Eating Christ’s body, being Christ’s body: A Sermon for Proper 15, Year B, 2018

 Note: This is the text as I prepared it. However, the preaching moment was rather different. Instead of sharing a bit of my story in the second half of the sermon, I invited the congregation to ask questions about the Eucharist. At both services we had lively conversations about transubstantiation, about what happens if one receives “unworthily” (I Corinthians 11), about communion without baptism.

Jesus says many strange things in the Gospel of John. Many of these sayings are so strange that we don’t pay attention to them anymore. Often, the Christian Church has interpreted them in such a way to make them less strange and those interpretations have become so fixed, that many of us don’t experience or encounter their strangeness. And when we encounter people in the text puzzled by what Jesus is saying, we think they are being willfully obtuse. So in chapter 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “You must be born again (or from above)” And Nicodemus responds, “How can someone enter their mother’s womb again?” Continue reading

Give them something to eat: A Sermon for Proper 13, Year A

We’ve been hearing a lot these last few years about the growing inequities in our society, the widening gap between rich and poor, and the struggles of those who live in poverty to achieve a decent standard of living. We’ve also been hearing about “food insecurity” a new term that’s emerged recently to describe those large numbers of people in our society and across the world who aren’t sure where their next meal is going to come from or whether they’ll have enough food to make it through the end of the month.

We see evidence of food insecurity here at Grace. The constant stream of visitors to our food pantry is evidence of the difficulties people have to acquire adequate food. Typically, the number of visitors spikes in the last days of the month as people who subsist on disability, or social security, or SNAP—food stamps—find their resources inadequate for the month. It’s especially heartbreaking and ironic to see a line of people waiting for the pantry doors to open on Saturday morning while a few steps away thousands of people are gawking at the bounty of the Dane County Farmer’s Market. But that’s life in 21st century America. Continue reading

Thomas a Kempis, 1471

Today is the commemoration of Thomas a Kempis, likely author of one of the “bestsellers” of Medieval devotion, The Imitation of Christ. A brief excerpt:

To You I come for help, to You I pray for comfort and relief. I speak to Him Who knows all things, to Whom my whole inner life is manifest, and Who alone can perfectly comfort and help me.

You know what good things I am most in need of and how poor I am in virtue. Behold I stand before You, poor and naked, asking Your grace and imploring Your mercy.

Feed Your hungry beggar. Inflame my coldness with the fire of Your love. Enlighten my blindness with the brightness of Your presence. Turn all earthly things to bitterness for me, all grievance and adversity to patience, all lowly creation to contempt and oblivion. Raise my heart to You in heaven and suffer me not to wander on earth. From this moment to all eternity do You alone grow sweet to me, for You alone are my food and drink, my 252 love and my joy, my sweetness and my total good.

Let Your presence wholly inflame me, consume and transform me into Yourself, that I may become one spirit with You by the grace of inward union and by the melting power of Your ardent love.

Suffer me not to go from You fasting and thirsty, but deal with me mercifully as You have so often and so wonderfully dealt with Your saints.

What wonder if I were completely inflamed by You to die to myself, since You are the fire ever burning and never dying, a love purifying the heart and enlightening the understanding.

(Imitation of Christ, Book IV, chapter xvi)

The entire text is available here.

An Offering of Angels

Yesterday, Corrie and I toured the Offering of Angels exhibition currently at the Chazen Museum of Art. We were accompanied by Maria Saffiotti Dale, Curator of Paintings, Sculpture, and Decorative Arts at the museum.

It’s well worth a visit, consisting of paintings from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, most of which are rarely displayed publicly. The paintings are generally tied thematically to the Eucharist and other Biblical and religious subjects, ranging from the Fall to the Resurrection. Most of them date from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

While a number of them are particularly interesting I was drawn to this painting by Cristofano Allori of “Christ being ministered to by the angels.” Allori was a Florentine painter (1577-1621)

The painting’s placement among images of the resurrection, and just after images of the passion, reminded me of Lk 22:43 “Then an angel from heaven appeared to him and gave him strength.” The more likely parallel is with Mt. 4:11 “Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” One can see a demon departing to the left in the painting.

What fascinates me more is the Eucharistic imagery in the painting. Some angels are bringing bread and wine to Jesus while others hold a basin in which Jesus is washing his hands. The exhibition catalog suggests this particular theme appears often in monastic institutions during the Catholic Reformation, especially in rooms designated as refectories.
I’m not sure about that whether that explains this particular image. It’s not very large (32cm x 52cm).

That Jesus is washing his hands as angels bring him bread and wine evokes for me the ablutions a priest makes during the Eucharist so the image might be directed at a priest’s devotions and to underscore the role of the priest as mediator of Christ’s presence to the faithful. A quick search of google images returned no other depictions that included Jesus washing his hands and most were much less obviously Eucharistic in focus.

Also in the exhibition are two other paintings with striking Eucharistic imagery. One is an image of the grieving Madonna by Alessandro Allori (1535-1607)

The other is an image of Christ by Jacopo di Chimenti da Empoli (1551-1640), in which blood from the wound in Jesus’ side empties into a chalice: