Yesterday I was preaching the sermon at Missiongathering Christian Church, my place of work, and after the message I walked to the lower stage to setup the Eucharist. (you can hear it here, or right click the link and ‘save as.’) Our church is part of the Disciples of Christ denomination, and as such we do communion every Sunday morning.
Our liturgy involves the preacher grabbing a whole loaf of bread and as he/she is talking about what the bread symbolizes or is re-telling the last supper story, they tear the large loaf in two pieces. And then they grab a pitcher full of red wine, grab an empty wine glass, and pour the wine in to the glass as they talk about Christ’s blood being spilled and so on.
So yesterday morning I’m doing precisely that. I tore the bread, poured the wine, and right after setting down the empty pitcher I looked down into the glass I had just filled with wine and there, floating around aimlessly, either dead or drunk, was a giant black house fly.
I had just finished talking about what Jesus might have meant when he said the phrase “enter the Kingdom of Heaven.”
I had just finished talking about why Jesus chose a child as representative of who is “greatest in the Kingdom.”
I had just finished talking about what it might look like in our lives to become more childlike, to humble ourselves and associate with the lowly, and to receive the gift of the Kingdom.
And there, in the midst of this meaningful moment when people are introspective of their own spiritual journey, reflecting on whether or not they are active participants in God’s mission, considering how they might become more like a child in their faith, I am hit full force with a fly in the Eucharist.
A nasty, stinking, dirty, germ carrying, annoying, pesky, disturbing, fly.
The thing that, no matter how patient a person you are, will bother you.
The thing that is strangely attracted to trash and garbage and other things that stink.
The thing that sort of announces, “something disgusting is here, and that’s why I’m buzzing about.”
The thing that is immune to your attempts to swat it away, stubborn in its insistence on sticking around.
The thing that nobody wants around, and it’s embarrassing if they’re in your house because it ruins the illusion of your “cleanliness.”
The thing whose presence (whether ON something or IN something) will instantly make the rest of the substance unclean.
And that THING is currently splashing about in the blood of Christ.
Let me sit with that juxtaposition for just a minute.
A thing so dirty swimming in a thing so pure.
Because I think there exists a pretty powerful metaphor with the fly-in-Eucharist reality.
What if (and just go with me on this) the fly wasn’t swimming in “Christ’s blood.” What if the fly was swimming in it’s “own blood.” Or, conversely, what if that fly is representative of Jesus?
Let me go back to that list of descriptions about a fly, and insert “Jesus” instead:
Jesus: the one who, no matter how patient a person you are, will bother you.
Jesus: the one who is strangely attracted to trash and garbage and other things that stink.
Jesus: the one who announces, “something disgusting is here, and that’s why I’m buzzing about.”
Jesus: the one who is immune to your attempts to swat him away, stubborn in his insistence on sticking around.
Jesus: the one who nobody wants around, and it’s embarrassing if he’s in your house because it ruins the illusion of your “cleanliness”
Jesus: the one whose presence will instantly make the rest of the substance unclean.
Aaahhh… there it is. The moment the metaphor breaks down. I knew Jesus couldn’t be a fly!
Because, you see, here’s what’s interesting about Jesus, and what’s interesting about what he did in his ministry and how the Pharisees perceived it: Yes, Jesus was drawn towards the dirty, the stinky, the smelly. Yes, Jesus’ presence often embarrassed others. But Jesus’ presence didn’t make others unclean. No, his presence made others CLEAN.
The assumption, in that day, was that if you hang about with sinners, prostitutes, lepers, etc., then YOU yourself will become unclean. But no one considered the alternative: that JESUS’ presence was making THEM clean!
That was pretty radical then. And I believe it is still pretty radical today.
We don’t like flys. They don’t belong. They’re annoying. They’re pesky. They make stuff gross because they are gross.
They don’t belong in a wine glass, especially when that wine glass has wine in it, and ESPECIALLY if that wine is being used for communion!
But what if that is exactly the reminder we need?
The blood of Jesus, shed for you, reminding you that you are now clean. You are holy. You are pure. And guess what? You are now SENT with that cleanness to go where the unclean are, the dirty are, the smelly and the unwanted are, and by YOUR presence, YOUR love, YOUR mercy, make them ALSO clean.
Don’t think too highly of yourself. Don’t fear the dirty. Don’t fear the lowly.
Don’t fear the fly in your Eucharist.
p.s. No, I did not proceed to allow people to take communion from the fly infested chalice. I just said, out loud, “wow… there is a fly in this communion glass. Awesome.” People laughed, and it was a great moment. The always servant-hearted Becky Girmann and Jessica Dunham quickly saved the day by getting a fresh and clean glass of wine. Thanks ladies!