12th Sunday after Pentecost
August 16, 2015
Pastor Kate Costa
Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is our manna, come down from heaven. And this morning we hear him proclaim, “Those who eat of my flesh and drink of my blood will have eternal life.”
Do you remember the book Tuck Everlasting? I read it in elementary school, just when I was starting to realize that I wouldn’t stay young forever. I was getting ready, like our many children who gathered around the altar last week, to start a new year and move up to the middle school. I was excited about the change, but at the same time it seemed like it would be nice to stay at Greendale Elementary School forever, with the kids that I had grown up with, the playground equipment that was familiar, and no pesky new locker combinations to memorize. All the same.
It was a week not too different from this one, a week like like the book begins, “The first week of August hangs at the top of summer, the top of the livelong year, like the highest seat of a Ferris wheel when it pauses in its turning. The weeks that come before are only a climb from the balmy spring, and those that follow a drop to the chill of autumn, but the first week of August is motionless, and hot.” Summer weeks, suspended in time, seeming like they will last for ever. Tuck Everlasting tells the story of a girl named Winnie who stumbled upon a quiet but magical family Mae, Tuck, Miles and Jesse. This family had accidentally discovered the fountain of youth. They had discovered what everyone else wanted a way to live forever, to stay just the same as they had always been. Eternal life.
And yet, they weren’t sure they wanted it.
Last week, I was standing next to an older woman, watching a group of teenagers laugh and giggle and tease and snort over their lunch. They were, as my mother would say, “making a scene”, but it was a joyful scene. You could tell they were great friends, full of energy and life. I leaned over to the woman and gently pointed to them. “Ah,” I said (somewhat ironically because of my own relative youth to her age) “ to be young again.” She leaned back to me and said, “Oh heaven’s no! I wouldn’t go through that again. They may be young, but they still have a lot to learn, and a lot of those lessons will have to be earned the hard way. I wouldn’t do it again I’ve earned my age.”
There is a lot of wisdom in that. Yes, as we age we long to stay young. We long for bodies that work as they did when we were teenagers or a time when life seemed endlessly open, the possibilities yet to unfold. But eternal life? In the sense of Tuck Everlasting, to be stuck at the same age while life passes us by, our friends and our family growing older and even passing away as we stay the same? I think that would cause us to wonder, as the family does in the book, would that be a blessing or a curse? Even in our own world, as I work more with older adults, I learn what tough work it is to grow old. As the years pass, there are fewer weddings and baby showers and more class reunions where you count how many are left and more funerals to say good by. As one of our dear members says, “Growing old is not for sissies.”
Those who eat of my blood and drink of my flesh will have eternal life.
Eternal life, then, must be something different than the every day life we are used to. The eternal life Jesus promises is sweeter, deeper, something more like life than the life we live.
Did you know that the Persied meteor shower it going on right now? It peaked on Thursday, but there is still a great light show to be seen in our night sky, free, for another night or two when the sky is at its darkest and the clouds are clear. Jon and I haven’t gone out to see it yet this year, but we have great memories of watching the stars swish by as we looked out into the darkness above Wintergreen two years ago. That moment is one that will hang in our memories forever, life everlasting. Not Tuck Everlasting, measured in years alone, but true everlasting, measured in the briefest of moments that it for a flash of space debris to burn up in a moment of glory, giving glory to the amazing creator who continues to create this spinning, unpredictable, beautiful universe of ours.
The Persied meteor shower is also called the “Tears of St. Lawrence” because it falls each year close to the day the church commemorates his martyrdom on Aug. 10. The legend says that Lawrence was commanded to turn over the riches of the church to the prefect of Rome. He asked for three days to collect up what the church had, and he spent those three days selling as much as he could and distributing all of the alms to the poor. When he was asked to present the treasure of the church, he called forward those who had just received the gifts of the church, as well as many other the church had been helping through the years and said, “Behold in these poor persons the treasures which I promised to show you; to which I will add pearls and precious stones, those widows and consecrated virgins, which are the church’s crown.”
For this act of insubordination, Lawrence was ordered to be burned over a great gridiron, filled with coals beneath it. After he had suffered for many hours, the legend goes that he cheerfully remarked to his persecutors, “I’m done! Turn me over!” Even in death, St. Lawrence proclaimed life everlasting abundant life for those who are the true riches of the church, abundant joy even in death, all pointing to the promise of everlasting life in Jesus Christ. St. Lawrence understood what the church has known since its earliest days that in order for us to receive everlasting life, we cannot do it alone. We need to be in relationships with others, to be providing for those in need and allowing others to provide for us as well.
In a document written in the first century, the Didache, it is beautifully drawn together, in words almost identical to a hymn we will sing together:
As the grains of wheat, once scattered on the hill,
were gathered into one to become our bread, so may all your people,
from all the ends of earth, be gathered into one in you. (Click to listen to the tune)
Gathered together into one. That is true, everlasting life. That is what we receive at the table, together. Life everlasting, pointing to the everlasting feast that will one day be ours forever, life without end. Amen.