A homily for the people
April 5, 2017
In 1984, the movie Places in the Heart was released. Some of you may recall the movie. If you don’t or if you haven’t seen it, get yourself a copy. Seriously. Or come borrow mine.
The story is set in the year 1935 and in Waxahachie, Texas, a small, segregated town in the midst of the Depression. We begin in church, a place we see the family gather often in community and prayer. It is evident throughout the film that grace is abundant in the Spalding household. One evening, Royce Spalding, the local sheriff, leaves the family dinner table to investigate trouble at the rail yards. He arrives on the scene to discover a young black man, Wylie, drunk and loud and waving a gun around. You can tell that Royce really likes Wylie and that this is not the first encounter they’ve had. They have a relationship of some sort and there appears to be a genuine affection from each man for the other. During their conversation, Wylie shoots Royce. Royce dies immediately and it is clear that Wylie is both shocked and saddened by his actions and the death of the sheriff. In the era of Jim Crow and lynching, Wylie very likely understood what fate was to befall him. Local white vigilantes tie Wylie to a truck and drag his body through town, for all the community to see, before hanging him from a tree.
The remainder of the movie is the story of the sheriff’s widow as she attempts to keep the family farm with the help of two surprising partners: a blind white man and a poor Black man. Natural disaster, the KKK, and crooked bank officials all conspire to keep the motley team from success…and I’ll let you remember or watch on your own the details of that story.
But the scene that always gets me is the closing.
The story ends, as it began, in church in worship among the community and in prayer. This time, there is the celebration of the Lord’s Supper. The congregation passes the bread and the wine down the pews serving one another, and gathered amidst the living, we witness those who have died in the movie (for a variety of reasons) also receive and give the elements. The in the very last line of the film, Wylie hands communion to Royce and says, “Peace of God.”
Wylie and Royce are not only crystal clear images of the communion of saints, but they also demonstrate the power of the sacrament as they share the peace and break bread. Forgiveness.
In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther says that it is the words which Jesus speaks “Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me” and “Drink of it all of you; this cup is the new covenant…the new promise…in my blood, which is shed for you and for all, for the forgiveness of sins; as often as you drink of this cup, do this for the remembrance of me.” “These words [the words of institution] assure us that in the sacrament we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation…It is not the eating and drinking [of bread and wine] that does this, but the words given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins…And whoever believes these words has exactly what they say, forgiveness of sins.”
It is the words which are important and the command of Jesus that we do this. That we take the very body of Christ into our own bodies and that we remember his words of forgiveness.
“Where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
Life abundant. Salvation, which means healing. In the world to come, to be sure, but also in the world that is here and now.
Forgiveness is liberating, life-giving, and healing, both for the wronged and for the wrong-doer. And Jesus invites us into forgiveness…that we are released from sin and delivered through salvation and healing into life abundant. And there we will and we do find the “Peace of God”. Amen.