Archive for June, 1998

Sunday of Corpus Christi

I have a burning question this morning … what happened to those twelve baskets of leftovers? What did the disciples do with all that half chewed bread and fish? Haven’t you ever wondered? The gospel writers are so delighted with the excess but they never spare a word about where it went. Did the Twelve carry the basketsful home to save for tomorrow’s gathering or did they hand out doggy bags for the departing crowd? Perhaps after the miracle that had just happened these scraps were treated like holy relics to be hurried home and stored in little gold boxes ready for when the next fever might hit and a miracle be needed. Or maybe everyone was so full they lost all interest in food and the leftovers were left to rot like waste. Maybe? And now I think about it I wonder where they got the baskets from? You see once you start asking these questions it gets hard to stop and even finds a fascination all of its own. It’s called theology and some of us do it for a living.
But it has its traps and one of them is the shift of focus that is embodied in this great mediaeval feast of Corpus Christi. For nine, ten, centuries after the first last supper if you asked the ordinary person in the pew where the body of Christ was—after they stopped looking at you strangely—they’d tell you here—in the gathered church praying together, breaking bread together, doing good together. A few hundred years later the same poll would have gotten a different answer—the long-suffering amateur theologian would use a different gesture—not sweeping out a wide arc but pointing directly at the tabernacle: there’s the body of Christ—in that box. Somehow Jesus has been trapped in a box—oh a gold box, nicely padded, but under lock and key. How do we let him out again?
We have a lot to celebrate in this feast but we have to know what are we celebrating: an event, not a thing; something that goes on happening, not something over and done with; an awful and glorious waste.
Look how Paul remembers that event: not as the first Eucharist, not as the first consecration, but as the night when Jesus was betrayed. On that night when he was handed over by one of his own, he first hands over himself to his friends, his own—including the betrayer. He hands himself over in broken bread and shared cup. “This is my body which is for you.” Eat it and remember me. This cup makes a new promise sealed with my blood. Drink it and remember me. What a waste! You can imagine his friends thinking, “this is not a good bargain: bread and wine instead of flesh and blood.” What could have possessed Jesus to waste his life like this—handing it over for nothing instead of prudently backing off to fight another day. He could have gone back into hiding and let the fuss die down but, no, he had to go and hand himself over even as he is handed over by his betrayer. What a waste!
It’s the waste we remember: every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you proclaim the death of the Lord until he comes.
That’s why the gospel’s twelve baskets of wasted food is an important detail: night is falling and people are hungry and the disciples are worried and Jesus is challenging. He asks them the question he keeps on asking us: what have you got to offer? What will you waste?
Though the disciples say they have next to nothing, they hand over what little they have, protesting all the time the waste of throwing so little at so many mouths. But Jesus blesses their pittance of bread and fish and hands it over to God, and God hands it over in abundance to the hungry crowd. The miracle isn’t in the eating but in the handing over; isn’t in the receiving but in the giving.
The crowd was hungry but now they’re satisfied: more, they’re full, stuffed, couldn’t eat another thing. They thought they had nothing but it turns out they had enough and even more than enough, even too much. Here’s how it is in the body of Christ: we have to run the risk of wasting what little we have, handing it over, so there’ll be enough to satisfy the deepest need, enough to waste.
So … where’s the body of Christ this morning? Is Jesus here or in a box? I think that all depends on what we do together. Shortly we will break bread together but if the focus is on what we receive the box will stay firmly locked. What opens the door is what we offer; what we are willing to hand over today; what we are ready to waste. Because the hunger is still there and Jesus is still asking us the question: “why don’t you give them something to eat yourselves?”

June 14th, 1998

Trinity Sunday

Why on earth do we celebrate this awkward feast right here, right now, when we are still reeling from Pentecost, still wondering how to put our feet down into ordinary time and get on with the brisk business of living? Why distract our attention from the here and now with this feast of the where and nowhere?
I for one never remember it’s coming. All the focus has been on Easter and Pentecost and every year I’m surprised and say to myself “Oh yes, Trinity!”
But there is a reason it’s here and a good one at that. Our faith in the Trinity is not a faith in a theorem of mathematics, not a problem in logic, not even a puzzle in theology. Instead it’s a shorthand for all that has gone on before: for Advent’s waiting; for the Christmas joy of Incarnation; for Lent’s remembrance of bruised innocence; for the Holy-Week horror of loss; the surprise of Easter; and the Church’s reckless gift of Pentecost fire.
When we testify to Trinity we sum up the triple testimony of our lives, and the lives of our forefather and foremothers: the testimony of the living world to its creator; the testimony of Jesus to his God; and the testimony of the Christian community to the Spirit of Jesus still with us.
These are the roots of trinity in us. The sense we have that this world is no accident; that despite it’s sorrows and ugliness it is a place of life and for life with a creative heart at its centre and a care ready to be made visible through our own.
The experience of Jesus which we remember every day. God’s way to be human, revealing the lines of God face, and a love that would hold nothing back in its daring generosity and its challenge to our notions of goodness and beauty.
Then the experience of the church from its earliest days that Jesus, once dead, is now beyond death, and with us always in the Spirit. God still with us, still delighting in life, still finding beauty in love, surprise in creativity.
If the Doctrine of the Trinity says anything it says this: God has risked even giving up God’s very self to be God for us. The song we’ll sing in a little while says it accurately: “you have shaken with our laughter; you have trembled with our tears.”
So no shamrock or triangle opens the heart of the Trinity to us … just the experience of love. If you know what it is to have loved someone enough to have shaken with their laughter and trembled with their tears then you can begin to understand God’s Trinity.
We’ve all been raised to believe that God loves us but somehow we tend to believe that all the risk and all the feeling are on our side … that God is so big and self-sufficient that nothing we do can really make a difference to God—really hurt or really delight. But today’s feast says the opposite and invites us into its mystery. Have you ever loved someone so much that you feel you’ve lost your self to them? That all your future depends on them? That your heart wakes or breaks with theirs? If you’ve known that pain, that daring, that delight then know now that God looks upon you with just that kind of love.

2 comments June 7th, 1998


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