This is a Hard SayingFr. Barnabas Powell
Christ is risen!
“If it were easy, everybody would do it!” Yep, I’ve heard that before. And it’s true! In fact, most of the truly worthwhile efforts in my life have been difficult. I can’t remember one thing that was easy for me ever becoming something I couldn’t live without! Important things usually are difficult, require sacrifice, and are filled with aggravation and require consistent commitment. I hear this in my head everytime I try to get more organized!
The struggle we humans have with this is that we avoid (for the most part) two unpleasant realities: Confrontation and Commitment. We have no problem at all embracing those pleasant events and easy efforts that reaffirm us and make us feel good, but the second something gets tough the numbers of folks willing to stick with it dwindle. That isn’t so much an accusation as a confession. I’ve hit this wall over and over again in several spots in my own life where I prefer the easy path rather than the harder path of confronting my own spiritual poverty. So, this isn’t so much a “naughty, naughty” finger wagging sermon as much as it is another gentle invitation to explore just why we humans are so easily gripped by avoiding difficult realities.
Just look at our Gospel Lesson today in John 6:56-69:
The Lord said to the Jews who had believed in him, “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum.
Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?” Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who those were that did not believe, and who it was that would betray him. And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him. Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are Christ, the Son of the living God.”
All last week, we talked about the powerful and consistent message of the Christian faith that the Eucharistic life of the Church IS the mystery of actual communion with and in Christ. And this week we launch our labors with the concrete results that come from this radical message of communion; namely the difficulty of the message means “many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him.” The Lord’s message about His Body and His Blood was too hard to hear for many and they dropped out!
That happens even still today. The message of communion, of the Eucharistic life of the Church, is a demanding message that confronts you and me in our twin hungers for “easy relationships” and “fear of closeness.” Significant relationships aren’t easy and communion insists on both vulnerability and patience with one another. This level of consistent awareness of authentic communion challenges our isolated lifestyles, our desire for significance without effort, and our fear of being discovered. But this is exactly what we need if we are to ever become truly Church, the new community that revives and heals all other communities. Think of it, for centuries the Church was known in societies without much moving around. People lived in the same place their whole lives. They grew up together, knew one another, married each other, and died together in villages, towns, and cities. But now we are so “free” to move from one place to another, the disintegration of the “nuclear family,” extended family, and communities are rarer and rarer, and societal upheaval is even redefining what “family” is in the first place. We hunger for this closeness and this community more and more and find fewer and fewer opportunities to build community together.
Today, when you hear the challenging message of the Eucharistic life of the Church, does it sound so difficult that it makes you want to throw your hands up and quit? Are you willing to at least make a beginning to embrace the Eucharistic life of the Church? Isn’t it time we Orthodox once again discover the power and the blessing of intentional community that is based on our understanding of the Eucharist? After all, we are called to be in communion with each other and with God. We are called to be Orthodox on Purpose!
P.S. What about our non-Orthodox friends and family? Are they “outside” God’s grace? On the next Faith Encouraged LIVE program, we will discuss this very topic. It’s at 8PM Sunday May 10th on Ancient faith Radio! Don’t miss it!