Sermon: Proper 14 RCL A – “His Presence”

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A successful businessman parked his brand new Porsche Carrera GT in front of the office, ready to show it off to his colleagues. As he goes to get out of the vehicle, a truck speeds by, hitting the car and completely tearing off the driver’s door. Fortunately, a policeman is close enough to see the accident and pulls up behind the Porsche. Before the officer has a chance to ask any questions, the businessman starts screaming hysterically about how his Porsche, which he had just picked up the day before, is now completely ruined. “The vehicle will never be the same, no matter how hard the mechanics work to restore the damage.” After the lawyer finishes his rant, the officer shakes his head in disgust and disbelief. 

“I can’t believe how materialistic you are,” he said. “You are so focused on your possessions that you neglect the most important things in life.” 

“How can you say such a thing?” asked the businessman. 

The officer replies, “Don’t you even realize that your left arm is missing? It got ripped off when the truck hit you!!!” 

“Oh, my God!” screams the businessman. “My Rolex!!”

I’ve been a priest now for almost fourteen years and on average, I would say that I’ve celebrated the Mass at least three times a week.  Do a little math: fourteen years times fifty-two weeks times three… I’ve celebrated the Mass about 2,200 times.  I can honestly say that I have never gotten tired of it.  I’ve never approached it and thought, “Blah, blah, blah… here we go again.”  However, I do confess that there have been some times—not many!—but some times my mind has wandered.  I would like to say that on these occasions when my mind wandered that it was do to some grave concern, but that would probably not be true, but even if it were those concerns when compared to what is taking place on the altar are the equivalent of that businessman worrying about losing his watch when he had just lost his arm.

Today is the second of four Sundays where we will be reading from the Gospel of John.  In fact, during these readings, we only cover 45 verses of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel that are concerned with the Bread of Heaven, which ultimately points us to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross and the Holy Eucharist.

Within the context of John’s Gospel, these teachings immediately follow the feeding of the 5,000 and many theologians point to one particular statement of Jesus during this event to explain to us why the Eucharist was given.  We find it in Matthew’s Gospel.  Like in John, the crowd has gathered and it is late in the day.  Jesus calls together his disciples and says to them, “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not want to send them away hungry, for they might faint on the way.”  These people have been with us all this time and I am concerned about them.  They are about to take the road leading home, back into the world and their lives, but they do not have the nourishment they need.  Therefore, I will feed them.  We can see how these same words summarize the entire ministry of Jesus.  We are the ones who are following him and we are on the road that ultimately leads us home to our Heavenly Father, but we need food for the journey; therefore, Jesus gives the Bread of Heaven, he gives us himself.  “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”

Not only does Jesus tell us that he is our food for the journey, but we must come to him and eat as often as we will.  My friend Thomas à Kempis writes: “Therefore must I often come to Thee, and receive Thee as the medicine of my salvation, lest perhaps I faint in the way, should I be deprived of this heavenly food.  For so thou, O most merciful Jesus, when thou hadst been preaching to the people and curing the various maladies, didst once say: I will not send them fasting to their home, lest they faint on the way.”

What is so remarkable about the Eucharistic Feast is that it is not a simple memorialization of that first Lord’s Supper.  Perhaps I have shared this with you before: Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me,” but the word he uses for remembrance is anamnesis.  “Do this in anamnesis of me.”  Anamnesis means ‘to make present.’  Jesus is not telling us to simply remember him, but is instead telling us to ‘make him present.’  To make that great event of the first Last Supper and his suffering on the Cross present to us today.  To allow him to be truly present to us here and now in the Eucharist, in the breaking of bread.  Archbishop Michael Ramsey states, “The Eucharist is the breaking into history of something eternal, beyond history, inapprehensible in terms of history alone.”  He continues, Jesus’ “presence in heaven is as a sacrifice… He is there as the one who gave himself on the Cross, and who there… unites his people to his own self-giving to the Father in Heaven.  Christ’s unique act in history is the source of what Christians do.”

I could not discover who the author of these short verses was, but they speak to us about who is present with us in this great feast and it is the Lord:

Lord, thou art present — in thy lowliness, and in thy glory:
Thou that dwellest among us, whom we have refused, wounded and slew;
Thou immortal victor, the everlasting king.
Thou in thy strength, and in thy tender love:
Thou with thy yielded life, with thy living Spirit;
Lord, thou art here — my Lord and my God.

Our Lord and our God is made present to us here; therefore, when we come to him, we must be rightly prepared.  As we say in the Exhortation: “[If] we are to share rightly in the celebration of those holy Mysteries, and be nourished by that spiritual Food, we must remember the dignity of that holy Sacrament. I therefore call upon you to consider how Saint Paul exhorts all persons to prepare themselves carefully before eating of that Bread and drinking of that Cup. For, as the benefit is great, if with penitent hearts and living faith we receive the holy Sacrament, so is the danger great, if we receive it improperly, not recognizing the Lord’s Body.”

Jesus is truly present to you in that small piece of bread and that sip of wine.  Love comes down and feeds us for the journey and we come forward, kneeling with hands outstretched desiring to receive him.  But… what if I told you that was the easy part?  “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?  And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?”  You see, it is not just about how we approach the Lord, but the Eucharist is also about how we approach one another, because when we receive, we do not receive as individuals, but as the body.  And not just with the body that is present or members of our church, but with the entire Body of Christ; and it is not up to us to judge who is in and who is out.  Judging others is far above our pay grade.  Therefore, we are to approach one another in the same manner we approach our Lord.  Commenting on one chapter of The Imitation of Christ, one priest put it this way: “Thine endeavor should be to cherish within thee throughout the day the same dispositions with which thou shouldst approach the altar.”  We are to approach our every action and every person we encounter in the same manner we approach the Eucharist and Jesus, and in doing so, our lives become a continual celebration of the Mass.  It is then that the real presence of Christ not only breaks into our Eucharistic Feast, but then… he breaks into our lives.  It is then that our souls truly receive the Bread of Heaven, the food for the journey, and are nourished by Him.

Let us pray: Father of Heaven and earth, hear our prayer and show us the way to peace. Guide each effort of our lives so that our faults and our sins may not keep us from the peace You promised. May the new life of grace You give us through the Eucharist and prayer make our love for You grow and keep us in the joy of Your Kingdom.  Amen.

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