TO BE OR NOT TO BE
To live — what does that mean? We have come to an age when we think we almost know what it means to live. We perhaps more certainly know what it means not to live.
When the heart stops pumping, when the breathing ceases, when there is no response, we say, “This person is not living. He or she is dead.
Arguments about when life starts are more difficult. When does human life begin, that is when is life viable, able to survive on its own, is more problematic. Even more problematic is whether people with advanced Alzheimer’s disease, persons in comas, those who can no longer live or survive without the aid of machines of many kinds are really living.
But, of course, that is only the physical side of living. I don’t think there are many of us here, except for some of the very young, who have not experienced the feelings that Shakespeare expressed in the soliloquy from which the title of this message is taken. Wouldn’t it be better for us to be out of this misery? What kind of a life is this if we are filled with so many hurts, unsolved puzzles, heartaches, disappointments, troubles, anxieties, terrors?
Think of the Christians in southern Lebanon, right now. Can it be called living when at any moment shells may destroy all you have worked for, all you have gotten, and a style of life which will never ever be the same again, whether that is materially or mentally? What does it mean “to be”? To live? To have life?
For many of us it all too often appears that life is in the past, in the good old days of youth, vigor, waking up each morning filled with the juices of life, each day an adventure to be savored and enjoyed, and now…. Well, we won’t go into that.
When are we truly living? What does it mean to live?
We are here today because we have heard that this fellow, Jesus whoever he was to the people of his time, said such things that are either true or made up of smoke and mirrors. He said, “I have come that you might have life, and life to the full.” He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He said, “Apart from me, you (you in the pew) can do nothing.”
This Jesus and his statements are really radical as we find them in the reading from John for today. Now before you get too huffy and upset, we should at least examine what he said. Does what he say have some validity to it? And, oh yes, I want you to remember that famous word from a man called Paul, who wrote: “We live on the basis of faith (what we believe), and not on the facts of life.” It is what we believe that forms the basis of almost all our behavior, our outlook on life, our actions. As a proverb from Togo says: “Wherever the heart is, the feet don’t hesitate to follow.”
At first hearing, what he says it is almost nauseating. He says: “I am the bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eat of this bread he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” “I tell you the truth, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
We have to eat his flesh in order to have life! The bread of life is his flesh, which he will give for the life of the world. “World” here means people, as in another earlier word from John: “God so loved the world.” He loved and still loves the people of the world.
It is not a great surprise that this caused an almost violent argument among some the people who heard these words of Jesus. But perhaps, is he speaking metaphorically, like “you have to have me in your system, your head, your emotions, that part of us we call our spiritual life”?
Or perhaps, in its simplest form means: “without Jesus as front and center in all you do and are, you ain’t living; you’re stone cold dead, friends”?
Is that a shocking statement to us? Are we alive in any sense, without any presence of Jesus in our lives? Aren’t people “alive” doing great things, accomplishing great advances in science, medicine, the understanding of the human mind? How can Jesus say that without eating his flesh, we are not alive, do not have life? Isn’t it true that some of the finest moments in our experience had nothing whatever to do with Jesus?
Maybe we forget that the source of all life is in the Father, in Jesus, is Jesus. If our life now and what we hope will follow after this life depends on our relationship with the source of life, then Jesus is the living bread, which we must have “to be” and sustain life, just as “bread” is necessary for us to have any kind of physical life. Without Jesus, then we would “not to be.”
As Jesus lives because of his Father, so we live because of our earthly father, but in a more real sense then our relationship with the “Father who is in heaven” is our source of life as well. Jesus is the one who conveys through his very fleshly body the life from his Father, the Father of all life, of life of all kinds.
The only kind of eating and drinking that goes on regularly in the church is the eating and drinking in the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy Supper. In this eating and drinking of bread and wine, we say we are eating and drinking the body and blood of Jesus himself. While we might be repulsed by those words of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we need to be reminded he can take that which seems repulsive and make it into something good: the executioner’s cross becomes the precious symbol of our rescue from death, sinful humans who do the worst to fellow humans are turned into messengers of peace, love, and hope.
It is here where we begin “to be,” to live, to find newness after the mold of sin has corroded our lives. At the altar is where we begin to eat and drink of the river of God’s pleasures which will be fully realized by us in a life where no evil ever darkens our lives. When we take Christ Jesus into every part of our body, then we know that though our flesh still urges us on to sin, our inner self, the real self has life in every fiber of our being because the Source of life, no, Life itself, Jesus is there.
Then the “to be” of our existence is realized. We have life, we have eternal life now. We will be raised by Jesus on the last day. We remain in Jesus and he is us. We will live through Jesus. Yes, again, we will live forever!
We are tempted to believe that this right now is all that is. We show that in our attempt to enjoy as much as possible while we are “alive.”
We attempt to remain young, because old means the end. Even in retirement complexes, those with canes, walkers, and wheelchairs don’t want to be seen by those without these devices, because, well, they mean the lost of independence, and the end coming.
As we eat and drink Jesus in the Sacrament, I would hope that we enjoy life now because Jesus is with you every week. And the Blessed Sacrament received each week is to counter the world which says life with this religious claptrap isn’t where life really is. We need to know that “to be” is only when Jesus is in us, and it is always “not to be” when Jesus is not in us.
What will you believe? What will Jesus be to you: an ornament on the hood of your life, and the engine which give you power and movement?
To be or not to be, that is the question!
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor
Austin, TX. U. S. A.