Sunday, August 20, 2006

John 6:53-59 (Year B, Proper 15; 11 Pentecost)

What might an African reading of today's Gospel lesson from John 6 look like? Can an African "lens" help us appreciate how Christ is present when Christians celebrate the Last Supper described in this lesson?

Probably, an African reading would emphasize that enacting the Last Supper in our worship services has a lot to do with celebrating the life-giving relationship and fellowship that we have with Christ, the progenitor and ancestor of the Christian community. Unlike in western culture, traditional Africans know something about periodic fellowship meals with the ancestors. They know something about the mystery of holy communion.

Uchenna Ezeh in Jesus Christ the Ancestor speaks of Christ as the one who, as ancestor, binds the church-family / church-clan together as the pillar or root of that family. He writes that in African culture, the analog to the Eucharistic elements that we eat and drink in our services today would be the traditional food and libation offered in communion with a family's deceased progenitors.

"With the ancestor Christology, the Eucharist becomes the re-enactment of Jesus the ancestor..., [a] participating in his life which he makes as gift to them" (p. 315).

Thus, an African reading would probably be especially drawn to Jesus' words in v. 56 of today's Sunday Reading, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them" (John 6:56). In Africa, family fellowship includes those who came before and started the family as well as the family offspring now enjoying life in their wake.


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