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Pentecost 2 June 3, 2018 - The Rev. Janet Campbell
PENTECOST 2 Proper 4  Year B
Deut. 5:12-15; Psalm 81:1-10; 2 Corin. 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6
Christ Episcopal Church
Tacoma, Washington
Sunday, June 3, 2018
The Rev. Janet Campbell
How is it
that Jesus and his disciples
couldn’t even walk through a grainfield
          and pick a few heads of grain
without being challenged
          by the seemingly ever-present Pharisees?  
Were the Pharisees just happening by
          the field,
or had they been shadowing Jesus
          all along?
Why so anxious already?
Why, already, so anxious?
Already in Mark’s Gospel
(we’re just finishing the second chapter
          and beginning the third)
Jesus has bent or broken
the no-work-on-the-Sabbath law
          four times.

One Sabbath,
driving an unclean spirit
out of a man
in the synagogue
at Capernaum,
followed by
healing Peter’s mother-in-law,
sick in bed with a fever.
defending his disciples’ harvesting of grain
and, again in the synagogue,
healing a man with a withered hand.
We should not be too quick
to lump all Pharisees
under the stereotypical category:
“fundamentalist enemies of Jesus.”
Pharisees were devout Jews
who took their religion seriously,
studied and lived it
          just as devout people
          of any faith will do.

But, for the strictest among them,
those who positioned themselves
          as teachers of religion
          and monitors of right religious practice . . .
For those particular Pharisees
this very public flouting
of the Sabbath law by Jesus and his disciples
an affront to their teaching
and a challenge to their self-appointed role 
          as zealous guardians of religious law.     
So much of a challenge, in fact,
that Mark reports
they began
to “conspire to destroy Jesus,”
even to the point of
making common cause
          with their real enemies,
          and the enemies of their own people,
King Herod and his supporters.

Right away in his gospel,
Mark wants his listeners
to pay close attention
to the significance
          of Jesus’ actions,
not so much to what Jesus did,
but to the meaning of what he did,
what his actions pointed to,
for they were signs
of what, in Jesus,
          was breaking into the world . . .
the great Sabbath
called the Kingdom of God.
“The time is fulfilled,”
Jesus says in Mark’s Gospel
as he begins his ministry,
“and the kingdom of God has come near;
repent and believe in the good news.”  
                                                (Mark 1:15)
His disruption
of ordinary Sabbath expectations
was a showing
of what that great Sabbath would look like:

For the poor and disenfranchised,
          the sick and outcast,
                   the dregs of society:
to the dignity and freedom,
the well-being
          rightfully theirs as children of God.
For the wealthy and privileged,
          the callous and complacent,
                   the economically and politically powerful:
the dreaded reversal  
in the proclamation of Mary,
          pregnant with Jesus,
          the one who would bring it about:
          “God has scattered the proud in their conceit,
                   cast down the mighty from their thrones,
                             and lifted up the lowly.
          God has filled the hungry with good things,
                   and the rich God has sent away empty.”

The church still prays those words,
in the Magnificat,
every day
at Evening Prayer . . . .
They are missional words . . .
calling us
to be agents of the new Sabbath,
          this scattering,
          casting down,
                   lifting up,
                   and emptying.
What Jesus was doing on the Sabbath,
deliberately calling
the rigid observance of the Sabbath law
          into question,
was intentional religious and civil disobedience.
For what was the Sabbath
          to his people
but the weekly commemoration
of God’s liberation
of the children of Israel
          from slavery in Egypt?

A day of rest from labor,
a day of family and feasting
          and celebration,
                   a day of abundance
a foretaste of the glorious Sabbath  
God intends for all God’s children . . .
          but we know that
                   for the many poor in Israel,
          the Sabbath would bring
                   no more abundance,
                   no less necessity for hard labor,
                   than was theirs the rest of the week.
Therefore, was not the Sabbath the perfect day
          for this showing by Jesus . . .
this showing of God’s liberating power in him
to set God’s suffering children free  
from the captivity of
          sickness of body or soul,
          crippling handicaps,
                   physical, societal, political.

