In today’s Story for Corpus Christi (John 6:51-58) Jesus says, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you”. What happens when an institution claiming to act in Jesus’ name tells folks that, unless they please the institution they cannot have access to Jesus’ Body and Blood? The institution seems to be saying, “What Jesus said then is not as important as what we say now – we control the ‘real’ Jesus, and if you don’t do what we say, you’ve got a problem, so shape up, etc”.
Among the most obvious such situations is the difficult matter of someone whose first marriage failed for whatever reason, and they have entered into a second marriage that does not fit into the institution’s neat categories. The institution in effect tells them that, since their paperwork and canonical status are not in order, they cannot “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood”. This intolerable situation is the focus of much discussion, often nasty and uncharitable not to mention self-righteously judgmental, throughout the institution in preparation for the fall Synod on the Family. Those against making any kind of pastoral accommodation maintain that if these persons are permitted to share fully in Eucharist the entire institutional legal system will collapse. The corollary here is that the legal system is more important that the pastoral needs of persons trying to do their best to live a good life and have some sort of a life giving relationship with Jesus. While Jesus said, “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath”, the institution seems to have other ideas. While this might not be germane, it is worth noting that very few of the institution’s managers have experienced married love in all its fullness and messiness, and not knowing what it is to be a spouse or parent, they reduce it all to logical processes and legal categories, neither of which connect with real life as lived by ordinary folks.
Other situations include, but are not limited to, treatment of persons who espouse forbidden causes such as ordination of women, marriage equality, or, in some places, persons who belong to “forbidden” groups, e.g. Voice of the Faithful, Call to Action, etc. What Jesus gave as a gift to his followers to help them live in a life-giving relationship with him has been co-opted by the institution and turned into a weapon of fear and punishment, a tool to keep people in line. It seems that pleasing the institution is much more important than pleasing God by living his mercy.
Reflecting on the season of Easter, Pentecost, and Corpus Christi, there might be some disturbing analogies. Institutions can try to keep Jesus in the tomb with the heavy stones of traditions, laws, forbidden topics, and guard the security of the tomb with thought police who try to keep Jesus in and questioners out. They lock the doors to bar ideas and questions, and threaten with severe reprisals any who dare to question or suggest new ways of understanding doctrine. Yet, Jesus persists in coming forth and walking among the people offering life, not threats and punishments. He gives us his peace, and the Holy Spirit, who continually calls forth folks who have new and richer understanding of doctrine, and who themselves experience Jesus life-giving presence among us. They in turn often are castigated by the institution and its minions, but are not intimidated as they point out the Risen Life-giving Jesus among us even today. Often the price they pay is excessive, imposed by an institution that claims to act in Jesus’ name doing things Jesus himself never did, displaying a self-serving and self-protective attitude that Jesus never had, inflicting the same pain that Jesus healed with his Father’s mercy.
Jesus tells us that unless a person “eats the flesh of the Son of Man and drinks his blood”, they do not have life. No institution can interject itself between any person and Jesus. When Jesus said “wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them” (Mt 18:20), he did not say anything about the place, getting anyone’s permission, the marital status or orientation of the persons gathered, or the gender of the presider.
For many the fact that these questions are arising in so many different places is an indicator that the Holy Spirit is very much involved in Jesus’ followers. Jesus is continually meeting and surprising us as he did with Mary in the garden and the disciples on the road to Emmaus. He continues to come through locked doors, telling us not to be afraid, to receive the Holy Spirit and learn to forgive. He continually reminds us that, “as the Father has sent me so I send you”. As happened after the tongues as of fire in the upper room, when we let ourselves be guided by the Holy Spirit and do what we think we are to do, we need to be ready to be kicked around — and surprised.
Just sayin . . .