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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

We Gather Around Food and Flesh-REMIX - 08/15/2021

I come from a family of foodies.

My childhood memories are not only my grandmother in the kitchen, also my grandfather. My grandmother owned a popular German restaurant called the Bavaria Haus in the 70s. My father was a trained French chef. My daughter is not only a classically trained chef like her grandfather – she is also a phenomenal pastry chef.

Phenomenal. I know my opinion on this is likely weighted or biased in her favor. I have been continually gobsmacked at her abilities and accomplishments since that snowy, stormy spring day she took her first breath. Except that other people say it all the time too. There is little more satisfying to me than watching someone experience one of her cakes … the initial reaction of surprise and delight when they see the presentation … and then the visible shift of their whole body when that first taste finishes flooding all their senses. Eyes close, shoulders drop, there’s often an audible “mmmmm” – and for a split second, all the worries of the world melt away.

When I was a teen and my dad was still chef-ing on the planet, I was often part of his fabulous and well-attended dinner parties. My sister and brother and I would help clean up the apartment and get the table set. Then we’d watch as the guests arrived, noses in the air searching for hints of whatever Dad was preparing, hungrily eyeing the beautiful dinner table where they knew they would be sitting and eating and talking, maybe even arguing, into the wee hours of the morning.

I have been aware for a very long time of the power of food to draw people in, to change and sustain them, to connect them around tables and our universal needs for nourishment and relationships.

As Lutherans, we have often been teased for adding a pan of bars, a salad, or Jell-o in the appropriate liturgical color to just about any gathering. But I think we're on to something quite important here. We come by it naturally and from ancestors who go back long before anyone knew to imagine something like our contemporary, American Lutheran faith communities.

Consider the call to gather in community around food in our reading today from Proverbs, a scripture that was first passed on in oral traditions as many as 2,500 years ago. Lady Wisdom is calling out to all who are “simple,” which is a Hebrew word more roundly translated as those who are lacking in something important.

Maybe 2,500 years ago, she was talking to people who lacked food, education or better family status. Today, maybe Lady Wisdom calls us who are lacking in important things like hope, familiarity with Jesus, food, education or better family status. Some things change. Some really don’t.

In our reading, Lady Wisdom invites people into a community where they will share bread and wine. “Come eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed,” she calls from her doorway. The result is not only physical nourishment, but the opportunity to lay aside immaturity ... or grow in wisdom … and then, live and walk in that new-found insight. That’s still spot-on relevant to us seekers today, I would say.

This enticement with food is carried on through Jesus today too – only in this case – much more radically. Jesus is taking things up a notch. His language is changing.

Rather than talking about himself as the metaphoric bread of life as he has for a few weeks now, Jesus is specifically talking about his flesh and blood. Five times he uses the word flesh. And rather than just eating, or taking this flesh in like we've heard previously, the word he uses for “eat” is more like biting and ripping, violently separating muscle from bone.

It's jarring and kind of weird, I suspect, for people like us who typically like to imagine Jesus as a gentle man. Of course, there are exceptions, but in general I think we prefer Jesus the servant king, or the wise teacher with content, peaceful students at his feet listening to him talk about our loving and loyal God.

But he is also the one we call the Lamb of God who is on the way to Jerusalem where his flesh will be torn, and his blood will be spilled.

And the truth is, Jesus was more forceful in his teaching at times. His message was radical and inflammatory. “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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

This is absolutely shocking to the people in the story and, as usual, these words Jesus uses are quite purposeful. These changes in his language are no accident. It's part of his teaching method. This idea of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is scandalous. Drinking blood or eating flesh with blood in it was loaded with meanings and images. Blood was a sacred thing, a tabooed thing, a revered thing, a feared thing.

Think back to Mark’s story of the hemorrhaging woman a few weeks ago. (Mk 5) The woman suffered under this physical ailment for 12 years. She also suffered under ex-communication – which is being put out of community. Blood had more power over her life than anything … until Jesus came along.

Jesus' shocking statements surely got people's attention. And in a way only Jesus can manage, he pulled off the blinders of assumptions and conditioning so the people could truly see the drastic way Jesus changes the relationship between God and creation, between God and humankind.

“For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink,” he continued. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

The shock value of the message was radical in the ears of the people this gospel was written for too. The early Christ followers our Gospel writer John was talking to were still Jews in a place where their Jewish leaders said anyone who professed that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue and therefore community – ex communicated. Community was and is a critical lifeline for people. But what Jesus promised meant that for them too, the power no longer rested with these synagogue leaders because through the Son of Man, through Jesus, those Christ-followers, like us, abide in God and God in them. Synagogue or not. Community or not. It changed everything.

Today this language may not seem so shocking to us, although I have met people who are very turned off by this idea of eating and drinking the flesh and blood of Jesus. For most of us though, we've heard these words for a long time, we've grown up with this language, we partake in the bread and wine at the table regularly and, now we know, lament deeply when we cannot come to the table. It's part of our familiar, like electricity and fresh water – stuff we take for granted – stuff we’d be lost without.

Because of that human tendency to take what we have for granted sometimes, perhaps we should try to hear this part of John’s bread discourse as shocking a way as it was originally meant to be. Because we too find ourselves subject to earthly powers that do not align with our Christian beliefs. It often happens so gradually, just under the radar, until before we know it we've placed money or power or possessions above God, or spoken in judgment or turned our back on our neighbor.

And sometimes because we are so used to seeing, wearing and decorating with the cross, we forget how radical the event of the cross is and how it leads us to the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation at the Lord’s Table – this scandalous and shocking meal we shre and treasure.

We forget how counter-cultural it makes us in that crazy world beyond those doors when our words and actions reflect the psalmist’s wisdom – “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from lying words. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” (Ps 34.13-14) It’s the stuff of fools to many.

We forget to be moved and maybe shocked by what it looks like to be people who “believe,” people who eat the flesh and drink the blood of “him whom God has sent.”

Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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