(…continued) We are talking about God and eternity, so it should not surprise us that there are things we don’t understand YET. From the very earliest times, Christian theologians have talked about the ‘mysteries of the faith.’ They had a lot to say about that because the New Testament itself speaks of such mysteries. Our word ‘mystery’ comes directly from a similar Greek word, mysterion, which appears 27 times in the New Testament. In Biblical Greek it refers to “that which awaits disclosure or interpretation.” These ‘mysteries of the faith,’ says the church, are things which cannot be known until they are explained to us by God. I am willing to wait for that.
There are some things we can say. First of all, Christians are not cannibals. Talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is a symbolic reminder of how Christ died in the flesh for us and shed his blood for us. The bread and wine are more than that, yes, but they are not literal flesh and blood. Also, this is a symbol that was more understandable in a culture that still offered bloody animal sacrifices. And, the more striking and outrageous a symbol is, the more readily it is remembered. And it is also the nature of symbols that they require some explanation, so you aren’t going to fully understand it the first time you see it or hear about it. One could give an entire sermon on symbols and how they work. Indeed, whole books have been written about the use of symbolism. All that would be a part of understanding these words of Jesus. Even then we still might, like those in John 6, find this to be a difficult teaching. But this meditation is not about all of that. Rather, I am simply trying to do what Peter did, setting aside some problems with the details, in order to stay focused on the primary message.
This is illustrated in an old story. You may have heard it before. I’ve seen it in many books, some from as far back as 150 years ago. It is an illustration that I have found helpful in my own approach to the faith.
Two men are sitting next to each other in a train. One is reading his Bible, the other is eating a fish dinner. The man eating the fish said to the man reading the Bible, “Have you read that whole book?”
“Yes I have,” said the man with the Bible.
“Do you believe it all?” was the next question.
“Yes I do,” said the man with the Bible.
“But do you even understand it all?” asked the questioner.
“No, I sure don’t,” said the Bible reader.
“Well,” said the man eating his dinner. “What do you do about those parts you don’t understand?”
“Well,” said the man reading the Bible, “I do what you are doing as you eat that fish. I have noticed that when you come across a bone, you set it aside, and get on with eating the good meat of the fish. You don’t insist on choking on the bones, do you? And I don’t choke on those parts of the Bible I don’t understand. Rather, I set those parts aside, at least for the time being, and I go on and learn from and obey those parts that are clear to me and that I do understand.”
I have come to believe in the truth of the Bible and the truth of Jesus as Lord and Savior. I know of nothing else like it in all the world. So when I come across something that I don’t understand, I like Peter, am staying with the One who has the words of eternal life, even if I do not yet fully comprehend all he says.
Isaiah 55:8-9 — “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
John 6:66-68 — From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
PRAYER BEFORE RECEIVING HOLY COMMUNION:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God, Who came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, of knowledge and of ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting…
Like the thief I confess Thee: Remember me, O Lord, in Thy Kingdom.
May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be… to the healing of soul and body. Amen.
–Orthodox Church in America website (www.oca.org)