For the last four weeks in both the Lutheran and Roman Catholic expressions of this one St. Paul Community of Faith, we’ve been hearing Gospel readings from a single chapter of St. John – and this week’s reading makes that five. In the Sunday homilies, we’ve been looking at each week’s reading as an act in a five-act drama – a five-act drama concerning bread, Jesus, and us. But, before the curtain rises on Act Five – a brief re-cap of what has gone on in Acts One through Four.
In the first act, with Jesus having multiplied a few loaves and fishes into food for five-thousand, the people in the crowd tried to take Jesus by force and make him be their king – their Bread King if you will. However, Jesus, not wanting to be manipulated, escaped their grasp.
Then in Act Two Jesus told the crowd when they finally caught up with him that the only reason they were following him was to ensure that they would always have full stomachs. Important though bread is, Jesus had not come to fill their bellies; rather, said Jesus, he had come to give the “bread of life-in-God,” life-in-God beyond the ages; what was important – the part they didn’t quite hear – was that he, Jesus, would give that living bread to anyone who would come to him – to him, the great I AM.
Next, in Act Three, we heard Jesus say that coming to him to receive this “bread of life-in-God beyond all ages” was not some sort of work that we do to please God, to keep God off our backs – but that it is God’s Very Own Self who draws – which in the Greek of the New Testament is actually drags – that it is God’s Very Own Self who drags us to where the living, being, I AM, God-in-Jesus gives life-in-God beyond the ages, and that those who simply open their hands like beggars and receive this living bread will be raised up on the last day. Jesus upped the ante, however, by not only declaring again, “I AM this living bread come down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will have life in God beyond the ages,” but then he had add, “This bread is my very flesh.” And with that the curtain fell, along with the jaws of the crowd.
As the curtain comes up in Act Four, we heard the religious people starting to lose it. “How can this guy give us his flesh to eat? Outrageous!!!” Jesus’ reply to their objections proved more than they can handle – “Unless you eat” – and the Greek verb here not a polite sort of eating, but more like the verb to scarf down, sort of how hungry kids eat – “unless you scarf down my flesh and drink my blood – you won’t have life-in-God beyond the ages within you.” Such a dust-up! In the final scene of Act Four we observed the little kids and the would-be little kids running to receive the bread and the cup from Jesus, saying, “I want a piece of Jesus, a big piece of Jesus, and I want to go over where the cup is and drink some Jesus.” And with the children and the child-like scarfing down I AM and drinking deeply of I AM, the curtain came down on Act Four. And now, Act Five.
“Lord, I am not worthy to receive you into my very own body – but only say the word and it shall be so.” And with that the curtain slowly descends as another song from the chorus, now somewhere high above the rafters begins, Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah let it be . . . .
The curtain rises to the sounds of great grumbling. Those who have been following Jesus are saying things like, “Whoa! This scarfing down Jesus’ flesh . . . scandalous.” “Ugh. Whoever heard of such a thing.” “Who can listen to this nonsense, this non-sense. It’s all an insult to reason,” and, “You’re gonna let your kids think they’re really eating and drinking JESUS!?” To which Jesus replies, “Well, if this offends you, what are you gonna do when you see the Son of Humanity ascend to the Judgment Seat, especially when you see that the Judgment Seat is an accursed and bloody cross – the very last place you would have ever expected God to be, and if seeing that offends you, then wait until you hear what the judgment upon all the world is: mercy, sentence commuted, life – life-in-God beyond the ages. Yup, you want scandal, you just wait – and no, none of this is going to make any sense to human ways of thinking. No – neither your works nor words are going to give you life-in-God beyond the ages – it will only be by my promise given to you over and over and over with the bread and wine that truly are my body and my blood that you will have true life.”
At this, one of the crowd speaks up. “I’m not sure I want a god whose glory is to hang from a cross. Who wants some guy hanging on a cross on their living room wall – or anywhere else for that matter?” “That’s for sure,” yells out some guy from the town of Kariot. “I want a god who will kill the enemy. I don’t want some god who would die like a criminal rather than wreak vengeance upon the ungodly.” “Yeah,” says another. “And I don’t want a god who thinks he can be scarfed down as bread and wine and enter into my body.” With this, the crowd begins to sing a variant version of a Sting lyric, (God) Don’t get . . . (God) Don’t get . . . (God) Don’t get so close to me. (God) Don’t get . . . (God) Don’t get . . . (God) Don’t get so close to me . . . And by twos and threes nearly all in the crowd exit stage left and stage right.
Chorus and mass exodus complete, Jesus scans the nearly empty stage, and then turns and looks out to us in the audience and says, “Tough crowd. Looks like the Father has a whole lot of work to do in order to drag that bunch back. You have heard it said of old, ‘It ain’t over until the big-boned soprano sings.’ But I say to you, ‘With me, nothing is ever over.’ My Abba has given me the first and the last songs to sing – and my song is life-in-God beyond the limits of time . . . . and life-in-God for the whole cosmos. And my Abba always lets me have my way.”
By now, the only ones left on stage with Jesus are Simon Peter – your proverbial box of rocks – and eleven other rather sketchy characters. And Jesus, turning to them, asks them, “Well, you all just gonna stand there? Aren’t you gonna leave too?” Simon, Box-of-rocks, without so much as a thought, replies, “Where we gonna go? All we ever hear anywhere else is, ‘you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not good looking enough, you’re hopeless, you don’t have enough money, you don’t live in the right neighborhood, you’re illegal, you speak the wrong language, your skin’s the wrong color, you’re a sissy or you’re too butch, you love the wrong person, kill or be killed, might makes right, our country – love it or leave it, you’re too conservative, you’re too liberal, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ It’s all one big death trip after another. And the truth is you’re the only one who accepts us – us along with any and all of those who you’re dragging along with you. Let’s face it, nobody else wants to get close to us. Like we smell or something . . . And yeah, we probably are crazy to stick around with you – but who’s got a choice these days?”
And with that, once more Jesus takes bread, and prays, “Baruch ’atah ’Adonai Eloheinu, melek ha‘olam, ha‘motsi lechem min ha’arets, Blessed are you O Lord Our God, Ruler of the Universe, who brings forth bread from the earth.” And he breaks the bread and gives it to this motley crew who truly will never do anything quite right and says, “This is my Body. It will be broken – for you.” At which Box-of-rocks and the rest of the unclean, one by one, fall on their knees in earthly disbelief as though seized by something quite beyond their reason or strength, and in unison they say to I AM, the Bread of Life, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you into my very own body – but only say the word and it shall be so.” And with that the curtain slowly descends as another song from the chorus, now somewhere high above the rafters begins, Let it be, let it be, let it be, yeah let it be . . . . . speaking words of wisdom, let it be. Let it be, let it be, let it be, yah let it be . . . . . speaking works of wisdom, let it be . . . . . . . . . . . . .