How could the showbread,
reserved in the temple,
reserved for the priests,
not be appropriate food
for David and his hungry companions
          fleeing from King Saul?
How could grain growing freely in the fields
not be available any day
          to those who hungered for it?
I’m reminded of a Maundy Thursday night
some years ago
at Saint James Cathedral in Chicago
the two lovely round loaves
of Great Harvest honey wheat bread
at that night’s liturgy.
Liturgical rules say that
Good Friday is not an appropriate day
for a celebration of the Eucharist  . . .
but extra bread may be consecrated
on Maundy Thursday
so God’s people can receive
Communion at the Good Friday liturgy.

One of those beautiful loaves
lay all night
on the altar of repose in the chapel,
          surrounded by candles and flowers,
the street door left open,
as was the custom for Roman Catholic
and Episcopal churches
in Chicago,
to allow visitors
to drop by for prayer
at any hour.
Many people
would make pilgrimages
          from church to church
                   on that night
to keep watch and pray,
to contemplate the Mystery of Christ present
in the Sacrament
          of consecrated bread.
Imagine our dismay,
our horror,
the next morning,
when we discovered that
our beautiful loaf,
the body of Christ last seen
resting on our altar of repose,
          was gone!

The shock and hurt
of that violation
of our space, our hospitality,
of the disrespect to the Sacrament.
Leading to
wild speculation of
theological, pastoral and practical
Had this bread,
          suffused with the very life of Jesus,
been stolen
to be used in some
profane anti-Christian rite . . . ?
          Heavens forfend!
Had it perhaps been taken
by someone
who was hungry . . . ?
          But what, then, if that someone
          were not baptized . . .
          and still ate of the consecrated bread . . . ?
a concern
to the more strict practitioners among us
who would have said that baptism,
          incorporation into the community of faith,
 must always precede Communion,
          participation in the sacred meal of the community of faith.
And was it Communion anyway, if you didn’t know it?
of course,
there was the immediate worry
that we needed that bread
          for Good Friday’s Communion . . .
and there is
no provision for consecrating bread
          on Good Friday.
Into the midst of
our confusion
some wag cried out
“they have taken away my Lord
and I do not know where they have laid him,”
          (quoting Mary Magdalene
          at the empty tomb.)
Someone else opined that,
if the bread had been taken
to be used in some irreverent way,
then surely Jesus, who was able to
          make himself present  
                    in the bread,
would be able
          to make himself absent
                    from the bread.

And if the bread was taken
because someone
was hungry . . .
well, is that not what bread is for?
And perhaps,
in the taking and eating
          of that particular bread,
that hungry one,
whoever he or she was,
baptized or un-baptized,
would find more nourishment
          than that given by food alone.
As to our Good Friday communion,
          we could choose to do without . . .
or the bishop could,
despite no allowance in our practice for it,
consecrate another loaf
using the simple prayer
provided for those times
when the bread runs out
          in the middle of Sunday Communion.

Which he did,
in the sacristy,
with a few of us attending, 
praying that prayer
over that spare loaf of bread
that it might also be for us
the Body of Christ . . .
that we might share it that evening,
spiritual food for the rest of our
Holy Week journey.
And we learned
a few things . . .
Always have a spare loaf of bread.
Reverent treatment
of the special “churchy” signs of God’s presence
          is important,
but our primary job is to worship God
                   in those signs,
          not be God’s protectors . . .
          God is quite capable
          of protecting God’s own self
                   if need be.

And if Christ present in that bread
had fallen helplessly into the hands
          of someone of ill intent,
how different was that
          from what we were about to observe
          in the Good Friday liturgy?
And what is bread for,
and what is the church for,
and what was Christ’s mission  . . .
but to bring about the new creation
          where the hungry are fed
          and the needs of the world met.
And while liturgical rules
guide us in ritual practice
that best
draws from our ancestry,
speaks to the present,
and reveals
the intent and action of God
among us,
liturgical rules do not help
in revealing God’s kingdom
if they cause us to ignore
          human need.

For what is all our worship
but a rehearsal,
a showing forth,
an enacting
of the Great Sabbath to come . . .
What is all our worship for
but forming the
character of that Sabbath
among and in us
so we may
be Sabbath-makers in the world
that our actions
may be showings
of what we profess in our baptismal promises:
to proclaim by word and example
the good news of God in Christ,
to seek and serve Christ in all people,
loving our neighbor as our self,
to strive for justice and peace among all persons,
and respect the dignity of every human being,
to cherish the wondrous works of God,
          and protect the beauty and integrity of all creation.