We are gathered here tonight to celebrate . . . the entry of God into the flesh and blood of a very concrete and particular human being . . . named “Jesus.” We are gathered here tonight to celebrate . . . the joy that walked out onto hard ground, when the stone that sealed his tomb was rolled away. We are gathered here tonight to celebrate . . . the hope that filled the lungs of his nearly desperate followers, when he—saturated by the new life of resurrection—breathed his breath into their mouths, gaping open as they were when they took in the news that his death had been swallowed up in victory. We are gathered here tonight to celebrate . . . the memory that Jesus’ wood-worker-body opened to all of those he touched and who touched him.
Jesus’ crucifixion . . . is above all his opening to those to whom nobody opens—the despised outcast: dying, dead, and damned. He was crucified among insurgents, after all—terrorists. But more than this, his whole life was lived—is lived—toward his day of crucifixion. When he touched the people he met and as they touched him, his body opened to them, to let them in. The resurrection and ascension of Jesus mean that he does so still. His body lives, is touched, touches, and opens. As his body opens, he calls those who would enter it to be mindful of where his body travels, what path it makes. If they are bold enough to enter—and the Spirit who raised him from the dead inspires nothing if not boldness—then they together walk his path, that path that opens to those to whom nobody opens.
Remember . . . as you eat and drink the bread and wine held out to you tonight . . . that you take in what opens to you in your mouth, belly, and veins, opens more than wide enough to take in your whole body, your whole life-story, opens to set you down on your two feet . . . on the hard ground of that path that always leads to his cross and yours, to his resurrection and yours.
That is why we’ve gathered here tonight, even if you just thought that you had come to fulfill some chapel attendance law. Well, you’re here now. I’m here now, too, with you. And I guess I should warn you (and me) that taking in a little piece of bread and dipping it in some very sweet wine here tonight in a few minutes will put you (and me) on the road to crucifixion—the road to solidarity with the poor, the weak, the excluded, the dying, the dead, and the damned. Eating a little bread dipped in a little wine tonight is your saying (and my saying) with an act of your body and blood (and my body and blood) that you (and I) are with them . . . and that none of what crushes them will be able to separate them (and you and me) from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
That’s why we’ve gathered here tonight, even if you just thought that you came here to fulfill some chapel attendance law. We’ve gathered to declare with our bodies and blood that God is love and that precisely where the principalities and powers of this present evil age deny hope to so many, precisely there the hope of God comes walking out of the tomb on hard ground.
What I am saying—and this should amaze every one of us—what I am saying is that God loves you and me . . . and every human being on the face of this earth. [Pause] What I’m saying is that among us are those who have been shoved off the page, who have been denied a future, who day in and day out are having the life sucked out of them—who have been made invisible, who have no one on their side. The God who loves you and me and every human being on the face of the earth . . . loves them in particular. This God travels to them in particular, to them who hear day in and day out nothing but “No!” God travels to them in that very concrete and particular human being . . . named “Jesus.” God lives with them, as Jesus lives with them. God eats with them, as Jesus eats with them. God dies with them, as Jesus dies with them. God is damned with them, as Jesus is damned with them. That is what is said on the day Jesus is raised from his borrowed grave. That is what is said on the day Jesus ascends into the sky to sit at the right hand of God the Father, the Almighty. To take in the broken body and shed blood of Jesus is to set out on that same journey that leads to this world’s outcasts. It is to be outcast with them in all the ways Jesus was outcast with them—all with the hope of an unthinkable resurrection, the inbreaking of a new kind of life, a life that cannot be taken away by death, a life that has no contradiction in death, a life that passes back and forth through death as if through a doorway.
No doubt the voice that whispers in my ear also whispers in yours—the nearly imperceptible, but persistent voice that says “surely not!” And no doubt our entering into solidarity with the people Jesus entered into solidarity with will mean for us what it meant for him. It is no accident that he had no place to lay his head, that he was counted among transgressors, that he ate and slept and wandered about with the poorest of the poor of his raped and subjugated land, that land crushed in the fist of Rome. To eat and drink his broken body and shed blood is to set out to travel with him. And to put it bluntly, it means ruin—to the body and its mind that have spent a lifetime in collaboration with the Empire, to the body and its mind that have been animal-trained by the Empire. Indeed, the Empire can only take walking the path of Jesus to mean the loss of all the mainstays of life! “I mean,” the Empire would have us ask, “if I walk the path Jesus walked, what will I eat, what will I drink, what will I wear?!” And indeed the voice whispering in your ear and in mine does not in every respect lie—though it does lie. To walk the path of Jesus is to let go of the American Dream. It is to live in the fresh moment of the gift of a today that opens to the peace of God that fills the future. It is to learn to be grateful for the way God clothes the grass of the field which is alive today and is tomorrow thrown into the oven. It is to learn to move in the expectation that God will provide . . . even if so very often God provides only at the very last minute. “For it is those held captive by the American Dream who strive for what they will eat and what they will drink and what they will wear. Besides, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things, even if what you ‘need’ is very different from what you want. So, strive first for the Reign of God and God’s righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well—given to you so freely, with such abundance, that with the laughter of abandon you may give it all away—give it all away with the joy of one for whom all of life is a gift freely received. That is, do not worry about tomorrow. Receive today—this very day—as unmerited grace! Receive today with gratitude! Receive today with joy! Celebrate today as the day in which God says ‘Yes!’ to you and to me and to all those to whom you and I are inclined to say ‘No!’”
