This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice &… AMEN
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna from heaven and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world in my flesh.”
When the manna fell to those ancestors, did they say grace as they recognized what the Holy One was giving them and how that manna would lead them to the Promised Land? “Before you taste anything, recite a blessing” says Rabbi Akiva. Do we always do that? We do it here liturgically. We gather as a community, hear the Word, encounter Jesus (that’s the same sentence) and then take, bless, break and share the food. The blessing I say, and to which you assent in your great Amen, is the core of the spoken, word-based blessing. That kind of blessing in some ways is the easiest kind to do, to remember, to engage in. I recognize what I do at the altar, like what I do when I have a dreary piece of celery, a delightfully seductive dessert, or a piece of bread, as tasting something, as requiring a blessing. Rabbi Akiva, writing between 50 and135 AD was absolutely correct about his pronouncement. Even for the most skilled organic truck farmer or the largest wheat farmer on earth, no one earns any food. Fishermen, hunter-gatherers, maple-syrup tappers, don’t earn it. It’s all—all, a gift of one sort or another from the Creator. Whether rain or sun growing, evolving, spun, or however else food happens, it’s not our doing, and there’s nothing any of us can do to deserve it. We can toil in a host of ways, but since the gift of the Garden of Eden, nothing just happens in food. It is all produced somehow, it doesn’t happen by us, and we are fortunate beyond measure for the Creator’s profligate generosity not only of imaginative kind, but also of uncountable quantity. There is no response possible ever, ever, other than to give thanks. Even when manna seemed a tedious, bland food, like a grinding regimen of all potatoes, all rice, or all whatever, it still is what makes human and creaturely life possible. People may disagree about to whom the thanks are owed, but people have survived on our hope in some food being always available and our constant curiosity around food from every point of view. Will there be enough? Will there always be more, better tasting, more nutritious, less fattening, more fattening, more delicious? Can we figure out how to preserve it, transport it, and share it effectively, fairly, and without worry? Even with those questions and other ones that circle around thoughts of food, food comes to us as its most basic and mysterious level as a free and undeserved gift. Some people feel that food is as much a part of Creation as are people, recorded to start on Day 3 before creatures on days 5 and 6, but that naming in Creation, confirms the need to recognize it as both a gift and good.
The Creator —or however you think the wonders we call Creation happened—made layers of wonders that make up life and food, but each was separate from the Creator, separated, and no longer part of the Creator. The Creator probably kept a continuous connection to the Creation, but we didn’t always feel the innate link. There was an objective distance between them, and somehow the Creator felt the Creation wasn’t doing it right, wasn’t connected enough, and was weakened by that irrevocable distance from the Creator. The Creator’s role could only be an external judge, and it would be inevitable that the Creation would be found as less, not up either to the way the Creator made Creation originally or the way it was evolving. The Creator always loved and hoped for the best for the Creation. There was no trick, nor challenge to Creation that was loaded against it. The Creator always saw Creation as good and loved it, but somehow it kept going off the rails, off track, into high grass.
However, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made...And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” That was the Creator’s additional expression of Creation, making the distance between Creator and Creator vanish, incarnating that Word into Jesus. It was a gesture of both hope and curiosity, to see a way to change that objective relationship into a subjective one, one for the Creator to experience life as a created entity while still being the Creator, the living God.
However it was, that Jesus understood that complexity, he felt called as a human to help bring about God’s reign on earth. He understood that aside from the miracles of healing and the other spectaculars, the way to bring about God’s reign was to build up the life of people together, as was later said to the people in Ephesus, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up.” Telling people to do that, is hard to do, in a way that they really hear. Don’t gossip; don’t nag; don’t lie; don’t bear false witness; don’t covet your neighbor’s stuff were each familiar commandments, and they worked then about as well as they work now— selectively. When we break any of them we see how wise each commandment and each prohibition Jesus and Paul direct, how wise each one of those commands is. Each, and together all of those wrongs, are hard to avoid for many of us, for every one of us, from time to time. As this week’s Meditation’s writer said, “There is something in us that delights in hearing and passing on gossip, or in making a cruel observation.” True, and we regret it, but it’s the form of sin each of us is most apt to do— we don’t often murder, commit adultery, or steal. Coveting and gossiping, yes.
Jesus knew the value and effectiveness of his parables with homey and familiar details, and so he needed to find a way to connect himself and his hopes and vision, to help people evolve as our Eucharistic Prayer says, to make us a people of “hope, justice, and love.” He wanted our daily actions to build us up as individuals, working optimally in community.
John has Jesus say several “I am” statements, each suggesting an image of Jesus connecting peoples and the Creator as one.
“I am…the Light of the world; The Gate; The Good Shepherd; The Resurrection and the Life; The Way, the Truth, and the Life; The Vine;” and most central “The Bread of Life.”
“The ministries of Christ demonstrate that the path to full or abundant life is not a magical path. It is a practical journey that begins with eating. The gospels often show Jesus eating with people because table fellowship is among the most powerful ways we know to extend and share in each other’s lives…It makes possible genuine encounters with others.” With this understanding theologians see Jesus’ way of eating as a sign of the kingdom of God. By freely eating with everyone he breaks and challenges all the social taboos that keep people apart.” Through both the eating, and the actual food, the bread, God entered into interdependent and mortal flesh that people might participate in God’s perfect and communal life. In this mutual in-dwelling of earth and heaven then Jesus’ life as the Bread of Life, the Bread of Heaven, creatures’ lives became what God had intended from the beginning of Creation. God’s life in people and people’s physical part in God, that transfer, that exchange, that expression of the bond between Creator and Creation as one, both tangible and mysterious is the heart of God’s life in people & people strengthened & enlivened with God’s being.
At the Eucharist we each receive the nurture, training, and new life to become people who participate in God’s healing and reconciling ways with the world. Through Jesus’ understanding, stories, and life with people like us, we reach to his vision for God’s reign. He with God’s grace, reached into the complexities of human living, to experience them and to take them to God to free all from sin, from those drearinesses, which either are sinful or cause sin.
Bread is so ordinary and universal that it is a commonality for all. For Jesus to bring the living God to cheer and strengthen us through that ordinariness and regular practice, done with praise and prayer here, but in home-style ways daily makes that bond back and forth from us to the Holy One, from the Creator to the Creation strong, mysterious, and evolutionary. As God appears less as a warrior God and more of a God of love, we grow from winners or losers, into people of compassion. We have hope not only for the ways we interact with each other and the world, but also hope for the earth’s present and on-going future. Jesus’ bread of life feeds us into our fullest life and mission on earth and as our token to and ambrosia into Paradise, and that bread of life, Jesus’ real presence, is always available and free for all: Good News.
© Katharine C. Black 12 August 2012 St. John’s, Boston
Post-Communion Prayer, Sam Wells, at Duke, 2008
God only wise, You delight to make your people out of food, and the food out of which you make us is your body and blood. As we have become your body in the eating of food, bless those with whom we share food this week, and bless those with whom we share you and in whom we meet you; that in being made your body, we may become food for your world, and through the change they see in us, all may come to praise the glories of your name. — Norman Wirzba, 2011, page 144, Food and Faith: A Theology of Eating