I Left It All
#ILeftItAll is the podcast for June 14, 2020. Believing this IS the Body of Christ has real life implications. Listen here FREE and find out more: Download it into your phone. #John6 #Eucharist #JustinMartyr #ChurchFathers #RealPresence
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For listener supported My Spiritual Advisor, this is Fr. Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 6/14/2020 Corpus Christi Sunday.
Please pause this audio and read John 6:51-59.
I was sitting in my study, surrounded by my books, my Greek text, and I was simply in crisis. I was a United Methodist Minister. I did not have apostolic succession. I was the leader of a church I was meant to lead and absolutely head over heels in love with, in a City, Gary, IN where I felt entirely at home. Yet, there it was right there on the page of my Greek Bible.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up no the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” These words made me freeze. I had a huge decision to make.
I was a Protestant minister who was taught that the Bible is the Word of God. I was an Evangelical. I was a Wesleyan Scholar, in other words, a published author concerning the works of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. He had taught me, in his writings that I should go back to the sources and read the Church Fathers. They, the earliest Christians, had a more pure understanding of the Scriptures, said Wesley. So, as I was reading this passage from St. John’s Gospel, I was at a loss. The United Methodist Church taught me that Jesus was present in the Bread and the Cup. That was it. There was no commitment to the bread being Jesus’ body and the cup being Jesus’ blood. It was all spiritualized.
Yet, I had read the writings of St. Justin Martyr, a church father who lived in the 100s. He said, “And this food is called among us Εὐχαριστία [the Eucharist], of which no one is allowed to partake but the man who believes that the things which we teach are true, and who has been washed with the washing that is for the remission of sins, and unto regeneration, and who is so living as Christ has enjoined. For not as common bread and common drink do we receive these; but in like manner as Jesus Christ our Saviour, having been made flesh by the Word of God, had both flesh and blood for our salvation, so likewise have we been taught that the food which is blessed by the prayer of His word, and from which our blood and flesh by transmutation are nourished, is the flesh and blood of that Jesus who was made flesh.”
I read countless other Church Fathers who said the same thing. To the earliest Christians, the Eucharist, the bread and cup on the altar was not a symbol alone. It was not him present solely in us being together. The meal was not a pro forma to follow what we were told to do in the Gospels.
So, as I was sitting there, it was plain to me that I had a decision to make that had so many consequences it wasn’t funny. I had to decide whether I was going to stay a United Methodist Minister, where what was taught was against what I was reading in the Scriptures, which they told me to read as the Word of God. I mean, those who heard Jesus had a hard time with the saying because Jews did not eat human flesh and Leviticus tells us that “the life is in the blood.” So, to drink someone’s blood is to drink their life, which only God had a right to give and take.
Additionally, it would mean that I would have to leave my church, move from my home, relocate my children, my wife would have to find another job, I would let down an entire community of people, and who knows where I would land and what I would do for the rest of my life. Yet, there it was: The Eucharist is the body and blood of Jesus. On top of it, Jesus said right there in verse 58, if I wanted eternal life, then I had to have the life of Jesus in me. I had to eat his Flesh and drink his Blood.
In my head and heart it all was making sense: He is the vine, we are the branches, we remain in him by having the Body and Blood of Jesus enter into us and be “nourishment for our bones”. There is no physical world and a spiritual world when one is in Christ. The spiritual and physical are all one “through Him, with Him, in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit.” All things are possible with God, so making a little piece of bread and a small up of wine his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity, was nothing for God, why was it such a huge deal for me to get over?
Was it that I thought that my connection to the scientific method trumped God? Was it that the rational world would not believe me because they could only believe what they could see? Was it that I was letting the philosophical principles of the Enlightenment prevent me from letting God do this one thing when he can do anything? Was it that to believe that would be too “Roman Catholic” and that would mean the church that had treated my mother so badly was right? So, I did what any good Protestant minister in crisis would do, I got in my street clothes and drove far away from where anyone would know me, and I participated in Mass to see if this stuff was real.
