Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit. Sanctification is the work of making something holy. When something is holy, we consider it special. It’s set apart, or sacred. When something is blessed, we recognize that it’s been set apart or made holy, but in fact, all matter of life is sanctified, or blessed by God—in particular when God, already in Genesis 1, finished creation and called it “very good.” Even in our brokenness, the sinfulness our own doing recounted in Genesis 3, God’s blessing of “very good” does not leave us. God does not damn us, even as we are sent out of paradise. We retain our blessing in our sinfulness. We retain our God-spoken goodness…
All matter of life is blessed by God, and yet some things in life are indeed recognized as holy, sacred, set apart. What does this sacredness mean in a world that God calls “very good?” What does sanctification look like when God has already declared all manner of life “very good?” What is the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the midst of a world called “very good” yet beset with problems ranging from wars between nations, a planet in ecological dire straits, and a raging global pandemic to people in our own lives combating chronic sickness, family members estranged from one another, or our own feelings of inadequacy and angst? What difference does it make, at all? What’s it mean for the world be “very good,” for our own lives to be “very good,” what’s it mean to be sanctified, set apart, holy, or sacred when so much in the world doesn’t really look like that? Think on those things as we go into the sermon today. What’s going on with the Holy Spirit in making things holy today, in our own lives and in our world?
Let us pray. May only God’s Word be spoken and may only God’s Word be heard; in the name of Jesus. Amen.
Last night, the Emanuel Dining Club went to Barber’s Crossing in Sterling for dinner. It was wonderful to share time together with one another around the table. Telling stories. Laughing. Remembering the past. Looking hopefully toward the future. And of course, eating and drinking together. It was a good time, but just like the name says, “dining” was the principal focus of the night.
We eat and drink to stay alive. Some people might say we eat to live. While in the case of others, we might live to eat, but that’s a whole different can of worms. Whatever the case, when we eat and drink, we put something in our mouths, and it undergoes a complex process of breaking down, down to the molecular level even, before our bodies can make use of it.
Take the turkey dinner and Guinness I had last night. My body can’t use turkey, gravy, cranberry sauce, and beer as they are to keep me alive. Those things need to be broken down and changed before they can be useful to my body. That’s true for everyone who eats and drinks—and therefore that means it’s true for everyone who’s alive.
Our bodies start breaking down whatever we put in our mouths as we soon as we put it there. I might like to think digestion begins when I can smell the food and imagine myself eating it and what it tastes like, but I’m sure gastric scientists would argue with me.
Whatever the case, when we eat or drink, glands in our mouths create saliva and release chemicals that already begin the process of breaking down the food into something the body can use. This is the beginning of the digestion process. We swallow and things end up in the stomach, where more glands go to work. The stomach is full of acid—among them hydrochloric acid, one of only two acids that can break down gold. There are loads of glands in the stomach. There are glands that make enzymes that help break down the food. And there are also glands that protect the walls of our stomachs from all the acid bopping around there while also protecting the important proteins inside the food that we need for our nourishment.
As the food is churned about inside our stomach acids—an important step in the digestion process for releasing all the various minerals, proteins, and sugars needed for life—it moves on toward to the small intestine where millions and millions of little filaments, like little hairs or fingers, called villi, absorb the broken-down molecules into our blood stream. After our body absorbs what it can use, the various minerals, proteins, and sugars are converted into energy or stored by the different organs of our bodies. Whatever can’t be used by our bodies passes along through the colon or the kidneys and we get rid of it as waste.
Really, it’s quite interesting all that happens to that burger when you eat or that glass of orange juice when you drink it. When you look at it, you don’t see different sugars, different proteins, or different minerals, but those are necessary for you to live. That’s why we eat. We eat to live. We eat so we can go, so we have the energy to do what we need to or what we want to do. But more than that, what we eat becomes part of us. It’s not at all untrue for us to say, even as we look at a slice of pizza or a juicy apple, that you are what you eat. When you eat and drink, your body breaks it down and that literally becomes part of you.
