Thought for the Day by Hannah Lievesley (St Chad’s)
Reading: John 6:52-59
A few years ago, a course was advertised in the diocesan magazine, entitled:
The Church of England: Passing Strange and Wonderful.
‘Passing strange’ is one of those funny, old-fashioned terms that means ‘surpassing strange’, ‘beyond strange’, ‘stranger even than strange’. What made me laugh about the advert, was that the editor of the magazine had accidentally put an extra comma in the title to make it: Passing, Strange and Wonderful. As if to say the Church of England was a temporary thing about to pass away – on its way out! Not the message any diocese wants to be publishing in its magazine.
I mention this, because the words Jesus spoke in the synagogue so many years ago,
‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them’,
must have seemed ‘passing strange’ to the people who were listening. At this early stage in Jesus’ ministry it must have sounded to them like he was promoting some kind of cultist cannibalism. Remember, this happened well before the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, when he referred to the bread as his body and the wine as his blood. It was well before he died on the cross and rose again. Before the people had the benefit of any of that hindsight.
‘This is a hard teaching,’ they grumbled, ‘who can accept it?’
Even today, now we know what happened to Jesus, now we have the benefit of the whole of his teaching and the teaching of gifted apostles and theologians over the centuries, even now, Holy Communion can still seem a strange and mysterious practice – not just to those on the outside of the church but to us too. And yet the teaching has endured across the whole world for 2000 years. Perhaps this is down to us experiencing its wonderful benefits despite struggling to comprehend its meaning.
As we celebrate Holy Communion, and receive the bread and wine, in some mysterious way our relationship with Jesus is sustained, now and into a future of eternal life.
There’s a line in the Morning Prayer service which I love, and every time I say it reminds me and helps me to submit of the great mysteries of God’s ways – ways we can never fully understand. It says:
‘Trust in the wisdom of the Lord. Be not wise in your own sight.’
Jesus left us Holy Communion as a way of remaining in him, remaining connected to him. The key, perhaps, to our connection with him.
‘Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.’ That is his promise.
And yes, it is, ‘passing strange’ but it is also ‘wonderful’.