In Baldwin County, where I live, school starts on August 17th. As good Episcopalians, dedicated to reaching out to our community while meeting the needs of those already in our midst, Saint Paul’s in Foley will offer its annual Blessing of the Backpacks and Lesson Plans this Sunday, the 16th. TKT will celebrate the Eucharist from an altar made of 40 cases of paper. Children, teachers, staff members, and volunteers alike will be prayed over, asking God’s blessing and protection over another year. Thankfully, the children will be out of the nave at Follow the Word as TKT reads the next piece of what seems to be a never-ending Bread of Life Discourse, this week featuring 10 mentions of “flesh” and “blood”!
This portion of John’s Gospel appointed for Sunday is one of those pieces of scripture that is dealing with more than one issue. The question of the Jews, “how can he give us his flesh to eat?” is also a key question in the Roman world which John is trying to help his community navigate. One of the chief complaints against Christians in the earliest days was that they were cannibals, and this flesh and blood soliloquy from Jesus was chief among their examples.
What seems like a terrible match – flesh and blood and backpacks – is actually a marriage made in heaven, however. The action of blessing backpacks and lesson plans is a continuation of the incarnational ministry of Jesus that instituted a Eucharistic feast of bread and wine; body and blood. As Christians, we are called to follow the example of Emmanuel, God taking on flesh and blood to dwell among us. We are called to enter into our neighborhoods and reach out in real and tangible ways to meet the needs of those around us. We are called to bless backpacks and lesson plans just as we are called to eat of Christ’s flesh and blood in the Eucharistic feast. Both are about eternal life that is ongoing, even right here and right now.