New Revised Standard Version
53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Good morning! Today is the third week of our Weird Bible sermon series, where we are investigating Bible stories that are just plain weird. This is the perfect year to do it in, because 2020 has been a very strange year, hasn’t it? I mean, did you hear about the Japanese scientists this summer who revived microbes that have been dormant at the bottom of the sea for over 100 million years? Apparently, these microbes have woken from their inactive state and have started growing and eating. Scientists are now saying that it seems like some of the world’s oldest organisms don’t actually have a lifespan—they just exist.
And did you hear that last month archaeologists from Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities opened a sealed, roughly 2,600-year-old sarcophagus in front of a live audience? When I heard that I couldn’t help but wonder if they remembered what year we are in? Given 2020s track record so far, I’m not sure that opening an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus is that great of an idea. I’ve seen the Mummy movies…I don’t need to live them.
2020 has been weird but we’ve been discovering together that as Christians, we are used to weird. Two weeks ago we read the story of Hangry Jesus and the fig tree that he cursed because it didn’t have any fruit on it. Through that story, we learned that maybe even Jesus had moments that he wasn’t proud of—but he did not stay in that angry place. He was able to redeem it and use it for good, and we can do the same thing.
Last week, we read the story of Elisha and the She-Bears, where the prophet cursed a bunch of kids who teased him for being bald. We learned that everything in the Bible was written within a specific culture, at a specific time, and to a specific group of people. So, the ancient Israelites learned not to disrespect the Prophets from it, and we learned to apply it to its ancient context rather than our contemporary one.
This morning, our scripture tells us about that one time that Jesus told his disciples to eat him. As Christians, many of whom have grown up in the church, you are probably wondering why I picked this scripture out of all the scriptures available to us in the Bible. Today, we don’t think of communion as being weird at all. It has become one of the basic tenets of our faith, a sacred part of our regular worship together.
Communion is one of the sacraments that exist throughout most Christian denominations and churches. The language used might change: Communion is often called the Eucharist, others call it the Lord’s Supper, fellowship at the table, or the breaking of the bread. The way it is prepared might change: some churches use wine and others use juice, some use bread and others use crackers. Lately I’ve been using coffee and pop-tarts. The frequency with which it’s observed might change, with some churches like ours doing it every week while others do it once a month, once a quarter, or maybe just once a year.
Despite the variations across denominations, what remains the same is that communion is an essential part of our worship together as a community. As a Disciples Church, the practice of Holy Communion at an open table has become the central element of worship within our tradition.
According to the DOC website, “Our observance of the Lord’s Supper echoes the Passover feast, when Jesus shared bread and wine with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the living Christ is met and received in the sharing of the bread and the cup, representative of the body and blood of Jesus. The presence of the living Lord is affirmed and he is proclaimed to be the dominant power in our lives.”
We are also a United Church of Christ congregation, and the UCC similarly practices Open Communion where all are welcome at the table. The UCC explains communion this way:
In the sacrament of Holy Communion, Christians hear, taste, touch and receive the grace of God revealed through Jesus Christ in a unique way. Communion is:
- a joyous act of thanksgiving for all God has done, is doing, and will do for the redeeming of creation;
- a sacred memorial of the crucified and risen Christ, a living and effective sign of Christ’s sacrifice in which Christ is truly and rightly present to those who eat and drink;
- an earnest prayer for the presence of the Holy Spirit to unite those who partake with the Risen Christ and with each other, and to restore creation, making all things new;
- an intimate experience of fellowship in which the whole church in every time and place is present and divisions are overcome;
- a hopeful sign of the promised Realm of God marked by justice, love and peace.
The United Church of Christ Book of Worship reminds us that “the invitation and the call [to the supper] celebrate not only the memory of a meal that is past, but an actual meal with the risen Christ that is a foretaste of the heavenly banquet at which Christ wi11 preside at the end of history.”
To sum it all up, Communion is an important sacrament of our faith that Christians have been practicing for 2000 years. Nothing weird about that.
To understand why I chose this scripture to be a part of this Weird Bible Sermon Series, we have to travel back to the days of the Early Church. The first Christians had no Book of Worship to follow, no denominational website to consult about their faith. They were living in the very real aftermath of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they were doing their best to follow his teachings. This meant incorporating sacred acts of worship that were new and misunderstood by their Jewish neighbors and the Roman Empire.
These misunderstandings led to increased persecution of the Early Church, which forced Christians to meet in secret. This was an unfortunate cycle because worshipping in secret fueled more rumors that Christians were evil. One of the biggest accusations against the Early Church was that the ritual of communion was a form of cannibalism and that Christians were cannibals.
In his essay on the topic, Christian scholar Dr. Daniel Clendenin wrote that these rumors that Christians were cannibals became so prevalent that 2nd century theologians spent a lot of their time and writings refuting them—we have writings from the likes of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Augustine writing explicitly that communion is not in any way a form of cannibalism. According to Clendenin, Augustine “ridiculed” the idea that the eucharistic bread and wine were the literal body and blood of Christ, repeatedly writing that Christ cannot be eaten and digested. Thankfully, during the 3rd century those rumors began to slow down and communion became more widely accepted and understood.
I think that it’s important for us to remember that despite the accusations, the Early Christians held onto the ritual of communion. They believed that this sacred act was worth the risks. Worth the rumors. Worth the harassment, the persecution, and the martyrdom. They held onto the mystery that Jesus shared with them and trusted that God was with them in the eating of the bread and drinking of the wine. That this sacred meal made all of it worth it.
In just a few minutes, we are going to take communion. I hope that during the familiar routine of eating the bread and drinking the wine you remember all that our spiritual ancestors endured so that we could have this sacred moment together. I hope you remember that communion is weird, but that weird doesn’t mean wrong. Weird can be exactly what we need to connect with God and with each other in these strange times.
Let us all be holy weirdos, together. Amen.