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Sermon for Proper 15/Ordinary 20B John 6 Transubstantiation or Receptionism

May 1, 2018



How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’  – words from today’s gospel


In the name….




I don’t do cannibalism.


So says my former colleague.


A science teacher, she was anti-religion


So I was pleased when she came to faith and joined a church choir.


But she doesn’t go up to Communion.


I don’t do cannibalism.




Fake news is nothing new.


The Early Church was accused of being atheist’ – because it didn’t believe in the Roman gods


It drowned babies – baptism


It held orgies – the kiss of peace


And Christians were vampires and cannibals – drinking Christ’s blood and eating his body.




In many cultures people ate the heart of a vanquished enemy to obtain their courage


And for Jews, drinking the blood of an animnal is still forbidden


Because blood is seen as the life force – the animal’s soul, if you like.




Yet John seems to mean it quite literally


The Greek verb τρώγω isn’t merely to ‘eat’ but to chew, gnaw.


Hence the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation.


The bread and wine retain their outward form


But their very substance is Christ’s body and blood.




But is there a way my colleague can receive communion and not ‘do cannibalism’?


When people talk about their “bloodline,” they are talking about shared identity through generations.


With a flesh-and-blood relation, we feel we have a close, inside connection;


a blood relation is somehow part of our condition.


When Jacob’s father Isaac told Jacob to go to the house of his uncle Laban


Laban, who had never seen Jacob before, ran out to meet him, kissed and embraced him, and said, “Surely you are my bone and my flesh!” Gen. 29:14


To the Hebrew mind, the flesh means “the person.”


The Greek understanding, which dominates Eastern thinking, takes body to mean “the physical part of a per­son” as opposed to the intellect,


but the Hebrew understanding takes ‘body’ to mean “the whole person.”


And doesn’t think of the physical body as a barrier that separates us from one another


but, rather, as the very means by which we make contact with one another.


the body is the self; it is the whole individual insofar as he or she is here present to us


So Jesus’ “flesh” is Jesus himself present to us.




Against transubstantiation is the Reformed view – called receptionism.


It quotes a few verses later than our reading:


It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing v. 63


The important thing is what is going on in the mind of the communicant.


You have to prepare carefully, devotionally to receive


And you receive by faith.




But we’re Anglicans


Catholic AND  reformed


So we can have our cake AND and eat it – literally


Church of England Articles 28 and 29 state a sort of compromise:


Speaking of those devoid of a lively faith, they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ,


But: The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner




The great architect of Anglican belief, 16th Century Richard Hooker wrote:


Christ assisting this heavenly banquet with his personal and true presence doth by his own divine power add to the natural substance thereof supernatural efficacy, which ………changeth them and maketh them unto us ……..his body and blood, whereupon there ensueth a kind of transubstantation in us, a true change both of soul and body, an alteration from death to life. Laws of Ecclesi­astical Polity V, 67.11




The Roman Catholics don’t differ that much


To quote one of their prayers:


‘Bless and approve our offering: make it acceptable to you, an offering in spirit and in truth. Let it become for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ…’


the ‘for us’ is significant, for it means the congregation receiv­ing,




Does this make literal and spiritual sense?


during His time on earth , billions of Jesus’s skin cells were shed on this planet.


Air passed in and out of His lungs.


Drops of his blood from the cross became a part of the mass of molecules combining and recombining.


So literally a part of Christ remained and are part of our earth,


over time to be recombined in a way that can literally make them a part of bread and wine.


We understand Christ’s physical presence among us as proof that God is intimately present in ways that literally touch our lives.


God is present in all we do and touch.


Communion makes it true in my life and your life.




As John’s Gospel puts it, we abide in Christ.


In the whole process, nothing originates in us;


our only responsibility is not to obstruct what Jesus does


and to let the action of his life carry the action of our lives.




as one Baptist prayer book has it:


Come, not because you are strong,

but because you are weak;

come, not because of any goodness of your own,

but because you need mercy and help;

come, because you love the Lord a little

and you would like to love Him more;

come, because He loves you

and gave himself for you.

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