Clement of Alexandria
The Gospel of John does not tell the story of Jesus sharing bread and wine with his disciples at the last supper. There is a brief mention of the Passover meal and then the story of washing the disciples’ feet, but no mention of the ritual that came to be known as the Eucharist. But we do have, much earlier in the narrative, this very difficult teaching: “Whoever eats me will live because of me.”
The disciples are right to grumble. Imagine how that went down in a Kosher society! It must have been especially offensive when Jesus claimed for himself a connection with God better than that of his forbears. They ate the manna God had given them in the wilderness and died. Whoever eats of the bread that is Christ will live forever.
Contemplating this passage, I feel a little like Nicodemus, inclined to the literal. How do we eat Jesus? If we leave aside the sacrament of Holy Communion, how do we ingest God?
“It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life,” explains Jesus.
Sitting here in my office on a freezing Advent morning, I think about the chaos downtown as everyone shops for Christmas presents. And I have to admit to having a good, joyful feeling when I select a gift that a loved one will enjoy. “Stuff” can make us happy for awhile, but ultimately it cannot carry us, emotionally or spiritually. Only the living word, touching our hearts, can do that.
But then my thoughts range further and my musing cuts closer to the bone. I begin to remember how occupied I am with doing. No matter how lively is my prayer life, I tend to fall into patterned conduct in my daily living. I falteringly and inadequately try to practice the behaviors that are life-giving: listening well, offering help where I can, educating myself in issues of poverty and racism. And in the same way I try to avoid behaviors that further the brokenness of the world. In other words, I get rule-bound easily. I measure how well my life is going by how well I am performing. And that’s so “all about me.” Where does my partnership with God go when I’m out there behaving – whether it’s poorly or well? If my ingestion of the Holy is not central to what my hands and heart are accomplishing, what good are the accomplishments?
“The flesh is useless.” All the good behaviors in the world do not add up to one touch by the finger of God, which is Spirit and Life.
Holy, life-giving Christ, in this Advent season of waiting and watching, please help me to remember to focus not on what I accomplish or fail to accomplish but on you. May your life-giving spirit infuse me, pulling me into being awake, here and now in the eternal moment. In your name I pray. Amen.
This is the Gospel reading for the feast day of Clement of Alexandria, an intellectual Greek theologian of the latter part of the 2nd Century and early part of the 3rd. St. Clement believed that Greek science and philosophy set a person up to receive the message of the Gospel much as Torah does.
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado