“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day”
Three weeks ago I was on the phone with an elderly gentleman from Cincinnati, my home town. A week earlier his bride of 67 years quietly passed away from cancer that had first been detected only 20 days prior. For some in my home congregation this gentleman is what you might describe as, “a pillar of the church.” For my brother, sister and me he is more of an adopted grandfather whom we have known our our whole lives and who still thinks of us as his grandchildren.
As we talked we remembered his wife and the joy that she brought to us both, we reminisced about the adventures we three kids had with the two of them over the years. Suddenly his tone was somber and the crack in his voice told me that the remembrance that the love of his life was dead had once again hit home. He said, “You know, it is so damned hard to believe everything I’ve professed to believe, and grieve at the same time. I know that she is in heaven but it is still difficult to believe it at moments.” I told him that the one memory that was ingrained in my mind was the fact that the two of them–for as long as I could remember–always held hands and walked side by side to the communion rail. Always.
Losing anyone you love is tragic and difficult and challenging. There are a lot of negative and pain-filled words that you could use to describe how it feels when someone you love dies. Usually “joyful” is not a word that one would associate with a death, unless perhaps that death meant finally being free of some kind of torment–physical pain, emotional instability and the like.
The gospel lesson appointed for today’s Eucharist is John 6:52-59. Jesus tells the leaders of the synagogue at Capernaum that unless they drink of his blood and eat his flesh that they will not be saved, but that those who DO those things will have life eternal.
For my friend in Cincinnati, and for all of us who have experienced the pain of a loved one’s death, take heart that whenever you approach the altar and receive the body or blood of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ that in heaven those who have gone before us are rejoicing. As the Book of Common Prayer says in the Rite I Burial Office (which for my money is one of the best and most complete expressions of our Christian faith):
“Almighty God, we thank thee that in thy great love thou hast fed us with the spiritual food and drink of the Body and Blood of thy Son Jesus Christ, and hast given unto us a foretaste of thy heavenly banquet. Grant that this Sacrament may be unto us a comfort in affliction, and a pledge of our inheritance in that kingdom where there is no death, neither sorrow nor crying, but the fullness of joy with all thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”
Book of Common Prayer, page 482
In the name of Christ,