A church to believe in (English Translation)

A church to believe in

Sunday 23 August 2009

Laurie Gaum

(For the Afrikaans version, please click here)

“And the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Because my flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” – Johan 6:51c, 55 (International Standard Version 2008)

“For the time at which the Christian community proclaims (with whatever difference of interpretation) the ‘real presence’ of Christ is not a time of ignoring the world outside, but of incorporating it by making use of its creations”

Robert Mc Afee Brown

It is a fascinating point that the American theologian Mc Afee Brown makes here: The exact moment where Christians celebrate and perform what lies at the core of the mystery of their faith – the Holy Communion – is where we do not alienate ourselves from the world. No, we set the table with delicious earthly things like bread and wine! A schism between the earthly and worldly on the one hand, and the spiritual, “heavenly” on the other, is therefore a false division that has been known as such for a long time. And yet our society and church often still cling to it.

It remains odd that we often have such difficulty with our own physicality, with our human form so to speak, but more specifically with our corporeal sexuality. I once got into trouble when I delivered an Afrikaans sermon and spoke of the body of Christ as “Jesus se lyf”, instead of “Jesus se liggaam”, which the congregation felt would have been more respectful, and proper church language. “How can you use the word “lyf” in the same sentence as Jesus’ name?”, they asked me.

We often think that it is “proper” to leave our bodily selves outside the church door, and to strive towards the exalted, spiritual things when it comes to the church and our faith. This is probably why some people don’t enjoy going to church – how is it possible to abandon your own body beyond the church walls? However, in the Gospel of John we are told that the body of Jesus must become one with ours. Through his body we are given life. Through his body we can feel more at home in our own bodies, and enjoy life more. His humanity brings us closer to our own humanity, it makes us more human and enables us to be more human towards one another.

For too long we have been thinking: The closer one comes to God and the more spiritual one becomes, the less human or bodily one remains. Maybe it is the other way round. This is what John tells us. And this is what we experience in the Holy Communion through the sensuality of sight, smell and taste. But, in order to experience this, everybody should be able to take their rightful place at the communion table and to share in the feast that is meant for all. God doesn’t deny anybody their place! The table is the great equaliser between us!

How wonderful it is when a congregation starts practising this, and starts giving form to the full diversity of the Body. How amazing when a congregation welcomes all kinds with open arms. This is a church one can believe in! This is beginning to resemble the new church that I want to help build!

Thank God, God

You became human:

One of us

Amongst us

With us.

You rubbed shoulders with us

You actually chose to take on the human form!

Next to us.

Next to me…

Crept in under our skins, intimately

To walk where we walk

To do what we do

To feel what I feel

Amongst us

Right next to me

Truly human being

And humane as well

So that I can be more human!

Amen.

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