Sunday, August 23, 2015

2015.08.23 Mystery Shows Up!

“Eat this flesh. Drink this blood.”  These words echo Jesus of Nazareth’s toast at his good bye dinner with his closest friends. They sound weird enough, but to think we Christians do this as a regular practice is positively preposterous! 

We’re spiritual cannibals. Yes! Oh, we know that flesh and blood are symbols. That’s how we keep them at a safe distance from our own flesh and blood. Further, we use paper-thin wafers, pale as albino flesh, as a substitute for bread. Some communities substitute grape juice for wine.

Still, we keep doing it. And when we do it, as Episcopal Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, speaking about the Eucharist: Mystery shows up! We just do it. It’s a steady practice, accompanied by a sturdy hope that God abides in us and we in God—a fleshy, bloody phenomenon, more fancily called incarnation. Close encounters of a mysterious kind: this stuff is really your own flesh, your own blood. You are a christ.
When my kids were little they spit out the veggies, ugly green stuff in little jars. (Somehow, yellow squash got a pass. Could be sweet potatoes, hey.) Older, they just kvetched, and one of them skirted the entire veggie controversy by requesting Campbell’s “mmm-good” vegetable soup. Peas, for some reason, were the veggie culprit of choice in our house. I used to command: “Just eat the peas! Later you’ll understand nutrition.” I don’t know if they understand nutrition to the full, but they ate the peas and Mystery showed up as they grew. They ate; Mystery showed up; they grew up.

In church we eat flesh and blood; Mystery shows up; we get spiritual nutrition; we grow. I don’t know exactly how all this happens. Mystery is sluicy, and not mine to govern. But I do know a couple of things for sure:

1. God, aka Mystery, has no way to you but through you.
2. When Mystery shows up it goes into you, and out with you, strengthening you to work for good.
3. Mystery never stops showing up, and whenever it does, something new is revealed. It can be scary, challenging, even painful. You want to run but you don’t, because Mystery gets under your skin and into your flesh and blood.

Ever wonder how Jesus got to be divine? He came eating and drinking and living life to its abundant fullness, every moment of it with gusto. A glutton, they said. Pig! And Mystery showed up. Who would have thought that this obscure, rank and possible randy, Palestinian Jew would initiate a Civil Rights Movement, including a march into Jerusalem to confront the powers with a vision of a kingdom where everyone eats and drinks together. ALL PERSONS TOGETHER. At one table? Indeed! 

We don’t have a big enough table, plus most of us Anglicans don’t like crowds, so we substitute altars. But we do it. We eat the peas. We eat the flesh. We drink the blood.

When I was twelve, I was excited to be having a birthday party at our Beach Club on Long Island (New York Long Island) where we summered. I could invite as many friends as I wanted. We’d have a cookout on the beach and swim in the ocean, maybe even after it got dark. My best friend at that time was Carol Lee, a black girl. We were BFFs, celebrating each day with giggles and wriggles, the way twelve-year-old girls do. We anticipated my party—until........

Until my parents were faced with the uneasy task of informing me that the Beach Club did not allow blacks. I was stunned. I’d never heard of such a thing—ironically, too sheltered among tighty whiteys. My parents didn’t tell me what to do. They gave me a choice. I wished they’d have told me what to do so I could blame them if things didn’t work well. But I had a choice.

I chose the Beach Club party. Then I lobbied for a separate-but-equal party for me and Carol Lee at home. Already a little politician, making a compromise! And Mystery showed up. Yes, in my awakened conscience, but more deeply in Carol Lee. She came to the separate party and never said a word, although I’m sure she knew the situation.

We ate and we drank and Mystery showed up.