Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Tag: Maundy Thursday

Bread is Christ

There were two obvious ways to go with my message this evening: feet or bread. Truth be told I have recently become quite enamored with one of these things. You can take a sigh of relief…I’m talking about bread. That’s the thing I’ve fallen for and the thing I have come to understand as a profound insight into the divine.

I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that my recent adventures in bread-baking have been profoundly spiritual experiences. Off and on over the past year and a half I have been trying to make sourdough bread at home. Our kitchen counter is home to a glass mason jar with bubbling white substance that is nothing more than flour and water. Well, flour and water with enough bacteria and yeast from the air to introduce the process of fermentation. Every day I add a little flour and a little water, while pouring off the equivalent amount of sourdough starter. Whenever I’m ready, I mix in some of that starter with a large amount of flour, water and salt. Over the course of two days I mix, wait, knead, wait, knead, and wait some more until it’s ready to bake. Yesterday this came out of my oven:

 
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There is nothing quite like the overwhelming sensation of pulling a fresh-baked loaf of bread out of the oven. The heat, the smell, the anticipation, the culmination of all that work and waiting – the hardest part of the process is the three hours of waiting for the bread to adequately cool once it has been baked. 

I don’t need to assign spiritual metaphors to the bread-baking process in order to make it holy. A beautiful loaf of bread doesn’t have to stand for anything other than what it is in order to be sacred. Baking and eating bread is a spiritual experience in and of itself. And maybe that’s why Jesus identifies so intimately with it. Throughout scripture Jesus says things like “I am the bread of life” and holding a loaf of bread he says, “This is my body.” He didn’t say “In a way I am kind of like bread” nor did Jesus say “This bread symbolizes my body.” He meant it quite literally. Which only makes sense when we understand that Jesus as the second person of the Trinity – the Cosmic Christ – is the expression of God that, since the beginning of creation, has been sustaining and energizing all forms of life. 

Did you know that a loaf of whole-grain bread baked from fermented dough has all the nutrients a human body needs to survive? Truth is, if someone gave you an unlimited supply of flour and water and you consumed them on their own, you wouldn’t last very long. However, if you mixed the flour and water, allowed them to ferment, and then baked and ate that bread – that is enough sustenance to last you indefinitely.

When Jesus says “I am the bread of life” and holding a loaf of bread he says, “This is my body,” he is identifying his divine nature that gives us what we need in order to survive and thrive, all of which is found is something as unassuming as wheat seed and water and air.

This is all quite literal; and I could stop now and be satisfied that I have communicated the truth of God’s grace and God’s presence for us in the gift of bread. However, I recently rewatched an episode of the Netflix show Cooked by Michael Pollan and was reminded of the many ways in which bread is an outstanding metaphor for the spiritual life.

[here’s where we watched the video: Cooked season 1, episode 3, final 5 minutes]

Not to take away from the literal truth that Christ is present to us in the physical substance of bread, but I just have to pull some of these metaphors out.

In the video clip, Michael said the wheat seed has everything needed to sustain physical life and our task is how to access the nutrients. Likewise, everything needed to sustain spiritual life is available to us; we do, however, have to figure out how to unpack and access it. Prayer, worship, community, the arts, reading scripture…each of these disciplines comes to us like a tightly-packed seed. Our task is to engage with these disciplines in a way that allows them to expand, change, and create something new in us. Praying, worshipping, reading scripture just to check them off the to-do list (or engaging in them because you feel like you’re supposed to) is like eating a whole wheat kernel…it will be unpleasant and will not yield any benefits because it will just pass right through you without being digested. 

Michael also mentioned that bread-baking is accessible; that anyone can do it, mostly by feel rather than rote recipe. And some times are better than others. So it is with the spiritual life of discipleship. All people have the same opportunity to connect with, and be informed by, the divine. Sometimes our efforts seem to yield little fruit. Other times we are gifted with something truly incredible, sweet-smelling, and nourishing; and the benefits extend into our larger communities.

Also, he said that he found confidence and satisfaction as a result of his bread-baking. As your pastor I pray for nothing less for each one of you. May your walk with Christ lead you to newfound confidence and genuine satisfaction at the gifts God has given you.

I recently came across, and found hope in, the expression, “Spiritual formation is the slowest of all human movements.”* Sometimes we look at our faith and life as a disciple of Christ and wonder if we really have anything to show for it. If the fruits of the Spirit are peace, joy, love, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, how much more of that stuff do we have than we did yesterday? Has all our worship, prayer, service, faith, brought us any closer to a life that looks like Christ’s? The sourdough bread process reminds us that we cannot rush our spiritual development. Instead, our spiritual lives require attention, care, intention, and time.

