The Rev’d Ann J. Broomell
Christ Church, New Haven
May 28, 2016
"The feast today"
I wonder if you’ve seen the film Babette’s Feast. Babette comes mysteriously and humbly to live with community in the Jutland in Denmark. She is employed as a servant. She has come from Paris and is a wonderful cook, yet all the people want is coarse bread and fish. The people are gruff and unkind and soon we see that they harbor long held hurts and animosities.
Babette receives a large inheritance. Rather than return to Paris, or improve her life, she chooses to give it all away spending in on one glorious meal. She orders food from Paris and invites twelve people of the village. We see everyone being changed in the midst of the meal. One man who had cheated another in a lumber deal long ago begin to talk about it. Two women who had slandered each other reach back behind the evil in which they had been stuck to remember the joyous friendship of childhood, when they had run through the fields, hand in hand, singing.(1)
Babette is a Christ figure. She comes in humility and mystery and is misunderstood and berated. She offers a feast of healing love. Her life is about giving as she chooses not to return home, not to make her life easier, but to shower her inheritance on people who had been unkind to her and to each other. She offers them a feast and bathes them, their lives and their futures in love
All of us gathered here bring different stories. Many of us come to church Sunday after Sunday heat, cold rain, snow. For some of you this may be a new experience. We pray sing, and are fed a feast. We receive the body and blood of Christ.
One could look at it and say it is basically the same, again and again, week after week. It’s boring, why come again and again? Yet in its beauty, dignity, and mystery something amazing is happening. It is summed up in the words some say at the fraction: Behold what you are, become what you receive.
We are receiving Christ in simple bread and wine—a gift beyond value. There are so many ways to experience the gift. So many ways in which our needs are met, in healing forgiveness and love and energy and courage to give away all we receive again and again.
This week we are celebrating the feast we receive. Corpus Christi is a Celebration of the Holy Eucharist. Our images of Eucharist are often grounded in the story of the feeding of the 5000 or the Last Supper. Here, Jesus changes his language from bread of life to blood and flesh. He tells those who would follow him that they must eat his body and blood. This is horrifying language for these people. The Hebrew Law, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, forbids the consuming of flesh, fat, liver and the blood of animals. Jesus moves even beyond the conscription to say that they must eat his flesh and blood.
We read in a commentary by Ginger Barfield: The point that was missed in the feeding of the thousands on the hillside was who Jesus is. The purpose was to point to Jesus. Instead those who came got full of food and went back to how things were before. They went back to the literal level and missed the depth and riches right in front of them. By the end of the conversation, Jesus is telling them that they ate the wrong thing, they ate bread and fish and they should be eating flesh and blood. You cannot hear that on a literal level, it is too deep for that. (1)
For them, for us, following Jesus is about changing, doing things differently, seeking different outcomes in our lives. He is telling them to eat the food of God, in essence to ingest his soul, which will become one with their own soul and they will begin to resemble him. It’s interesting that becoming like God requires no ethical or moral will on the part of the consumer of Jesus—they just eat and they begin to resemble the one whose life and soul they have consumed.(2)
The Eucharist is not about body and blood, it’s about receiving Jesus. Jesus himself is the food of eternal life from God. The Eucharist is life-giving because it is Jesus who gives it, and it is Jesus who we receive. It is not about bread and wine, or body and blood. Not about literal things. The Eucharist holds a deeper meaning that is both literal and mystery. The Eucharist draws us deeper into relationship with Jesus.
We are fed, forgiven, healed, renewed, empowered by the Eucharist. We might think that is the beginning and the end. An extraordinary gift from God to those who believe in Jesus.
There are two outcomes I’d like to consider this morning. The first is humility. To be able to receive this extraordinary gift is humbling. And we receive the bread and wine, the body and blood, in deepening humility as we recognize all we are receiving.
After the Eucharistic Prayer is completed this morning we’ll sing together the last two stanzas of the Pange Lingua, penned by Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. The words embody the mystery and the great gift of the Eucharist. They say what we believe, that we are humbled by the gift, as they evoke that humility in us.
Therefore we before him bending,
To the Father and the Son,
Types and shadows have their ending
For the newer rite is here
Faith, our outward sense befriending
Makes our inward vision clear.
We are nourished. We are healed. In that act we acknowledge the centrality of the gift, and that acknowledgement, that adoration, deepens the relationship that makes us one with Christ. We do become what we receive.
The hallmark of an Anglo-Catholic life is this deep reverence for the Eucharist and for the mystery, the magnificence of its impact on our lives. We seek, we long for, this unity with Christ. In the Anglo-Catholic tradition we offer the opportunity to worship as we do this Sunday, and in mid-week to sit in the quiet of our chapel, focused on the altar and the One we receive. Daily mass has held tremendous meaning for Christians throughout the ages. We offer mass here on an almost daily basis. Few come. More than one mid-week mass is a rare opportunity in the area. I urge you to put the masses in your calendar. If you live nearby come. I can’t explain the depth of God’s presence I’ve felt sitting in those chapel seats.
We are given this precious gift to enable us to become more and more like Jesus. Just as Jesus didn’t take his extraordinary gifts and use them for his good, to meet his needs, this gift is not given to us solely for our benefit. It only becomes the extraordinary gift it can be when it is given away. And of course that was the nature of Jesus, to give his live, his life away
We are asked to bring God’s love from the altar to the street. To serve those around us. Certainly to serve the poor, the hungry, the homeless. How do we, also, serve those who hunger for the holy, those who have bought into the Modernist idea of a life of fulfillment without God, yet somehow know there is more.
How do we serve those who hunger for God, but might not step into a church? How do we meet them where they are and walk with them on their path, not ours? It is an individual calling, but I have no doubt it is God’s call to us all. We are surrounded with people wired internally to be one with God. We are surrounded with the same people who think they don’t need the holy, the sacred, God, in their lives.
We are called to their sides. To their support. To their questions and wonderings, or perhaps to their satisfaction with life as it is.
Babette came to a people who didn’t know love, who really didn’t know God, and she fed them. We live in unusual times. How do you and I feed, with all we receive, those who walk beside us in our work, our social lives, our families and friends? How do we bring God’s love to them? From our altar into the street?
That question rests for all of us in the days and years to come. Let’s not bury it. Let’s not talk in terms of us and them. I hope you will engage it and, nurtured and fed here in this place as you are, ask God where you can listen, nurture, and feed. Not for the parish, not for church growth, but because we who are nurtured, healed, forgiven and fed are called into our world to serve as Jesus served.
Thanks be to God for our gift of the Eucharist, and for our call into the world through it.
(1) Barfield, Ginger. Commentary on the Gospel of John 6:51-58 Workingpreacher.org
(2) Rathburn, Russell. You are what you eat: Does Jesus want us to become God?