Sunday Week 17 Year B Sunday Week 21 Year B

Sunday Week 20 Year B

Print Version August 17th, 1997

To live forever! It seems it might even be possible. You can indeed die but live forever … or at least twenty years … if you’re Elvis Presley that is. The King is dead. Long live the King! The TV this week’s been full of Elvis reanimated on celluloid and reincarnated in corpulent and impersonated flesh. The papers have been outdoing each other with humorous or weighty articles on twenty years of a modern myth—a legendary life that captured his era, a mysterious and degrading death, and now a spirit that lives on — at least in the hearts of fans and the pocket books of an industry devoted to his memory and memorabilia. Did you know that $80 could get you a matched pair of Elvis and Barbie dolls — with real wiggling hips!?
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, it seems the Mediterranean Sea is being taken over by a mutated Pacific seaweed. Delicate in its natural habitat, this weed was used in a German aquarium for its refined beauty. So beautiful in fact that one aquarium shared with another, and another, until in Monaco the Oceanographic Museum when it went out of business emptied its tanks into the sea and this once tender plant, exposed to years of UV light and aquarium chemicals, has been taking over and poisoning the local sea-life. “Nothing can stop it,” went the headlines. It seems that even the trivial things we do, like prettying up our fish tanks, have real and global consequences.
Back in the US, an impact of more modest, but more grisly, proportions: check you freezer for any of the 5 million hamburger patties—that’s over 500 tons of not-so-prime beef—which have been recalled for being contaminated with e coli bacteria. Which is a nice way of saying they’re full of feces. Which is a nice way of saying … well you get my drift! So watch that next trip to the golden arches because you are what you eat. Fast food has its own flesh-and-blood consequences — from fast food-poisoning through slow clogging of the arteries to starving children in the horn of Africa.
“Wisdom has built her house … she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table.” From the Elvis who now lives in some pseudo-spiritual realm, via the flesh-and-blood realities of our activity in this world, we come here to the table. Our Host, Wisdom, is quite a character. A person in her own right. Sophia, as the Greek text of Proverbs calls her, was there at the right hand of God at the creation of the world when she danced and played in the very ecstasy of crafting something beautiful. And here she is today laying out a banquet for whoever needs her help. Setting out the meat and pouring the wine that leads to life. “Aha! Just like Jesus,” we think, breaking the bread and spilling the wine of eucharist. But there’s more to the comparison than that. When the first believers reflected on who Jesus, their dead but living friend, could be, when they tried to figure out how Jesus was related to Adonai, the God of their ancestors, they turned to the resources of their Jewish faith. And they found there Sophia, Wisdom, ready-made—present with God before the world began, intimately involved with all creation, and setting the table of life for all to share. So one of the very first Biblical ways of understanding Jesus was not as King, not as Master, but as a woman, as Lady Wisdom, come down from heaven in the flesh. It’s an image that quickly got dressed up in men’s clothing but it’s there just under the surface if you look for it. God as She as well as He. My mother says, “I don’t care what you say he’ll always be a he to me.” Surely God is beyond flesh, beyond gender, beyond sex. After all God is spirit isn’t he … she …it?
Well in the teeth of all our attempts to rob God of a body and keep the Divine “It” at a spiritual distance—in the teeth of all that—we have eucharist and we have gospel. “The bread I am going to give, for the life of the world, is my flesh.” “My flesh is real food and my blood real drink.” We try to go one way—from flesh to spirit—but God always goes the opposite direction. We talk of metaphors and symbols but God is distressingly literal, even naive. The eucharist we will shortly share is the very opposite of a symbol. The meal we eat is Jesus’ flesh and blood but not by magic. He made bread, flesh, and wine, blood, by putting his flesh and blood on the line. He spoke the words and made them true with his body, by having it snatched from him: broken, battered, bleeding, … dead.
The bread and wine we eat is only our sacrifice because flesh and blood were his.
Why do we come and eat and drink together like this? Why don’t we stay at home and meditate or do good deeds? Only because Jesus made flesh and blood out of wine and words. We come to eat our words … and his. We come to lay down our flesh and blood, here, for each other’s consumption and for the life of the world. After all a sacrifice of words is nothing. It’s the world that matters—to God and to us. Flesh and blood, seaweed and ground beef, the oceans, the air, people, bodies, breath and breathing. For these … for us … Jesus made a sacrifice of his body. Gave it like bread so that we might feed on him and have life—life enough to lay down, so that the whole world might live.

Entry Filed under: Berkeley,Homilies


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