Harrowing Of Hell
August 19, 2012

Let Love Abide

Preacher: Diana Bender

Proverbs 9:1-6, Psalm 34:9-14, Ephesians 5:15-20, and John 6:51-58

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

When I was a child, my parents rarely if ever went to church, but I lived with my grandparents part of the time I was growing up as a young child then almost every summer once I was in school. My grandfather was a deacon in the Episcopal church.  He often preached and frequently served communion. There was no Sunday school in summer, so I was there in the service each week. Sometimes bored, sometimes fidgety (well, let’s be honest, ALWAYS fidgety), but somehow deep in my heart I was so happy to be there in church. I suspect my grandparents thought I wasn’t paying attention at all,
but something was happening for me.

Communion was my favorite part of the service – I liked walking up and waiting, kneeling and drinking this stuff- that I didn’t actually like the taste of, but which was special- something I normally was not supposed to have.

The whole experience felt mystical and I think it was love- I felt loved.

I really liked seeing my grandfather in pulpit and I did pay attention to his sermons, but I especially loved him standing before me, seeing his familiar face in those unfamiliar robes – his blue eyes twinkling in mine when he placed the wafer into my hand.  When I was receiving communion from him, I felt something that I would now describe as the presence of God or the Holy Spirit.

But it’s not just because it was my beloved grandfather.   I think that experience, that moment of taking the wafer and putting it in my mouth – of eating it – that Holy Spirit experience is more universal than just my individual loving exchange with my grandfather.

And I still today often experience communion that way- as a place and an exchange of great love.

As a Eucharistic minister, one of those people who help Doyt and Kate serve the bread and wine at the altar, I sometimes feel that same Holy Spirit moment as I am serving people- a place where time and space are suspended and together we are each vulnerable, open and receiving of divinity.

Even if I don’t know the person that I am serving, I do have this sense of something different than our normal existence- a place where as Doyt might say the walls of my kingdom have fallen down and I am more fully with God.

So, I tell you all this because today’s gospel passage gives me pause .

It does seem to be talking about communion, because we eat bread and drink wine

Jesus said… “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,…   Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me”

Ok, a lot here about eating flesh and drinking blood.

I have to say, when I am talking about my faith with my friends who don’t come to church, I don’t typically lead with eating and drinking Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but I do feel a little funny about the cannibalistic nature of this passage.

As a Christian, am I really supposed to be a flesh-eating, blood-drinking person?

It doesn’t sound terribly appealing, certainly not religious and definitely not spiritual!

And yet my experience of communion each week is that it is a deeply spiritual act, in a beloved religious setting.

This reminds of Sesame Street- one of these things does not belong!

My discomfort with a gospel passage tells me there is something important for me to learn here.  I’m tempted to just interpret this as symbolic language- surely we were not supposed to take this all literally, right?

And yet, it’s very interesting in the Greek version the symbolism evolves through the passage – in the translation we heard today, we heard the word ‘eat’ throughout the passage.

But, in Greek, it switches part way through and a different word for eat is used in the later sentences. We start out being asked to eat, and then we are invited to gnaw or gobble – to eat like a wild animal who must eat as much as possible when food is available.

There is a physicality to this that I think is important- that goes beyond symbol, perhaps not quite to the literal, but definitely to something more tangible more concrete than pure symbolism

As we celebrate communion, at least in the Episcopal Church, we don’t just listen to the words and think about them. Our whole body is involved- we walk, we bow, we kneel, we hold out our hands, we taste with our tongues, we swallow and we digest.

Ah, we digest.

When we digest regular food, what we eat becomes completely intrinsic to our bodies- even the best doctor or research scientist could not fully separate the granola I had for breakfast from the broccoli I had for dinner.  All this food, all the drink is now part of my bones and muscle and energy in my body to be used for my full functioning.

I think the physicality of this imagery can help us see how God is and wants to be so fully entwined with us- just as the broccoli and granola are within my body.

Communion is a physical act that can be a metaphysical representation of how close Jesus, or God, can be in our lives.

How intrinsic.

How inseparable.

Jesus often used parables and symbols from everyday life, but this was an especially shocking one. So what was Jesus trying to shock us out of?

Perhaps he wanted to shock us out of being passive into being more active-into a more active incorporation of God into our very beings.

We must actively eat and drink to live.

Perhaps we must eat the bread of life to truly live – to live fully into the person God created us to be. Just as the physical bread we eat is transformed by our cells into energy and substance, I wonder if Christ’s bread is transformed in a similar way in our souls (if we let it).

This passage gives us a window into the nature of reality- it is real food for our souls.  We take it into our body because that’s how we as humans consume life-giving resources, and it’s the real food of life, the food of love, we are ingesting, and not just the molecules of wheat or wine.

Jesus tells us he is the bread and wine of life

And he is inviting us to



And absorb Him

into our very being

Now, part of this is our commitment to come to the table each week.

Each week I am renewing my commitment to abide in Jesus as Jesus abides in me.  But is there one more step I need to take?

He is calling us to be so close we can’t separate what is me from what is him.

This is pure love this infusion is an embodiment of love.

In our bodies.

And so I return to the question Charissa posed when she preached on the transfiguration few weeks ago- “Does your face shine with a knowledge that you are loved?”

At time I wondered, am I living as if am I truly loved?

And now I wonder –

Are we each living as if we have love embodied within us, as if Jesus is so close that we are in him and he is in us?

Abiding in each other?

Are we each living as if we have Jesus so close that we are in him and he is in us?


We are each very important to how God acts in the world.

The choices we make, the words we speak, the actions we take, are central to how God manifests in the world.

And so if we choose and speak and act as if Jesus is in our bodies-as if we have indeed eaten and drank Jesus in, truly abiding in each other, the world around us will be a different place than if we do not.

God will manifest around us in a different way if we do not let this digestion- this intrinsic, inseparable incorporation of God into ourselves, if we don’t let that happen, things will be different.

There are those times where we turn away- where the intensity of what we can experience feels like too much- when we can’t quite go ‘there’ and then are left feeling a little empty.

This, I think, is the place Jesus refers to when he says –   ‘you will have no life in you’

But we can choose- we can choose to be in and go towards that life-giving, life-full place. we can choose life over no life and choose eternal life over death.

By abiding in Jesus, and, perhaps most importantly, allowing Jesus to abide in us, we open the door to real life, true life, where the Holy Spirit flows, where our lives have more meaning, where there is more love, and where, through our choices, our words and our action, the abundant life God seeks for us all can shine through.

Let yourself be fed, let yourself digest, let that love infuse you, and see what unfolds.