At least this is what Jesus seems to be saying in the Sermon on the Mount. Such a message will, of course, strike us as dangerous, as extreme, as insane. We would much prefer to think that Jesus’ words in this sermon are some rhetorical device, some hyperbole, some exaggeration he used for the sake of driving home a less extreme point. Of course, we’d prefer to think that. We have been animal-trained by the Empire.
No doubt it is tough to agree to a relationship that promises the loss of goods. So many voices whisper in our ears that life is about the acquisition of goods, not their loss. But this is not the worst of it all. You (and I) might also consider that it seems also that the invitation of Jesus promises opposition from others, even persecution. Or at least that is what the New Testament seems to maintain. And yet, when persecution comes, the New Testament does not look upon it as something that thwarts the work of God. It is rather the occasion for the growth of faith and of love among the persecuted, a love and faith that may well come to shine with the glory that inhabits the resurrected body of Jesus. Further, in persecution the persecuted become witnesses to the cross of Christ—literally “martyrs,” a word that means “witnesses.” It’s funny, isn’t it, that the church bears witness to what God has done in Christ by being like him, a lamb led to slaughter, silent before its shearers? Oddly, such faithfulness and love in the face of violence are taken in the New Testament to be evidence of the righteousness of God, intended to make you (and me) ready for God’s coming reign. That is, it is in the direction of that coming reign of God that such suffering occurs, like birth pains that promise new life.
And in the call to the bread and the wine, to the body and blood of Jesus, we are asked to look ahead to the coming return of Jesus, and to do so as we remember his lowliness, his humility, his hospitality, his love for outcasts. And if we are asked to imagine Jesus as the righteous judge coming with fire to punish the wicked, to say “No!” to those who have treated so badly the lambs of the Lamb of God, we are to do so recognizing that this must be a very strange “vengeance.” We remember above all that Jesus was always quick to forgive. And if the faithless “will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, separated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes to be glorified by his saints and to be marveled at on that day among all who have believed,” it must be because the faithless have rejected him, for we—whom the crucified one accepted—could never say that he could simply reject anyone. I know in my bones that I am the chief of sinners; I know that no one could be less worthy of the grace of God that shines in the face of Jesus than I am. Perhaps in the end it is his refusal to reject those who have rejected him that constitutes the fires of hell. Perhaps it is his love that will only always say “Yes!” to them that burns in them as they cling to their own “No!” of unbelief and strain to tear themselves away from the one who will only and always love them.
Perhaps. It is hard to say. What is not hard to say, however, is that God is love. We know that God is love, because we know that he has entered into solidarity with all the broken people of this world, when Jesus was broken—when the broken Jesus was raised from the dead. To be invited up here where pairs of people will be holding out to you bread and wine is certainly to be invited into a very serious way of life. However, it is also to be invited into joy—the joy that is finally the coming of the grace of God. And the God of the broken body and shed blood of Jesus is nothing if not merciful. “Come unto me all you who are weary, all you who have been loaded down like pack animals and beaten—and I will give you rest, I will give you peace, I will give you hope, I will give you life, I will give you love, I will give you sanctity, I will give you . . . faith.”
It is for this reason that Jesus’ serious call to a devout and holy life must not be heard as some heavy weight, some set of conditions that must be met if we are to please a God longing to see us fail. Jesus calls you (and me) to a life that has given up on looking over its shoulder to make sure that the past was done just right. Jesus calls you (and me) to a life that is all about the future, all about the coming of God’s reign of peace, all about a New Jerusalem that is big enough to hold a playful and energetic universe, big enough to give it all room to run—and in running to feel God’s pleasure. As you are invited to come forward in just a few minutes—to eat a little bread and drink very little very sweet wine—we do not ask you to make sure your past is good enough. You won’t ever be able to pull that off. We only ask you to open to the future that opens to you (and to me) . . . as the body of Christ opens on Good Friday and his tomb opens on Easter Sunday—two days that are not confined to a linear calendar. We only ask you (and me) to trust a trustworthy God who invites you (and me) be free. We only ask you (and me) to eat and drink the food that will sustain you (and me) in every trial, every hardship, because it is the food of God’s “Yes!” And if you have trouble saying “yes” to yourself, if this world has animal-trained you to hate yourself, if you have only said “no” to yourself, then don’t think that you have to muster up some power of positive thinking to be admitted to God’s table. It is not finally your “yes” that will set you free. It is God’s “Yes!” And God says “Yes!” to you now. God says “Yes!” in the little bit of bread and little drop of wine that you are invited to take in tonight. As you tear off a piece of bread, dip it in some wine, place it on your tongue, chew it up, and swallow it, feel its texture and sweetness and let it be what it is: God’s “Yes!” to you—a “Yes!” with a future of liberation, of faith, of hope, and of love. If you think you do not have the strength or courage to let the way of Christ open up in you, you are right. Fortunately, you won’t need any of that. It is not by courage that one comes to be a little Christ, a “Christ-ian.” It is by the sanctifying grace of God, it is by entering into God’s very life and letting that life enter into you. That is, what you are being invited to do tonight is not to put Jesus in your heart, but to put yourself in his heart—and over the course of your life to learn how to go with him where he has already gone. You are invited, in other words, to join a little body of people without whom there is no salvation in the world.
This is good news—as extreme or insane as it may seem—this is good news. Eat it and drink it and live!
As I ate the bread dipped in very sweet wine and heard Craig say, "the blood of Christ shed for you, Wes" I could barely handle it. I will miss Craig Keen, I will miss Liturgical Chapel, I will miss APU... I will always have memories.