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Sunday, August 16, 2015

Living Bread: Jonathan Daniels

Living Bread: Jonathan Daniels (John 6:51-58)
A Sermon for Pentecost XII – Proper 15B – August 16, 2015
St. Philip’s Episcopal Church, Laurel, DE
(the Rev’d Dr) Elizabeth Kaeton

This morning’s Gospel presents a real challenge for many of us.

Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The religious leaders of his day (whenever John says, “Jews” it’s helpful to read ‘religious leaders’, because many scholars believe this is really what John meant) disputed these words of Jesus among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Well, and who could blame them? The church has been debating this question for centuries. Indeed, the Church of England – our founding church – imprisoned and tortured and executed people over the question of whether or not what happened during Holy Eucharist was transubstantiation or consubstantiation.

So, here’s a wee bit of teaching you all learned way back when you took Confirmation Class.

And, I know you all learned this because I know you all took Confirmation Class, right?

At least a full year – maybe even two – right? Of course, right.

You maybe a little bit rusty. So, to review.

Transubstantiation is the believe that the change by which the bread and the wine used in the sacrament of the Eucharist become, not merely as a sign or a figure, but also in actual reality the body and blood of Christ. This was the ‘catholic’ view of Eucharist.

Consubstantiation is the doctrine that the substance of the bread and wine coexists with the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. This was the theology Luther espoused which became the prevailing “protestant’ view of Eucharist.

Lots of blood was shed over these two opposing theologies – especially under the beautiful princess Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, who was Roman Catholic. Catholics throughout Europe, including some in England, believed that Mary was the true heir to the English crown because they did not accept the annulment of King Henry’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.

So, according to Roman Catholic belief, Elizabeth was the “illegitimate” child of Henry and his next wife, Ann Bolyn and, therefore, not fit to be Queen. Except, of course, she was. Queen. Of England.

Does that face look familiar? *
In 1580, Pope Gregory XIII announced that killing Elizabeth would not count as a sin, and the whole thing got very . . . well, let’s just say she didn’t become known as “Bloody Mary” for nothing.   

But, that’s another story for another time.

If you didn’t take Confirmation Class, see what fun stuff you missed learning!

Perhaps you didn’t know this, but we hear vestiges of the history of this great theological debate every time we celebrate Eucharist. 

After the consecration, the priest says, “The gifts of God for the people of God, take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

That was part of the genius of Elizabeth. Do you hear it? Listen to it again: “The GIFTS of God, for the people of God.” Jesus is the ‘gift of God’ and we are reminded that we are ‘God’s people’.

And then, the priest says, “Feed on him (Jesus). In your HEARTS. By FAITH.”

See? Not exactly Transubstantiation. Not exactly Consubstantiation. Do you hear it? It’s the Good Anglican way of not either/or, but rather, both/and. And, always, always, always, with thanksgiving.

That’s known as the Via Media – or, the “Middle Way” between Catholicism and Protestantism which was the genius of The Elizabethan Settlement. Draw a circle large enough so that everyone is included and no one is left out. Because, as Elizabeth says, it is, ultimately, a matter of faith, which is belief shaped and formed by the heart.

That’s what happens when you try to believe something with just your head and not your heart as well. Which was a stumbling block for the ancient religious leaders to whom Jesus was speaking in this morning’s gospel.

Let me give you an example of the life of someone who believed with his head and his heart that Jesus was the ‘living bread come down from heaven’. Indeed, he believed it so much that he was able to take the risks of his faith because he knew and understood what Jesus meant when he said, “But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Jonathan M. Daniels, VMI
This past week - and, even today - Episcopalians from around the country have been on a pilgrimage to Ft. Deposit and Hayneville (outside of Selman), Alabama to the site where Jonathan Daniels was martyred fifty years ago on August 20, 1965.  His feast day is August 14, the day of his arrest.

A graduate of Virginia Military Institute, he was a seminarian at the (then) Episcopal Theological School (now Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge, MA. 

He was working that summer, with his classmate and my now dear friend Judy Upham (at whose marriage I was recently privileged to preside) to help with the Voter Registration project of the Civil Rights Movement.

Just eight days earlier, President Lyndon Baines Johnson had signed the historic Voting Rights Act. Jonathan was back in Alabama that summer to help with the first Voter Registration effort in Lowndes County, Alabama, often called “Bloody Lowndes” for the way violence enforced segregation.

For his efforts, Jonathan had been arrested and jailed along with several others and spent six hot August days in the jail without air conditioning. There were no showers and no toilets. It is said that Daniels led the group in hymn singing and prayers, boosting morale and combating the bleakness of the situation. 

On August 20, he and all the others were inexplicably released from prison. As far as they knew, no one had set bail for them.  Judy Upham remains convinced that “it was a set up.”

While waiting for a ride and after having been ordered off the jail property, Daniels, Catholic priest Richard Morrisroe and two black demonstrators, Joyce Bailey and Ruby Sales, walked to buy soda for the group at Varner’s Cash Store, about 50 yards from the jail. 

Judy Upham reports, “They’d been there before in mixed groups, so it theoretically wasn’t that big a deal.”

