This is the second in a two-part sermon. Today we are going to start with something we haven’t said in a while. Just a reminder of what we are all about. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.
Last week we spoke about how God usually gives gifts to the world by means of everyday, down to earth things. Like corn. God did not make corn appear out of thin air, poof! No, the Indians of South America developed corn over many centuries of growing it from earth and water and sunlight and hands down genius in the science of agriculture. God gave humankind one of its best food crops through very specific physical earth and people.
God gives the gift of eternal life through specific, physical means as well. God sends Jesus. Two weeks ago, we talked about how Jesus’ teaching and example are healthy spiritual food for us. We choose not to put poison into our minds. We chose not to watch videos or participate in attitudes which poison our souls, but rather we take in videos and participate in attitudes that are consistent with Jesus’ teaching, Jesus’ wisdom.
But we are more than just ideas. We are more than teaching. We are bodies as well. We have bones and muscle and skin and nerve. So, we need God to come to us in physical ways, in the ways of bone and muscle and skin and nerve.
So, Jesus comes to us in the bread and wine. Jesus becomes a part of our bodies, these wonders of complexity that God has given us. This, I think is what Jesus means when he says “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
I told a story about it last week. You may remember. I went with a friend to the hills of Eastern Kentucky, to a worship service of the Old Regular Baptists. I told about how they sang, and about a baptism they had that day, and about how we went to lunch afterward at the elder’s house. The women prepared the lunch in the kitchen, and you did not go into the kitchen unless you had very good reason to, because what they were doing in there was very important.
When the women finally emerged from the kitchen, they carried with them fried chicken that was a manifestation of the glory of God, and green beans that had grown up out of the earth but which tasted like heaven, and the gift that the Indians had brought from God and given to the earth, the corn. This time, creamed corn.
When we put that creamed corn into our mouths and tasted that mellow sweetness, the work of those women’s hands became a part of our hands, literally. The subtle smiles and glances of those women became a part of our smiles, our way of looking at the world. Their tones of voice became a part of our voice box. The love with which they made the food became a part of our souls. That’s what communion is like.
So, in the gospel lesson for today, Jesus says the person who eats his flesh and drinks his blood has eternal life. Eternal life in the Gospel of John means at least two things. It refers to God’s promise that we will be with God in heaven forever after we die. It also refers to God’s promise that God will be with us on earth right now, today. Both things.
That eternal life is beyond death. You remember the hymn, “Goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness, life is stronger than death.” That’s what we are talking about.
So here is as story that might get at a little bit of what I mean. Some years after my visit to the Old Regular Baptists of Eastern Kentucky, I did a funeral for a young woman. She was in her late twenties, maybe early thirties. I’ll call her Joni. She had curly brown hair down to the middle of her back. She had warm brown eyes. She had been married for two years. Her husband was a Baptist, an ordinary Baptist from some distance into the countryside around. They had no children.
Joni came to the Lutheran church two or three times, so I invited her to chat with me about joining the congregation. We met in my office and I told her about Lutheranism. I believe one of her parents had been Lutheran for a while, so she knew the basics, that we are a community based on God’s grace. I talked a little about the congregation. The I asked how she was, where was she on her journey of faith.
Every once in a while, when you are part of this adventure we call the church, things surprise you. This time, you could have knocked me over with a feather. Joni started crying. She wept for half a minute, which doesn’t seem that long unless you are there with her. Then it seems long.
After she was finished, I asked, “Would you like to tell me what the tears are for? She shook her head. I said, “If you ever would like to say, I would love to hear.” She never did tell me why she was crying. To this day I don’t know.
Six or eight months later, while Joni was driving down one of those windy country roads, a drunk driver swerved out of his side of the road and hit her in a head on collision. She died at the scene.
The funeral was held in the Baptist church where her husband had grown up. The Baptist preacher preached. I said a prayer. We left Joni’s casket in the cemetery. Everyone took a red rose from the spray of roses on top.
We went back to the Baptist church basement. And after a while, the women emerged from the holy kitchen, bringing those things that we needed: the fried chicken which manifests God’s glory, the green beans which grew out of the earth but which taste like heaven, and the gift which the Indians took from God and gave to the world, the corn, creamed corn. We ate, and talked, and things were a little better.
God’s life reaches beyond death.
One more thing: There was a woman there who did not eat. She did not speak. She stared around with a bewildered expression, barely seeing.
There is a kind of grief which makes this happen, where all the feelings get so jammed up inside of you that none of them can come out. They get stuck, so you get stuck. You can’t think straight. You can’t speak about anything, really. You can’t do much. You can barely see.
This old woman had that kind of grief. She sat in her place staring around with this bewildered, wide eyed look. But on her lap, she held a little girl, no more than two. And even though she couldn’t eat, she was fed the little girl with the gift from God, the creamed corn, one small spoonful after another.
Even if the grief and pain are so jammed up inside of us that we can’t speak, can’t hardly think can’t hear, can’t do, God still brings that creamed corn out of that holy kitchen and sets it before us. Until we’re ready. And God comes and sits in our lap, like that little two year old girl, and God will eat the creamed corn for us. Jesus will believe in our behalf for a while, until we are ready, at last, to weep.
Goodness is stronger than evil. Love is stronger than hate. Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death. Christ is risen. Christ is risen indeed, alleluia.