~ Life to the World ~
“The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” ~John 6:33
Dear Members and Friends, Happy Lent to you. I suppose Lent is more about obedience than happiness, but even the solemnest roads on the Christian journey are meant to bring us joy, in time. One of my favorite children’s books is Where the Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak. I still keep the ragged old copy that I used to read to my children, and I pull it off the shelf sometimes and thumb through it. Like many children’s books, it’s got a simple wisdom to it, if a bit dark. A young reader once made a charming little drawing for Sendak and mailed it to him. Sendak says this: “I loved it. I drew a picture of a Wild Thing on a postcard and sent it to him. His mother wrote back: ‘Jim loved your card so much he ate it.’ The little boy didn’t care that it was an original drawing. He saw it, he loved it, he ate it. That was one of the highest compliments I’ve ever received.” In fact, as I recall, there is a line about such behavior in Where the Wild Things Are. When Max gets into his boat to return home, the Wild Things grieve and wail, and they say, “Oh, please don’t go! We’ll eat you up, we love you so!”
A group in the church recently asked me why Holy Communion isn’t a more joyful occasion. I had to admit that the words to the Communion service are not especially joyous. They begin by saying, “Friends, this is the joyful feast of the people of God.” But then they go on to make a fairly wordy recap of the whole Bible, dwelling mostly on majesty and suffering. Where’s the joy? Isn’t the sacrament meant to be a love feast, Christ’s welcome banquet for all people? Joy seems in order. When God’s grace and presence are offered to us in physical form, with all the colors, and textures, and smells, and flavors of grapes and bread, then the desire to pop it into our mouths is not entirely off the wall. Our human longings run deep. Our yearning for the Holy is so profound, so primal, that we just might want to eat it up when we find it.
Sadly, Jesus’s joyful feast sometimes has a stuffy feel to it, slow and sad. Many a faithful soul manages to keep alert during the sermon, from start to finish, but drifts into a brief coma for Communion. Faces go blank. Thoughts wander. The Lord’s Supper is the ritual whose meanings we learned at confirmation but no longer recall. And yet, this ritual meal has always been central to Christian life. The early Christians celebrated it each time they gathered, and our denomination is encouraging us now to do the same. (I know better than to bleed on that hill…for now.) But as the Lenten season reaches its climax, we will celebrate Communion three times in eight days: April 5, April 9, and April 12: Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter. Allow me to suggest some ways we can deepen the experience and make it into a true “celebration” of Communion. First, let’s treat the silences as sacred time, a time to meditate not on our guilt, but on the many things that bring us hope and joy. Second, let’s imagine the bread and wine to be medicine for all that sickens our soul and breaks our heart, the divine presence in edible form. Third, let’s think about Sendak’s young friend who loved his original drawing so much that he stuffed it in his mouth and ate it. The drawing, for him, was a token of something more: the place of the Wild Things, a world that had captured his heart and imagination. Is that not what the bread and the wine are for us, tokens of our far off home, smells, and textures, and tastes from a realm that has captured our hearts? God chooses to offer Godself to us in this form, as the most essential thing of life: a meal. In our Lenten journey, let us notice and celebrate the many ways that God gives life to the world. The “Bread of God” is one of them.
In Christ’s Peace, ~Brian