I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 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 for ever.’
ne of the things I treasure about life in St. Stephen’s is that fact you use REAL bread in the Holy Eucharist. I know there are some who will point out that it’s leavened rather than like the unleavened Passover bread that it is meant to mirror. And I know it’s not gluten free.
But unlike the little cardboard like wafers that so many churches use, the bread is REAL bread. It has texture and depth; it has taste and substance. It is lovingly made and offered.
And it can be messy. There are crumbs. There are the dregs of what is left in the chalice.
Some are horrified by this, but I have to say that having spent a lot of my time since I left 8 years ago in parishes where they use the bland, cardboard wafers, the very messiness has come to speak to me of the messiness of a life of faith.
In fact, I’ve wondered, in the years since I have been celebrating with wafers, if they are not an attempt to make life with Jesus neat, orderly, maybe even somewhat distant. Try to contain it. Your using real bread suggests that you’re willing to tangle with that messiness…
Jesus says: “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 is my flesh.” This prompts quarreling among the Judean hearers: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
It’s interesting that they don’t seem to be asking Jesus that question, at least by John’s telling: they are arguing with each other, just like all the centuries of church arguments over what happens in Holy communion. Is the bread and the wine really Jesus’ body and blood, or is it a sign, a metaphor of his presence? How is he present? How are we fed by him?
The Greek word Jesus uses for “eat my flesh” is actually the word for “gnaw,” or “chew,” or perhaps “savor.” It is gritty. Who says, “Eat my flesh?” No wonder the early Christians were accused of being cannibals.
I wonder if we have ended up sanitizing Jesus’ words, and taken away their shock value, by simply equating the flesh and blood with the bread and wine of the Eucharist. What if he really meant to say “Chew on me; savor me.”
We are what we eat, right? What if Jesus is actually trying to capture our attention and invite us into ENGAGEMENT with him at a deeper level; incorporating the flesh and blood Jesus into our lives? So that we become Jesus’ flesh and blood on earth today.
“Let me give you something to chew on.” As we chew, we make it easier to digest – we also allow the nutrition and the taste to become a part of us.
Has Jesus ever given you something to chew on?
Start with Beatitudes: Blessed are those who mourn; blessed are the meek; blessed are the poor; blessed are the peacemakers; How? What does it mean for us in our own day to shape our values around what Jesus blesses rather than what our society blesses – fame, money, health, power?
Then continue the sermon on the mount, with things like “Turn the other cheek;” what would it be like to follow that as a country?
And then there’s the whole mystery of how the Holy Spirit lives in each person, whether he or she knows it, claims it, or not. Whoa, how is that possible? What would it be like to treat each person we met as being a place where the Spirit lives?
What has Jesus given you to chew on in your life?
I spend a lot of my time as a Region Missionary on the road. While many of my conversations are with people who make up the 17 parishes and worshiping communities of the Episcopal tradition, many of them are not.
They are with people trying to put affordable housing in place, or provide food for all, or tend a garden, or work for peace in immigration concerns or prisons or…you name it. You know such people; people doing Jesus’ work who may never go near the bread and wine of communion.
But they will come near us and so perhaps encounter Jesus: as we become, like him, a living sacrifice; people who are willing to love as he did; bless what he blessed; engage with the needs of those on the margins the way that he did; and dare to believe, as Jesus did, that God’s Spirit is alive in the world, drawing us towards love…because God lives, we live.
Theological (or other) answers are not as important as the love that calls us.
Jesus is calling us to more than a simple sharing of a club around bread and wine: he is calling us to engage in, chew on, his life lived out in this world – so that we become living signs that he lives.
We do this as we mirror in our own lives the 4 things that happen in this Eucharist: offer; bless; break; share.
We offer ourselves; we show up for others, with others, fully engaged in faith that God’s Spirit is in us.
We bless whatever is at hand – proclaiming that God is present there; that it is, also, holy ground.
We participate in the brokenness – breaking open our hearts to love others; claiming the love of Jesus in the broken places of the world.
And then we share what we have received with others – we expand the table of Jesus’ offering of himself for the healing of the world.
Who is it in your life whose work you admire, who doesn’t seem to have any connection to the living God? Can you bring them, in your heart, to this altar today: to pray that the bread that sustains you in your journey of faith will help you sustain them?
To pray that the love that heals you in this bread and wine will help you heal them?
I’d love to have a tent and go around the region celebrating Eucharist – with REAL bread – in random places – pop up prayers. Invite me anytime. But until that happens – we’re the bread and wine. We offer; we bless; we break; we share.
We’re God’s altar in the world, offering our lives that all may be made whole. Chew on that. Let it nourish you, feed the depths of your soul – and make you more like Jesus each day.
You are the table, not of the Church, but of the Lord.
You are made ready for those who love the Lord, and for those who want to love him more.
– The Reverend Rachel Thomas