Thomas Coleman, a county special deputy wielding a 12-gauge automatic pump shotgun, stood on the concrete pad outside the store. He crudely ordered them off the property, saying to Ruby Sales, “B***h, I’ll blow your brains out”.

Jonathan, Judy Upham and friend 1965
“Things happened so fast,” Ruby Sales, who was 17 at the time and on leave from Tuskegee Institute, recalled years later.  

 “The next thing I know there was a pull and I fall back. And there was a shotgun blast. And another shotgun blast. I heard Father Morrisroe, moaning for water.”

“I thought to myself: ‘I’m dead. This is what it feels like to be dead. I’m dead.”

Joyce Bailey, who had run behind an abandoned car, called to Sales who, realizing she was still alive, crawled over to her. They began to run. 

The rest of the group scattered and ran, knocking on doors as they passed homes. “Nobody would let us in; people were so terrified,” Ruby said.

Coleman, a county engineer and a member of one of the oldest white families in Lowndes County, had leveled his gun and fired, blowing Daniels backwards. Daniels lay motionless on the ground. 

Morrisroe had retreated, taking Joyce Bailey by the hand. Coleman shot him in the back. He required hours of surgery to survive.

When other SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) workers went to look for Daniels’ body, they could not find it, Ruby Sales said. “The streets had been swept clean, and you could not tell a murder had taken place.”

Two months before his murder, Daniels wrote this about living with and advocating with blacks in what was known as the so-called Alabama Black Belt
“I lost fear in the black belt when I began to know in my bones and sinews that I have truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection, that in the only sense that really matters I am already dead, and my life is hid with Christ in God.”
Do you hear it? Do you hear the words of faith coming from the heart of Jonathan Daniels? 

To the human mind, his words are as confounding as the words Jesus spoke to the religious leaders of his time.

But, Jonathan Daniels knew in his “bones and sinews” that he had truly been baptized into the Lord’s death and resurrection. That he, as St. Paul had written centuries before, was alive in Christ and that Christ lived in him.

At this point, let me offer a simple reminder: This did not happen in the year 65. This is not ancient history. Jonathan Daniels was martyred for his faith on August 20, 1965. Fifty years ago. His feast day was yesterday, August 14, the day of his arrest.

Not all of us are called to be martyrs, as Jonathan Daniels was. Or, St. Paul. Or any of the millions of other martyrs who have died, as our first reading poetically described David’s death and now are “asleep with the ancestors.” 

We know that, because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all the saints who have gone on before are awake and alive with the joy of the Risen Christ.

We who – here and now – are baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection and nourished by the sacrament of Eucharist – The Great Thanksgiving of and for his body and blood – are called to “feed on Jesus in our hearts, by faith, with thanksgiving,” so that we may become more like Jesus and take the risks of our faith, no matter what specific task God calls us to.

Sometimes, that means the sacrifice – and sometimes, it does require sacrifice – of being generous of spirit, drawing a circle large enough to bring everyone in, instead of keeping some folks out. That sometimes requires real effort, especially when people don’t look like us or talk like us or believe the way we do.

That’s the genius of our faith as Anglicans. Not either/or but both/and. Believing not just with our heads but with hearts and, as Jonathan Daniels said, “in our bones and sinews”.

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

That’s a matter of transubstantiation AND consubstantiation. Jesus is actually with us, in the flesh and stands with us, in the simple matter of the world.

You can’t understand that – or learn to believe that – in Confirmation Class. That, my friends, has to be lived into in order to be believed. And, it must be believed in order that we may have life – abundant and eternal. 

It presents a real challenge, but one I believe – indeed, I have no doubt that - we are capable of living up to.  

Because, we are Christians who are people of the Via Media, the Middle Way. 

And, ultimately, it is a matter of faith which is belief shaped and formed by the heart.


NB#1: I am grateful to the ENS article "Remembering Jonathan Daniels 50 Years After his Martyrdom" for the pictures and information contained in this post.  

NB#2: See also "1,500+ honor slain seminarian Jonathan Daniels" and "Pilgrims Gather in Hayneville to Remember Martyrs," for a report of the pilgrimage.

*NB#3: And, yes, that's a picture of Elizabeth I with my face photoshoped on top. It was done years ago by a priest who left for ACNA. He was trying to insult me. It didn't work.


Bex said...

Actually "Bloody Mary" was Elizabeth's half sister Mary Tudor, daughter of Henry's first wife Katherine of Aragon. Elizabeth was the daughter of Henry and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Mary was queen before Elizabeth and tried to restore Roman Catholicism to England by the usual means, persecution. Protestants, called reformers, had persecuted Catholics under the reign of Henry's son Edward and late in Henry's reign also, although who was persecuting whom wasn't always just one way or the other. Elizabeth, when she became queen after Mary's death, was a bit less fanatic about persecuting Catholics, although she did have her moments. As always, politics ruled policy.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Huh, see? Just goes to show that you can learn this stuff in Confirmation Class and teach it in Confirmation Class and still get your Mary's mixed up. Thanks for that good pick up, Bex. I appreciate it. Good thing that wasn't the main point of my sermon or I would have been even more embarrassed. Thanks again.

Lis Jacobs said...

I wish I had been there for this sermon, the things I miss for not doing church in the summer....

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Wish you had been there, too, Lis. We miss you.