HOLY EUCHARIST & LIFE’S MEANINGS (John 6:53-69)
(Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara, St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church, 2197 Jackson Ave,, Seaford, NY 11783.August .26,.2012)
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
In the early ‘60’s, there was a famous word introduced and popularized by a German-Jewish psychiatrist, Viktor Frankl . The word was Logotherapy. It is a combination of the Greek word logos, which to Frankl means “meaning” and therapy meaning “cure.” In other words, logotherapy is the cure or healing through meaning.
In essence, logotherapy is founded upon the belief that it is “Man’s Search for Meaning” (the title of Frankl’s book originally published in 1959) that drives and motivates human beings to live and to survive even in the most difficult of circumstances. Frankl drew from his own personal experiences and the experiences of his fellow Jews in the concentration camps during Nazi Germany (circa 1933-1945).
Frankl discovered that many like him who survived the Holocaust were people who had great meanings to their lives. Either they dreamt of serving God and humanity whenever they come out alive; they wanted to write or tell their stories; they believed they have friends or loved ones waiting for them outside the camps. Their deep commitment to that dream, their profound sense of mission, their confounded longings for love fulfillment, enabled them to survive forced labor, maltreatment, starvation, loneliness and the fear of death.
Applied to physical or mental sickness, Frankl concluded that the search for meaning, is a major factor in healing. Those who survived surgeries, those who survived terminal cancer, those who were healed of psychosis, were those who have meanings. They have a mission to accomplish, a project to fulfill, a relationship to mend or a dream to pursue.
Meanings to our lives give us the reason and the will to live. We struggle to drink the bitter medicine in order to get well. Patients miraculously wake up after a coma because their loved ones whispered they would be waiting at the recovery room. Cancer patients brave the pain of surgery, the difficulty of chemotherapy or radiation because they want to live longer and fulfill their purpose.
But meanings to life also enable martyrdom . Prior to his assassination, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke rather prophetically about his death, in a speech in Memphis on April 3, 1968, “And I've looked over, and I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land. ” The following day, he was killed from an assassin’s bullet.
The Philippine hero, Ninoy Aquino was teaching at Harvard University as an exile in the United States, and recuperating from heart surgery but the call to liberate his country from the dictatorship of Marcos was so strong. He prepared to return to his homeland, aware of the danger which he brushed aside, saying, “The Filipinos are worth dying for.” On that fateful day of August 21, 1983 he was martyred on the tarmac of Manila International Airport.
Life’s meaning is not confined only to living long or dying by martyrdom. Years ago while serving at a parish, I was visiting an elderly woman in the hospital. For several weeks, I would visit to give her Holy Communion and to pray for her healing. One day, as I was about to pray, she held my hand and said, “Father, please don’t pray for my healing anymore.” Pardon me, Ma’am, what did you say? “Please don’t pray for my healing anymore. I am now alone, all my friends and family are gone, there is nothing else to my life. I think this cancer is God’s way for me to go. Please, I want to rest; I want to die; I want to be with the Lord. Give me a favor; pray that the Lord will take me soon.”
For a moment, I could not say anything. I wondered if I was being asked, like Dr. Jack Kevorkian (nicknamed 'Dr. Death') to be a “priest of death.” All the while, I was hardwired to always pray for healing whenever I am with the sick. But this time, I believed in her sincerity. And that very moment, I prayed for God’s will. The following day, the nurses told me, she died peacefully.
Life’s meanings have meanings. According to NYC City Health Records, there are an average of 500 deaths by suicides in New York City alone, a good percentages of them, in the subways. The rate of suicide in the United States of course ,pale in comparison to that of Japan, which reported suicide as the “leading cause of death” especially for Japanese males from ages 28 to 44. The reasons of suicides in New York and Tokyo, are varied but many of them are due to the loss of jobs, loss or loved ones, depression---and the lack of life’s meanings. Without meaning, life is not worth the living. And money has no correlation in life’s meanings, as megarich celebrities who committed suicides, fatally illustrate.
The Gospel this morning is about meaning to life. Jesus said, ”I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you would have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” Some of his listeners thought that he was crazy and left. Jesus turned to Peter and the twelve disciples, “are you going away also?” And Peter replied, “To whom shall we go? You alone have the words of eternal life.”
Had those listeners waited for a while, they would have known the real meaning to life, as the Apostle Peter and the other apostles had known.
The Holy Eucharist which we celebrate today is about meanings to life. As children of God, we are engaged in a ritual filled with symbols and meanings. The Church is the Body of Christ where Christ is the head and we are members of that one Body. That is why we have a Body exercise: we stand to praise God, we kneel to pray, and we sit to listen. But more than the physical calisthenics, is the very meaning of the Eucharist. At the Altar of the Lord, we proclaim: “Christ, has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” The altar of the Lord is also the Altar of the world, where Christ had been offered for human sin in all its protean forms.
The Eucharist is therefore the alpha and omega, the beginning and ending of Christian mission that gives meaning to our lives. On Sundays, we come to the Table to be nourished by the Bread of Life and the Wine of Salvation. Then we depart to serve “like bread broken and given to the world. “ We are to serve as 'light of the world' and 'salt of the earth' in the works we do and the relationships we make. Then we return to the Table every Sunday or so to repeat the Dance of life.
From the Altar of the Lord, we are sent into the world to witness to Christ’s message of love, peace and reconciliation. The message of Christ that we bring is clear:
John 10:10 - I come that you may have life in all its fullness.
John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 16:33 “In the world you have tribulations but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”
Revelations 3:20 “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
(Paraphrase of Today's Gospel by a hymn) “I am the Bread of Life; they who come to me shall not hunger; they who believe in me shall not thirst. No one can come to me, unless the Father draws near. And I will raise them up on the last day.”
Today, as we gather in this Holy Eucharist, we come as heirs of God’s promise in Christ. The joy of the Christians is two-fold: we have the gift of eternal life and we are called to be bringers of this gift to others. As we partake of the Body and Blood of Christ in this Holy Communion, may we gain meanings of His Word, knowledge of his will, and bearers of His salvation. Amen.