Synod of the Diocese of Cuba, Opening Eucharist

February 11, 2013

[Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs] Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori delivered the following sermon during the opening Eucharist of the Synod of the Diocese of Cuba on Feb. 7 in Havana.

The Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Presiding Bishop and Primate
The Episcopal Church

What did you eat today?  Rice and beans, fish, chicken, tortillas?  What else did you eat, or what did you yearn to eat?  I know that every time this synod gathers there is plenty of food for all – and little cups of café cubano.  I remember wonderful conversations with Juan Antonio[1] over those meals.  I believe he is now enjoying the celestial banquet.

I also know there has been lots of worry about food around here, and that not everyone always has enough to eat.  At the same time, I know there are lots of paladares[2] opening to feed people who have money to pay.  In the US, and in a growing number of countries around the world, people are sick and dying from eating too much.  Obesity is a growing issue in China, in Mexico, the south Pacific, Japan, and the Middle East.  It has many causes, but chief among them are the availability of cheap food, the rising cost of healthy and nutritious food, and the fact that many people don’t get regular exercise, as a result of shifting work patterns.  More and more of us sit at desks instead of working in the fields all day.  There is also the fact that some of us eat when we’re trying to fill our emptiness – and not just our bellies.

There is an old saying, “you are what you eat.”  Are we becoming what we desire?

Tonight we’re invited to eat the word of God, and be filled.  That saying certainly has its roots in this ancient biblical image, later claimed by Jesus.  The prophets, both the early and the later ones, use it frequently.  Deuteronomy says, “This commandment is not too hard for you… No, the word is very near to you, on your lips and in your heart” (Deut 30:11,14).  We heard Joshua tell the people to eat the book of the law, and let it ferment – they’re supposed to meditate or ruminate on what God asks of all people.  The psalmist says “taste and see that the Lord is good” (34:8).

Paul tells the Romans that the word of God is supposed to fill our mouths and hearts – and he’s talking about the law, the rule or guiding principles of relationship between God and human beings.  We’re meant to dine regularly on God’s word, and let it form who we are, how we think, and how we act.  In the gospel of John, Jesus is called the Word of God, and he reminds us that he is the bread that will fill us with eternal life.  Eat me, he says, let the word pass your lips and tongue, enter your heart, and it will change your very being.  It is the way to life abundant – let that fill you, rather than substitutes that will never satisfy.

That is the foundation of our eucharistic theology – if we eat the bread and drink the wine, we do become that which we eat.  We may not reach the perfection we know in Jesus, but molecule by molecule, and thought by thought, we are literally fed and inspired to become God’s word in this world.  There is a technical theological term for this, called divinization. It’s a reflection of what an early Christian theologian said, “God became human that we might become divine” (Athanasius).  It is why we gather like this week by week to be fed.

If we want to become more like Jesus, the diet to follow is clear – ‘eat me,’ he says, ‘taste the word of God, let it fill you and sustain you.’  That’s why we’re here tonight – to be fed with bread that satisfies.  But it doesn’t stop with getting full.  Jesus-bread is meant to be shared.  He challenges us to share that bread with all who hunger, both physically and spiritually.  The epidemic of overeating in this world has a lot to do with a lack of spiritual sustenance.  The prophet Amos knew something about this, and he’s remarkably blunt, “hear this word of God, you overfed cows, who step on the needy and ask your husbands for more cocktails…  I sent you famine, clean teeth and empty bellies, but you didn’t pay attention…  return to me, hate evil and love good, and do justice in your cities…” (Amos 4-7).

The living word is the answer to that kind of famine, with its roots in injustice.  The living word is also the answer to the kind of spiritual famine that causes people to eat everything and anything except God’s word of justice.  That ravenous consumption is born of hunger that has its roots in a dietary deficiency of the justice vitamin – otherwise called ‘knowing God.’

The world around us is often starving, for both reasons – a lack of earthly bread, and a lack of awareness of the neighbor’s need of it.  We’ve been given immensely good news about how to answer that hunger.

When we were baptized, we promised to proclaim the good news of God in Christ by word and example.  As word of God and bread of the world, that really means that we give evidence of what we eat and what we’re becoming – we speak and share that word-bread with the world.  We become partners in the transformation the world hungers for.  We come here to be fed, with word and with bread.

A collect that we pray almost at the end of the church year speaks of that cosmic hunger for the coming of the Lord:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever[3].

Come and eat, be filled, digest what you have received, and let it change you, one cell at a time, one person and relationship at a time.  Come and be fed, and then help to feed the world’s hunger with the justice of the word of God.

[1] The Rev. Juan Antonio González, chancellor of the diocese, who died very recently.

[2] Small, privately run restaurants, often in homes.

[3] Proper 28, p 236, Book of Common Prayer