(Sermon for Sunday, August 19, 2012 || Proper 15B || John 6:51-58 )
The trouble with being human is that most of us aren’t very good at it. We are way better at being couch potatoes or social butterflies or chickens. We explain the very act of making more humans by referring to birds and bees. A frightened human is a scaredy cat; an insufferable one is a less polite term for donkey. We may exist as homo sapiens, but we spend a lot of time acting like other species.
And I can understand why. Who really wants to be human? Our skin isn’t very well adapted to our climates. Our young can’t fend for themselves for at least twenty-two years. Our bodies break down with alarming frequency. And to top it off, I can’t think of another species on this planet that kills its own kind with as much regularity and proficiency as we humans.
But somehow we have survived down through the ages amidst the dangers of saber-toothed tigers, drought, pestilence, and war. We have survived, but, as the poet Alfred Lord Tennyson writes, “We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven.” I’m not convinced that we’ve ever been that old strength. I don’t think that we’ve ever lived into our humanity to the greatest extent possible.
Except for one of us. Except for the one whose life, death, and resurrection brought us all here this morning. Except for Jesus. Jesus’ life was miraculous, yes, but perhaps not for the reason we might suspect at first. We believe that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, 100 percent of both without either being diminished or destroyed. This is a great, inexplicable mystery, so I’m not going to try to explain how this full humanity, full divinity thing works. I will say that down through the centuries the “full divinity” side has gotten the majority of the press. But have you ever stopped to think just what we claim when we say that Jesus was “fully human?”
Jesus was fully awake, fully alive – more awake and alive than any person had ever been or has been since. Human potential has always been so vast, so untapped, but until Jesus no one had lived up to that potential. We have always had the capacity to see clearer, to love deeper, to shine brighter, but Jesus is the only person in history who has seen the clearest, loved the deepest, and shined the brightest. And the good news is that he dedicated his life and his death to showing us the way to that full humanity, to the abundance of life that he himself embodied.
In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “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.” Last week, we talked about Jesus being the “bread of life,” the most foundational source of nourishment and sustenance for us. Of course, when Jesus talks about being bread, he doesn’t mean physical bread made of flour and other ingredients. Likewise, when Jesus speaks of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, he moves past the literal and invites us to bring his life into ourselves. If we were to eat his flesh, he would travel down to our bellies, the literal middle of our bodies. That’s where Jesus desires to reside in us: in our guts, in the very core of our beings, in the center of what makes us, us.
When we gather to receive Christ in the Holy Communion, we invite him once again to take up residence within us. He has been there all along, but he knows that we need to participate in the action of taking him in again and again so that we remember his life is growing in us. Jesus was fully human, fully alive. As we come closer and closer to him, we too discover our lives expanding, becoming fuller, more abundant. As followers of Jesus, we believe that participating in his way, in his example, in his life will make us more fully alive. And the more fully alive we are, the more life we can bring to those around us.
So what does being “more fully alive” look like? If we aren’t even close to being fully human during our normal, humdrum lives, then how does participating in the fullness of Jesus’ life make any difference?
Perhaps you come home late one night from work and your husband didn’t even think to make dinner and your son decided that his smelly practice clothes were best displayed in the middle of the living room floor and your daughter is having a minor anxiety attack because of all her algebra homework. You and your husband launch into the same old fight about responsibilities; at the same time, you try to tear your son away from the computer so he’ll clean up his mess. Your daughter starts crying because of her homework and hormones and everyone yelling and you tell her to take a few deep breaths: “Everything will be okay, sweetheart.”
And as you say those words to your daughter, you hear another voice saying them to you, a voice that rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. And you realize, not for the last time, that life is messy, but there is more to life than mess. You remember that none of you is fully human yet, not like Jesus, at least. None of you is fully alive, not like you will be one day when God completes God’s work in you. And so you ask Jesus to live in you during that moment of stress and failed expectations. And for a little while at least you see clearer, love deeper, and shine brighter than you did before.
Perhaps you visit the Long Island Homeless Shelter, as some are doing later today, and for the first hour you put bread on trays but you can’t quite bring yourself to make eye contact with the guests. They are too foreign, too dirty, too sad. Then you hear one of them laugh – a deep bass laugh that rattles the silverware – and you remember how your grandfather laughed. And when you steal a glance at the man, you see Grandpa for a split second. Then you make eye contact and realize that you are related to this man, if not by blood than by the fact that the Christ dwelling within you and the Christ dwelling within him are the same Christ. And the fullness of the life of Jesus rises up from your gut, from your core, from the center of what makes you, you. The bread you hand to this man will be more than bread.
When we participate in the fullness of the life of Jesus, we discover our own human capacity to love expand. We might not be very good at being human, but Jesus was. When we allow his life to permeate ours, then we can reach toward that full humanity that made him the unique, shining being that he was and is. When we share Holy Communion with one another in a few minutes, we will participate in the act of taking Jesus into ourselves where he resides already. And in that participation, we will become more fully alive, more fully human than we were before. And the more fully alive we are, the more life we can bring to those around us. Thanks be to God.