Bread from Heaven
August 16, 2009
I shared a couple of weeks ago about a decision I made to start running as part of my lifestyle. I talked about how we can learn all we can about running, we can buy all the right clothing, we can subscribe to running magazines and surround ourselves constantly with people who run—I talked about how we can do all of that, but until we put our shoes on our feet and get off the couch, we’re no runners at all.
If you were here that Sunday, you might remember that I made parallels between being a runner and being a Christian, how we can talk the talk and come to church every Sunday, how we can know all there is to know about the Bible and God and Jesus, but until we make the choice to start doing the things that make us Christian people, we’re not Christians at all.
And since that sermon, I’ve been surprised at how I’ve stuck with the discipline of running (that is, if you can call the pace I go running). J
I take our dog with me, and as I run he just kind of walks fast beside me, so for him it’s just a walk. But for me it’s a real workout!
I’ve noticed that making this change in my lifestyle, I just feel better throughout the day. I can focus better, I don’t want the junk food that’s going to make my gut hurt the next morning.
I can feel the stress kind of melt away as I hit the trail early in the morning with our dog by my side.
No matter what might be going on at home or in church, when my lungs and my legs both burn like acid and I sound like a freight train chugging town the trail, gasping for air, scaring the wildlife out of the trees around me…somehow through all of that I gain some perspective on my week.
It’s become a part of my morning routine.
It’s become a regular practice in my life, a welcome change to my schedule that reminds me almost every day how weak I am, how frail, and how short life can be (I think a lot about death when I run). J
I’ve been thinking a lot about routines recently, and how they change as we grow older.
I thought about it as we married Mary and Brian Good last weekend, how their routines have to change now to make room for this other person.
That was a welcome change for them, one they planned for and chose for themselves of their own free will. It’s a change that will bring added stress and conflict, but also added joy and comfort to their home.
Then I thought about Dennis and Loretta, and how routines can be so easily turned upside down because of something completely beyond our control.
I marveled at how Loretta took the news and journeyed towards death with grace and patience we can only hope to imitate both in our living and our dying.
Her illness and her passing is an unwelcome change, one that nobody would choose of their own free will.
Nevertheless, she handled it well, teaching us how to deal with it in the process.
…So why all this talk about change this morning?
Why all this talk about marriage and death and running?
It’s because this morning we will celebrate communion.
And too often we think of this ritual as something higher than our experience; Something that transcends the moments of our days, something we dare not celebrate more than four times a year for fear it might lose it’s meaning.
Either that, or we think of it as an empty kind of ritual, a routine we perform more or less because we’re supposed to. Maybe it’s lost its meaning for us, but we’re still friendly to the cause, so we go through the motions like we have so many times before.
But this morning I’d like us to avoid either extreme.
Communion was never meant to be either an empty ritual void of meaning or a transcendent experience beyond our comprehension.
Rather, it’s a moment like ten thousand others; a moment in which we have a choice to make.
It’s a ritual, yes…but it’s a ritual like running, or a wedding, or a funeral.
My perspective on all three of these rituals has changed a lot since entering the ministry.
I used to think that weddings were about the couple being married, that funerals were for the deceased, and that running was some kind of punishment inflicted by a gym teacher with no creativity.
In the same way I used to think of communion as something we did—something that was primarily about my personal relationship with God.
But over the past couple of years, I’ve started to learn that weddings are not primarily about the couple—they are about the memories.
I’ve learned that funerals are not for the dead—they are for those of us who are left behind.
And I’ve learned that running doesn’t have to be a punishment; it can literally be the journey on which my physical body and mind find healing and hope for the future.
The difference in all of these things is where you stand at that moment, and what it is you’re looking for.
That moment is either filled with meaning or it isn’t.
And so, when we take communion, it’s another moment, where if it’s just about me, I’ll always go away unsatisfied, right? I’ll always go away hungry, because eating a little piece of bread and taking a sip of juice—it’s not going to satisfy me, personally, every time I do it.
I have to choose to be content. I have to choose to come to church.
I have to choose to make room in my routine for this thing called communion—and to make it as meaningful as I can for myself and others, every time we take it.
It comes down to being a choice.
And that choice is up to each of us, in every moment where a decision needs to be made.
In the passage we’re looking at this morning, 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.”
If you listen closely, you can hear Jesus forcing a decision here. It’s not the first time it happens, and it certainly wasn’t the last.
“I am the Living Bread”, he says…And either you’re willing to hear him out or you’re not. Either you’re willing to find the meaning in that statement, or you’re not.
A decision must be made.
And if you accept that statement as good news for the world, then it’s up to you to eat this bread, with all your heart, mind, soul and strength!
Like running, it’s nothing anyone can do for you.
Like a funeral, it’s a ritual for those who are left behind, proclaiming our Lord’s death until He comes again.
And like a wedding, communion has the potential to increase our conflict and struggle, but also the joy, peace, and love that we can fit into every moment we’re alive.
It’s interesting to me that the Greek words in this passage, if you want to get real literal with the meaning here, as Jesus goes on to talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the words in Greek are a little more graphic than we might like to repeat in polite conversation.
As Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, the verbs move from polite ones about eating and drinking, to more unseemly ones; like chewing and gulping.
That doesn’t quite jive with those of us who have learned proper table manners.
See, but this kind of language is part of what separates Christianity from other religions. First, we have a choice as to whether or not we’re going to believe the good news, whether or not we’re going to accept these incredible statements like “I am the bread of life, and whoever eats and drinks and chews and gulps my flesh and my blood, I will raise them on the last day, they will live forever!”
First we have the choice and second, it’s all about the incarnation!
Eating and drinking are essentially carnal acts—that means they involve the use of our bodies…not just our brains, not just our hearts, not just our feelings or emotions—but our physical bodies.
Jesus becomes an intimate part of us as we eat and as we sleep, as we consume Him day in and day out, our whole lives long.
And as this routine of Christianity becomes more and more familiar, as we consume this way of life and it finds its way into the depths of our being, we will one day find that it starts to consume us in the same way.
Over the past several weeks, there’s a line that Dennis has repeated that’s stuck with me. It’s good advice as we think about communion, and as we think about the choices we make from this day forward.
When talking about Loretta passing away, he would say, “we just have to take it one day at a time. Some days will be better than others, but we’ll just have to take it as it comes.”
It’s all any of us can ever do; take life one day at a time, through the good, through the bad, to fill each moment with as much meaning as we can.
God help us to run the race, one communion at a time, ingesting the body of Christ and making sacred every moment of our lives.