So what’s this all have to do with the Eucharistic Life?
Today we look at the second action of communion, the action of “giving thanks.” “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and after he had given thanks…” The first action of communion is taking, which we considered last week. The second action of communion is giving thanks. This action of communion is where we draw one of the names we call this sacrament—the Eucharist. The word used here for “giving thanks” is in fact the very Greek word “eucharistia,” which itself can be broken down into the prefix, or little part tacked on to the beginning of a word to change its meaning. The word “eucharist” can be broken down into the prefix “eu,” which means “good,” like in “eulogy,” and into the remaining word “charis,” which can mean a whole bunch of things like “grace,” “blessing,” “benefit,” or even “charm.” Charis the Greek word used to speak of God’s grace, and when we speak of God showing us his grace, it’s this word that we use. And so this “eucharist” is “good grace,” in the roughest, most basic sense of the word.
It’s fitting that this word is at the heart of communion—good grace. Because after all, communion is the celebration of God’s grace given to us in the body and blood of Jesus Christ. But at a more fundamental level, communion is more than simply a recognition that Jesus is present, physically present, even in the form of his flesh and blood. Communion is a recognition, a fundamental belief in the transformative power of God’s Word to accomplish what it purposes.
In communion, God comes among us, enters into us, and makes us part of himself and all who participate in this mystery. Communion is the means of God’s grace—not merely the reenactment of a promise fulfilled in the life and death of Jesus on the cross, but the continuance of that promise into the present moment. Communion is God’s continued real participation in our lives, and our ongoing participation in God’s life.
Communion is a meal, to be sure, but it’s a meal set apart, a meal made sacred. It’s a meal made sacred, made holy, a meal sanctified by the good grace of God. It’s a meal made holy by the blessing of God, a blessing that transforms us into living members of Jesus—to be his hands and feet in the world. Faith latches hold of this blessing and makes it real in our lives. And it happens without us even really knowing it—anymore than we would know how breakfast, lunch, or dinner eaten become part of who we are. The blessing that we consume in communion is the blessing of Jesus’ body given for us, the blessing of Jesus’ blood shed for us. We take his body and blood into us, we eat it and we drink it. It’s our food, and like all food, it becomes part of us. God enters into us and becomes part of us. And we are transformed, nourished, and strengthened by God’s very own self with the food that endures for eternity. We become the body of Christ. We are what we eat—Jesus for the sake of the world.
And just as Jesus was called apart for a particular mission, the mission of sharing God’s reconciling, creative, invigorating love wherever he went, so too are we set apart for the very same purpose. In communion, we who consume, we who eat and drink God’s blessing, we are blessed—blessed to be a blessing. We become what we eat—Jesus for the sake of the world, set apart, anointed by the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort all who mourn. We are God’s presence in the world, Jesus’ body—the same presence we commune with, the same body we eat when we come to the altar and kneel in humble reverence at the mystery that is unfolding before our very eyes. The bread of angels and the cup of salvation are before us, and we take part in it every time Jesus shows up in bread and wine and we eat his body and drink his blood. We behold what we are and become what we receive—the presence of God. We are what we eat.
Communion, in simple bread and simple wine, is how God chooses to show up in flesh and blood among us, as Jesus’ flesh and blood. Jesus tells us, “whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We eat this flesh, and we know and believe we will live forever because of God’s promise made to us in Jesus. Forever, begun before time itself began, continues now, around this altar, in this bread and wine set apart by God’s promise made to us. We eat this bread and drink this wine and take into our own selves the body of Jesus and the blood of Jesus, and God becomes part of us. We are what we eat.
And so we go out from this place, transformed for forever. We go from this place, set apart, sanctified as Jesus’ hands, heart, feet, and voice for the sake of others and the world God so loved. We go from this place, blessed to be a blessing, bearing with us, bearing within us God’s good grace. And for that, it is indeed right, our duty, and our joy, that we at all time and in all places give thanks and praise to God for what he has done for us in Jesus, and what he does through us who are Christ’s body wherever we are, whoever we are.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.