Trinity 4 2017 | St. Paul’s Athens
When the Body of Christ, whose sign is the church, is invited forward to receive the signs of Christ’s body and blood, the bread and the wine, there are a number of choices for the words we can use. One option is ‘Draw near with faith. Receive the body of our Lord Jesus Christ which he gave for you, and his blood which he shed for you. Eat and drink in remembrance that Christ died for you, and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.
‘Draw near’. We don’t usually use a phrase like this unless we are inviting people to something rather special. Normally we might say ‘come up’ ‘come forward’ ‘up you come’. ‘Draw near’ has a different nuance. It has an awe about it; something almost fearful or special about it. It resonates with advancing towards holiness. Take off your shoes for the ground on which you stand is holy ground. If you can bear being in the presence of someone who embodies holiness, or something that has changed its normal appearance to be something that takes on a powerful symbolic meaning for those who have gathered together for a common work or purpose, then yes, ‘draw near.’
In our gospel this morning Jesus rather cleverly charicatures human contrariness. I know you will all say to me, ‘who me? I’m not contrary!’ I could say the same to you but you would be well advised not to believe me. To be human is to be contrary. Jesus has it all summed up. He has just been asked about John the Baptist who at that time had been imprisoned by King Herod Antipas. What Jesus is saying is that the average religious person, instructed by and guided by the Pharisees and Teachers of the law say and do everything possible to avoid how God would wish us to be.
Someone plays a flute – no one dances. They avoid the joy and gift of music.
Someone wails – no one shares in the grief that a bereaved person is really experiencing, maybe for years and decades.
John the Baptist came and lived a very simple monastic type of life – boy, he is bonkers.
Jesus eats with all sorts of people and has a glass of wine with them – he is a lush, a glutton and drinker.
You see how contrary each of these little examples is. You and I can be like this. We can be like this towards God as we seek to create him in OUR own image instead of allowing ourselves to be in HIS image. We can be like this towards other people as we look at them with our human cynical eyes and pass judgement on them – why is he here, who does she think she is, what does that child think she is doing. In one way or another, we all do it. Of course, we don’t say it. That’s another contrary thing about us. But we do, because we are all in need of the grace of God, and if we all but accepted that , our communities of faith would be transfigured and we would be truly a community of light and salt for the Kingdom.
No less a person than St. Paul wrestled with this dilemma. He was brought up to believe that the Law as taught in the Jewish faith and scriptures was absolute. Each regulation was as important as the next one, and if one fell down , well, like dominoes they all just collapsed.
However Paul found Jesus – or rather Jesus found Paul and turned all it upside down. Someone plays the flute, Paul dances for joy; someone wails, Paul knows the pain of human grief and the desperate need to have faith and hope in the life of the resurrection of his new found Lord, Jesus Christ.
All of this is grace. Grace, charis, in the NT. A difficult word to give one interpretation to because it is so rich in meaning and application, yet is revealed to us in the tree of shame and in the crown of thorns. Grace is about the unlimited, unconditional, uncontrolled and uncontrollable love of God made visible, made flesh, in Jesus Christ.
Not surprisingly then we heard a passage from the OT, a bit of Zechariah that you and I would normally expect to hear on Palm Sunday. Of course, another contrary human episode – Hosanna! Then a few days later, crucify.
‘Draw near’ Our Lord says, draw near especially those who carry a heavy burden. My goodness, who here this morning is not in that group of contrary human beings in one way or another. Draw near, and in drawing near we open our hearts and minds to the grace of God, and when we experience that and acknowledge others who are experiencing it, then we are indeed in a blessed group, a people to whom the mysteries of the Kingdom have been revealed.
Draw near, Jesus says to us, draw near and receive. Draw near, and receive and leave, go. Go into the reality of our communities, of this city with all that so easily challenges us, constantly erodes the human spirit, frequently discourages us. Go in peace, because by God’s grace we have been invited to draw near and receive, we who are weary and carrying heavy burdens are offered peace and rest. This is the mystery of the divine being revealed as a man in Galilee. That’s the message of the church that I wish to proclaim, and I pray that is shared by us all as we seek to share it with others.