June 14, 2020
St. William Church and St. Peter the Apostle Church in Naples, FL
Deuteronomy 8, 2-3, 14-16 + Psalm 147 + 1 Corinthians 10, 16-17
John 6, 51-58
Every year, immediately after Pentecost, the church reflects upon our unique Christian experience of God revealed by Jesus Christ, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We have come to call this revelation: The Holy Trinity. Then this weekend comes, and we are called deeper into the unique relationship expressed by the Trinity celebrating the Body and Blood of Christ. Weeks ago, I prepared a homily for this Sunday reflecting upon Body and Blood of Christ, and then this country erupted in a spasm of rebellious anger over a violent act, and way more besides. It has opened for us a deep wound that has never been healed but simply denied and ignored as a sense of privilege and exceptionalism has left too many of us comfortable and secure. We are no longer comfortable and secure even way down here in Naples, Florida.
The words I had put on paper about five weeks ago seem shallow and useless for the most part until our Bishop challenged the priests in the Diocese of Venice to let the Holy Spirit guide and open our hearts to the present unrest, fear, and anger. It is certainly not the first time this nation has experienced this upheaval. In fact, history reminds us all too well that this nation was founded by rebellious revolutionaries who rose up against oppression, burned, and looted. The event has taken on a softer look by the name history has given it: “The Boston Tea Party.” It wasn’t a “party”. In fact, it is impossible to imagine that the looting of those ships in Boston Harbor was done without injury to those who may have been on those ships. This kind of thing is simply deep in our history and our psyche. I’m old enough to remember Selma and the violence and deaths that forced us to look at a particular example of injustice and oppression that showed itself in schools, waiting rooms, and drinking fountains. I remember it all. Then and now I felt ashamed.
This is perhaps a good day to begin a conversation within ourselves about just how racist we are, and just how racism affects not just our lives here on earth, but the very heart of our faith, our belief, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with God. When we look at how slowly and quietly we have become polarized over the last twenty years, we can hardly deny that the way we look at, think about, and sometimes speak about those who look, think, or act differently from us has broken the beauty of the human family. Name calling, excluding, judging, and ridiculing are common practice these days from the highest office to conversations over coffee. It reveals a wound, a sad brokenness that longs to be healed, and this is the place where it must begin. It will not be resolved in a courtroom. We’ve seen that. Legislation never changes human hearts.
This feast of The Body and Blood of Christ is about communion, and that’s not a little consecrated wafer. Communion, in our faith tradition, does not refer solely to the act of eating the Eucharistic Bread. It refers to the reason, the purpose for which we consume it: to become one Body of Christ. The purpose for which Jesus Christ left us this sacrament with the instructions “Do this to remember me” is to make us one body, a communion of brothers and sisters. This Sacrament is our identity. The mere hint of racism in our midst reveals how far we have to go to accomplish what Jesus Christ began and commanded, and not one of us can say, in truth, that there is no racism in us. It’s deep, it’s lasting, it’s ugly, it’s tricky, and it’s hidden. I caught myself in a racist act this week. I was in Miami driving through a neighborhood in which I felt like an outsider because of my skin color, and I checked to make sure the doors were locked. Why did I do that? Was there danger? I doubt it. It was broad daylight, and there were other tourists mingling about. It was a trendy part of town. But fear of something different triggered a reaction that reveals something I need to think about, and this is exactly what we ought to do moments before we accept the gift of God offered to us for our salvation.
Since near the beginning of this year, we have had an opportunity to remember that we must not ever take God’s gifts for granted, the gift of our health, the gift of our life, and the gift of our faith resting upon this altar. If I have ever taken you for granted, I know better now. Standing at this altar looking out at empty pews, hearing no response when I say: “The Lord be with you” or “Amen” when the great prayer of thanksgiving concludes has been a sad but good lesson. Being a priest without people doesn’t make much sense to me. I hope it has been the same for you.
At the conclusion of the Eucharist liturgy in the Maronite Rite, the pries and people bid farewell to the altar, the symbol of Christ around which we gather, and they say these words: “I leave you in peace, O Altar, and I hope to return to you in peace. May the offering I have received from you be for the forgiveness my faults and remission of my sins, that I may stand without shame of fear before the throne of Christ. I do not know if I shall be able to return to you again to offer sacrifice. I leave you in peace.” People who celebrate the Maronite Liturgy never leave early. They all stay to say that prayer that acknowledges their faults, sins, and shame. They remind each other that they may not have another opportunity stand before this altar, so this time, they need to get it right. It should be so for us, we never know if we shall be able to return.