of Tinker Creek. And then, she often seems to digress to take what seems like a strange turn in the path where she makes some striking connections with unexpected things in the natural world.
I’m only a short way into the book, but after introducing us (her guests at Tinker Creek) to the way she sees the world, she becomes fascinated by the idea of human sight.
And she gets at that, slant, by referring to book she’d read written by a doctor who described the impact of the first experiments ever made with cataract surgery.
Read extract from page 29 and 31
This speaks right into where we are tonight.
Tonight we’re celebrating that the whole of creation is charged with the grandeur of God; and that the Church—His Church—is on fire with His presence.
And that you and me, with unveiled faces, have been let in...into a deep and eternal relationship with God where we are able to behold His glory as He relates to each one of us face-to-face.
We’re here to celebrate all of that—but we don’t always see it.
I am becoming more and more convinced that amidst so much fear and anxiety about the future, what we really need is to recover a compelling vision of God as a Church today. To stop worrying so much about numbers and growth and do what we know how to do really well.
I also think we need to learn again how to look and to watch until we learn to recognise: to see and to name God’s activity out there, in the world, in here, amongst His people, and in here, deep in the very core of our identity.
And all of that—every bit of it—is crammed into this moment, and focussed in this most holy sacrament. Before it flashes out again, uncontainable, revealing the heart of the matter, the heart of all matter and all that matters.
You can tell I was into Teilhard de Chardin as a youth! Well, John’s Gospel is the vessel that can carry you there.
It’s a curious gospel, John’s. On so many levels. The kind of curious writing that invites exploration. And there’s enough here for a lifetime.
And here’s a thing. You may have noticed: there’s no account of Jesus’ baptism in John. And, more crucially - the Last Supper doesn’t appear at all, either.
Not because it doesn’t matter to John; but because it matters so much, he wants us to see that it is utterly inseparable from everything else.
And in the verses we have here, we are meant to realise just what is at stake for Jesus, and just how much we are worth to him.
On one level, we are in very familiar territory. We know Jesus offered His very own flesh and blood for love of our love. We know that his flesh was nailed down with huge Roman nails, to stretch his poor frail body across the wood of the cross and we know that his blood (which flowed so freely from his hands, feet, and side) was for our sake, too.
But we miss just how shocking this must have sounded to those who first heard it. It would have sounded gross—shocking—impure—irreligious. And the point is that Jesus had to get this gritty, this matter-of-fact, because they hadn’t seen what He was on about.
If this is true of ‘them’ then...it is probably true of us too.
We thought He came to tell us how to live good and moral lives. The truth is He came so that one day, we may be like God. That’s what this is all about.
So we can recognise (and see) and name God’s activity—out there—in the world—
in here—amongst His people and in here—deep in the very core of our identity.
It’s all here in John (and we know it already) but here it is again, in case you missed
John declares that Jesus is the Word made flesh and in the sacrament of the altar He wants us to see that that Word is given physical, visible form once again so that we can meet the God who will be satisfied with nothing less than our whole selves.
This is why Jesus talks about giving us his flesh and blood to eat.
And it is important we remember that the phrase ‘flesh and blood’ in Hebrew idiom refers to the whole person—heart, mind, spirit, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears—everything.
What John is saying is that in Jesus, we see the whole of God meeting the whole of us—to love, redeem, and sustain the whole of who we are: the good, the bad, the sinful and the ugly.
God comes for our whole selves. Not just the Sunday bit. The Church bit. And just in case we might miss this, Jesus takes great pains—all through John’s gospel—to use some of the most familiar things of his day to help us understand His relationship with those who believe in him:
He is the shepherd and we are the sheep;
He is the vine and we are the branches;
He abides in God and we abide in him.
When we receive Jesus, we receive the whole Jesus, and His risen life clings to our bones and courses through our veins. You can no more take Jesus out of your life than you can remove this morning’s breakfast. This is why tonight is so important and so incredibly beautiful; because the promise He makes in this Sacrament is that he will be one with us—and for us, forever, that He will stick with us and even in us no matter what.
Every time we receive this sacrament, He comes again to renew a promise He made that was so concrete and so solid we can touch and feel, taste and eat it.
And in doing so, he’s saying that He not only cares about our births and deaths, our marriages and our jobs, our successes and our failures; He is also joining God’s very own self to all of that—and to us—through Jesus, the Word made flesh—given for us.
Come to eat and drink this promise. Come prepared to meet the God who meets you exactly where you are. Come to receive this—it is real food—Christ’s own body, and drink the real drink of Christ’s own blood.
Come to meet the God who offers us—not just meaning, but life itself! Life in His Son. Tonight. And forever.
So we can SEE again.
So that when we look at one another, we can see that He enflames our very entrails.
And to see that there is nowhere in this world that God is not working for good.
For love, of course, was His meaning, all along.