My point is that I did not come to the idea that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus lightly. It did not happen overnight. I had to overcome the idea that there were some scriptures that were to be taken literally, and others that although it was so obvious on its face, I had to “spiritualize them.” Where it finally came down for me was that I could not limit God’s ability to do whatever God wanted. The resurrected body of Jesus Christ was not subject to the laws of physics and neither is the Eucharist.
So, I quit. I moved my family back to my hometown. I moved my children. We left the United Methodist Church and I handed in my ordination orders. Why? Because I believe there is nothing in this world that is worth more than being one with Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World; the one through whom all things were created, the one who was willing to die for me on the Cross; give up his last earthly breath so that I could have my sins forgiven and live forever with God in heaven. To be one with Christ is everything. I believe the most intense and purest way I can be in common union with Jesus is to have him enter my body. The only way for him to enter my body is through the eating of his Flesh and drinking of his Blood in the Eucharist about which St. Justin Martyr spoke.
Think about it. There is nothing more intimate than being one with someone in bodily form. So, there is no other way that we can be more intimate than to allow Christ to enter our mouth and then have him go to every part of our body. It is the most intimate of connections. So, if I want to be as close to Jesus as possible, I have to connect to his life, which is in the Body and in the Blood.
To receive the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Eucharist is worth losing everything, and I did. When you give up so much to do something, you tend to have little time to be “in discussion” with people who want to tell you that it is just a symbol. I cannot believe it because the words of Jesus are so plain.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” I wanted that. I want Jesus to abide in me always. I want him to be my North Star. I want his love to be my love. I want his desire to be my desire. I want no separation at all.
Some may say, well he told us to cut off our hands and gouge out our eyes, too, what about that? Well, if he had gone into the upper room, prayed over the bread and cup and said, “This is my arm, cut it off,” then I would be cutting loaves of bread all the time saying, “I cut off my arm for you.” If he said, “This is gouging out my eye, gouge out your eye” as he sipped the cup, then I would do it. Yet, what he did do, was give us a small way, a little way, a common ordinary way that we could be united with him: simply by eating bread, which is his flesh, and sipping a cup, which is his blood.
It is as simple as a baby coming in a manger. It is as quiet as a man who was a carpenter that started preaching in synagogues and changed the universe. It just is so anticlimactic that I could unite with the God of the Universe through eating unleavened bread and sipping wine. Yet, that is just like God. He doesn’t let theatrics get in the way of his grace. We don’t have to climb mountains, or scale walls, or do much to reach him. We just have to admit that the God of the Universe who made every plant and animal, every star and universe, is able to come to us by transforming this bread and this wine into his Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. It lacks the production value of Benny Hinn, I admit. It is not as intellectually robust as John Calvin. OK. It involves more trust than it does proof, yes.
But under my mother’s principle, “If it waddles like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like a duck, it is a duck,” we have all the evidence we need. In Luke 24, Mark 14, and Matthew 26, he says he took bread, blessed it, broke it and gave it to his disciples saying, “take, eat, this is my body.” Then, after the supper, he took the cup of wine. He blessed it, gave it to his disciples and said, “take, drink, this is my blood.” Then in John 6 he says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” So, under Mama’s principle, if he gives us a simple way to eat his flesh and drink his blood, then we should not argue.
All of the discussion about how it happens, I leave that up to others, I just know it does happen and I am grateful.
On this feast of Corpus Christi, when we celebrate the fact that the Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus, I am glad I did what I did. Leaving it all behind to be able to celebrate and consume a valid Eucharist means the world to me. There is great power in receiving him every day.
I know it is not fire being brought down from heaven. It is not him appearing in the upper room. It is not us watching Lazarus being raised from the dead, but it is the God of the Universe condescending to come to you in a form that is not going to intimidate us, hurt us, or make us think we have to do something extraordinary to earn his love. We simply admit that he is able and he did.
May God bless the preaching of the Gospel, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
This audio is under the copyright of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated and may not be used, reduplicated, or distributed for commercial use without the express written consent of My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated. My Spiritual Advisor, Incorporated, 2020.
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Mark Kurowski, M.Div.
Spiritual Director, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Theologian