May you come to know and experience God through the physical universe, with all its complexities and wonders. And in the same way, may you come to know and experience God through your internal universe, with all its complexities and wonders. And may you be transformed into something far more than you could ever expect, hope, or manage on your own.

Amen.

* https://renovare.org/blog/some-things-take-time

Eat Together - Maundy Thursday - John 13:1-17, 31-35

John 13:1-17, 31-35

Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.  The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.  Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.  He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”  Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”  Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.”  Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!”  Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you.”  For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you?  You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am.  So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.  For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.  Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.  If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.  If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.  Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’  I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.   By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

So this is a Canadian grocery store commercial, for their “President’s Choice” brand of groceries. They’re mission is to “#eattogether” because, as they say, “so much good happens when we do.”

Eat together, because so much good happens when we do. Indeed.

And, on a night like tonight, I think we’re supposed to remember that this is more than a little bit of what God had in mind and what God has in mind for the Church, and for how we do what we do as God’s people in the world. I think so much of the time it’s meant to begin around the table – eating and drinking together, because so much good happens when we do. And I think too much of the time we’ve done just the opposite with the celebration of Holy Communion.

Unlike the commercial – cell phones and technology are not our biggest problem when it comes to what keeps us separated where the church is concerned. (I actually saw this commercial for the first time on my cell phone several months ago, so there’s that.)

But you know what I mean, right? Some of you have experienced it. Yes, it’s a special meal… a sacred feast… body and blood… bread and wine… broken and poured out for the forgiveness of sins; given for you, given for me; given for the sake of the world. There couldn’t be more weight or meaning attached to it all.

And because of that, too many people have gotten protective of it all. Too many people put up too many barriers about what this meal is or could be for God’s people – and for the world.

I had a conversation recently with one of our people who was laid up in the hospital. Very sick. Waiting for test results. Anxious. Afraid. So that when the hospital chaplain stuck his head in the door to ask if he was up for communion, the patient was glad to say yes and invited the chaplain in. After a brief conversation, though, the chaplain found out the patient – one of our people – was a Lutheran flavored Christian, and without much more to say, very little apology, and a quick prayer, the chaplain packed up his things and excused himself, because he wasn’t allowed – and Lutherans presumably weren’t worthy – of sharing the sacrament as far as his piety is concerned.

And I don’t mean to throw stones. We might do the same sort of thing in our own way, if we’re honest. There are some who question that children as young as those who will celebrate their “first communion” tonight should be able to… that maybe they shouldn’t be allowed to partake of the sacrament at such a young age. (Nevermind that most of these young people have been doing this for years, already.) People new to Cross of Grace are often surprised to see us offering the bread and wine to children and toddlers who sometimes have to take the pacifier out of their mouth to make room for the body and blood of their savior.

Still others worry about women presiding, about the un-repentant receiving, about the unbaptized, the unconfirmed, the uninitiated, the un-whatever having a place at the table. Welcome to why the Church is dying around us in too many ways and in too many places, as far as I’m concerned.

But what if what we did around the table of Holy Communion looked more like an invitation to dinner… to conversation… to friendship… to relationship… to joy and laughter and comfort and more. What if, we see what Jesus does for us in the giving of this meal, as something like setting up a table in the hallway of our lives? A table that gets in the way of all the things that get in the way of our willingness to look one another in the eye, to listen to one another, to love one another the way we have already been looked at, listened to, and loved by the God of our creation?

Because what Jesus does, in giving us this meal, is share it first with everyone in the room – even with Judas, the one who was fixing to betray him at that very moment. (If Jesus shares it all with Judas, his betrayer, and Peter, who would deny him, who are we to keep it from anyone?) What Jesus does, in giving us this meal, is humble himself – ultimately – by washing the feet of his friends and by teaching them what it means and what it looks like to love one another at all costs. What Jesus does, in giving us this meal, is offer himself – his body, his blood, his life and the love of God – for the sake of the world.

And I think our call is to get better at this. In our homes… in our neighborhoods… in our schools… where we work… And I think our call is to start here – in church, at worship, in the name of Jesus – who gives us permission in a way the world doesn’t always. And Jesus gives us more than permission. Tonight reminds us that Jesus gives us a command people, to love one another, to make room, to extend invitations, to remove barriers, to wash feet, to serve and to sacrifice in surprising, counter-cultural, rebellious ways so that the love of God can’t be avoided or denied or withheld for one more minute.

So let’s eat together tonight, because so much good happens when we do. And let’s let that goodness find us and fill us; to change us and to change the world by the grace we will see hanging on the cross and walking from the tomb, soon enough.

Amen
 

All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.