The Church hears these words in the context of the Eucharist and they make sense to us. They would not have made sense to his original hearers. For the Gospel writer they are crucial: Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is what he is convinced we must believe.
1st Reading (Track 1): 1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11) 22-30, 41-43
Once he became king, Solomon set about building the Temple in Jerusalem. Chapters 6 and 7 describe the building of the Temple and the details of its furnishings. Chapter 8 is the Temple’s dedication, led by Solomon. The first step is to bring the Ark from the tent in which it had been housed to its new dwelling place. Solomon then prays the dedicatory prayer, which takes up 8:22-66. He begins by remembering the covenant sworn to his father David, and then acknowledges that a house built by human hands cannot contain God. Nevertheless, he asks God to hear the prayers of his people made from this place, and, then, in an extraordinary gesture, asks the prayer of foreigners to be heard as well.
[8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. 6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. 10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.]
22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven. 23 He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, 24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. 25 Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ 26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David. 27 But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! 28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; 29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. 30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive. 41 Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name 42 —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, 43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.”
Psalm 84 (Track 1)
Psalm 84 celebrates the presence of God in the Temple, a presence which guarantees divine protection, including in the person of the king.
1 How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and a longing for the courts of the LORD;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2 The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.
3 Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4 Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims’ way.
5 Those who go through the desolate valley will find
it a place of springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6 They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7 Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8 Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9 For one day in your courts is better than
a thousand in my own room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10 For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11 No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12 O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!
1st Reading (Track 2): Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Israel is finally in possession of the promised land after forty years in the wilderness. Moses has been unable to come with them; Joshua has been their leader through the frequently bloody takeover. His work done, and now near death, Joshua assembles them at Shechem (a major political and religious center for Israel prior to Jerusalem) to lay before them the choice they have to make. “Choose this day whom you will serve.” In verse 29 of this chapter, Joshua dies and the bones of Joseph, carried from Egypt are finally buried. Israel has arrived, but the question of their choice clearly still hangs in the air.
24:1 Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2a And Joshua said to all the people, 14 “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” 16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”
Psalm 34:15-22 (Track 2)
This psalm of thanksgiving, portions of which we have read for the last two weeks, concludes with a promise that God is favorably disposed to the righteous, and the wicked can expect a life that ends in disaster. The psalm does not assume that the righteous live trouble-free lives, but their distress will not go unheeded.
15 The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to his cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
19 Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
20 He will keep sake all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22 The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.
2nd Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
The writer of Ephesians exhorts us to a serious following of Christ. In this passage near the end of his letter, he uses imagery that following Christ is akin to waging war. This war is not, however, with other human beings. It is with “cosmic powers” and “spiritual forces.” This is apocalyptic imagery familiar to the writer and his recipients of the struggle between good and evil. The military imagery may be difficult for some of us, and yet it is important to note what the armor and weapons are turned into: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation and the word of God.
6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.
Gospel Reading: John 6:56-69
Jesus has just dropped a bombshell (v. 51): “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” He then goes on to speak of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. It is no wonder that “many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.” The Church hears these words in the context of the Eucharist and they make sense to us. They would not have made sense to his original hearers. For the Gospel writer they are crucial: Jesus is the Word made flesh. This is what he is convinced we must believe.
6:56 Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 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.” 59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. 60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
The Scripture readings (except for the psalm) are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and are used by permission. All rights reserved. The Psalm translation is from The Book of Common Prayer. Commentaries are copyright © 2018 Epiphany ESources, 67 E. Main St., Hornell, NY 14843. www.EpiphanyEsources.com. All rights reserved. Permission is given to copy for study use with this attribution.