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Monday, August 17, 2015

The Promise

John 6:51-58
“Cross my heart and hope to die.”
            As a child, I could not make a more serious qualifier to a promise. I don’t’ know if kids these days use that phrase anymore. As an adult I no longer even think in those terms. “Cross my heart and hope to die.”
            Perhaps it is because I have become jaded – I’ve seen too many promises made and broken. I’ve failed to live up to quite a few myself. What is a promise, after all, but words,
just words, even when spoken with the most sincere and genuine of hearts and the purest of intent?
            Perhaps my reticence to use those words arises from the hope that a promise made today will make a difference. That this time, I’ll be able to honor and keep a promise I make; that the kind of wisdom spoken in the Proverb we read this morning is the wisdom attained through age and experience; “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
            Maybe, the tenor of a promise, has become, “Cross my heart and hope to live.”
            Promises are important things.
            Promises can create change in the giver and receiver of the promise – both gain in a promise kept – despite the cost also connected to it.
            In today’s gospel, Jesus makes a bold, life-giving promise. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” And later, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
            Jesus promises to provide food for the life of the world, his flesh and blood. Jesus, the perfect promise-keeper promises that whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood already has eternal life, and will be raised up on the last day.
            Jesus promises to nourish the world with the gift of himself. For the “flesh” and “blood” of Jesus, his incarnate life and very real death on the cross, have become life-giving food for the world.
            In, with, and under the bread and wine of Holy Communion, which is nothing other than Christ’s body and blood, Jesus lives out this promise to nourish faith, forgive sin, and empower us to be witnesses to the Gospel. Jesus gives us life and feeds the life within us.
            Because of Christ’s promise of mutual abiding, he in us and us in him, life is renewed.
            Throughout this sixth chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus has tried to help us embrace God’s wisdom – wisdom which is not so much knowledge to be grasped and claimed and explained as much as it is a relationship to be trusted.
            It is a relationship desired by God, a relationship that God yearns for so deeply that God will go to any length to secure it – even to sending this Bread of Life, Jesus himself, to feed us, to abide with us, to strengthen us, and to forgive us. This, my friends, is a promise we all need to hear.
            It is certainly a promise I needed to hear this week, a week in which both my 87 year old father and a little 4 year old girl, Josie, both of whom we have long been praying for, were among those who through death, joined the choir of saints and angels surrounding the throne of our Lord.
            We have all had those experiences of loss – those which are sudden and those which were drawn out. And, though death constantly surrounds us, Jesus’ promise of eternal presence with us, of life-after death, of resurrection gives us the assurance that while death has taken loved ones from our view, death does not have the final word.
            The promise of Jesus that those who believe abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in them always and eternally, allows us to trust that in the holy spaces where heaven and earth meet, God’s love surrounds, protects, and guides our loved ones safely home. In those holy spaces God accompanies those who watch and wait. In love, in joy, in grief and sorrow, God feeds us and abides with, in and around us. We are reminded at times like these that God’s holy abundance is contained in the promises Jesus makes.
            Living in Christ, there is abundance – more life than you could ever hope for or imagine; you seek heavenly manna? Jesus says, I am that manna – I am the food you need. I am bread from heaven, for you, come down so that you may not only live, but that you may have life. I am life for you. Right here. Right in front of you. Believe in me and be nourished.
            Jesus stresses that life in him does not come because we understand correctly or believe all the right things – the doctrine and theology with which we adorn ourselves. Instead, life comes through the promise of the one who is the Bread of Life.
            Jesus promises that eternal life comes through being in close communion with Jesus himself.  Eternal life is to remain in Jesus and to have Jesus remain in us. As we eat and drink, we take Christ’s body and blood into our mouths, into our stomachs, into our bodies, Jesus promises to abide in us, strengthening, renewing, and making his love both felt and known.
            Through this holy meal, Jesus Christ, Bread of Life, himself delivered unto death upon the cross and raised to eternal life, moves us closer to himself. Christ moves us closer to reflecting the very image of the living God in our own lives.
            Through this meal, we are as intimate with Jesus, the Bread of all Living, as the Father is with the Son. This is Jesus’ promise to us not only every time we receive this precious meal, but every day of our lives, in our living and our dying, in our care of others and in our being cared for.
            While the gracious promise of God includes inviting us into the resurrection and life after death, we are mistaken if we view “eternal life, or “life everlasting” as referring only to that kind of life.
            Let us remember that while certainly, Jesus’ promise of eternal life is laden with the assurance that we will join him in the resurrection when this life is past. Eternal life reflects the reality that lives are changed in the moment of our baptism as we receive the promise of new life – a life which begins in that moment, and then carries us throughout our earthly existence and beyond.
            The eternal life begun in baptism is the gift of abundant living in relationship with Jesus, a relationship Jesus nurtures and feeds by every means possible, including the most visceral feeding through his holy presence at the table. The invitation to this meal is far more dependent on the relationship created and driven through the love of God that it is on our own action or understanding. It is available to us through God’s expansive love shown to us through Jesus Christ.
            Jesus’ promise of eternal life and of his abiding is an essential, life-giving promise which supplies hope to us in all our journeying on this earthly plane.
            The past couple of weeks, I have been made more aware than ever of the promise of life that Jesus makes. I witnessed Jesus dwelling in, with and around us through nurses and doctors, friends and coworkers, through you, through the prayers that were prayed, through the gathering of family, through the care given and received as my father and Josie moved closer to that holy place where heaven and earth meet, through the omnipresent Spirit which surrounded us. The strength we drew came from knowing the peace and promise of Jesus that nothing in heaven or on earth could separate us and our loved ones from the love of God through Christ Jesus. Through the Bread of Life, God’s eternal promises are true.
            In a few moments,
we’ll celebrate Jesus’ presence among us in Holy Communion. 
Our voices will blend with those of the angels around God’s throne as we sing
“Holy, Holy, Holy.”

            The great prayer of thanksgiving that we lift
will be the prayer of voices living and voices dead. 
            Heaven and earth will touch here,
and Christ will be present in the bread and the wine
in ways too wonderful to understand. 

And this is what is at the heart of our meal:
a common loaf of bread,
and a simple cup of wine,
both containing the promises of Jesus; together, the sign and the reality of how much God loves us. 

God has promised unparalleled blessing in this bread and this cup,
this meal through which God dwells in us and we dwell in God.

This I firmly believe, and pray that you do, too. Cross my heart and sure to live.

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