Sunday, August 16, 2015

Living Bread

Living Bread from Joseph Taber on Vimeo.

Proverbs 9:1-6
1Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn her seven pillars.
2She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine, she has also set her table.
3She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls from the highest places in the town,
4”You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says,
5”Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God

John 6:51-58
51I 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.”

52The Jews disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So 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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up in the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 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 forever.

This is the Word of the LORD
Thanks be to God.

Dear John,
Why so complex? Why do you make everything so complicated and confusing? You record all these saying of Jesus and he seems to speak in circles. Now John, I’m not saying you’re bad at communicating, I’m just saying that Matthew and Luke didn’t have this problem. But you, John, you love a good image. And I wonder, you know, as a concerned brother in Christ, if maybe you get a little lost in your metaphors. For example: this “living bread” you talk about. I mean, is it bread, is it flesh, is food, is it Jesus? Listen John, Jesus is clearly offering us a gift here, and the way you have told the story has given us an excuse to take that gift and use it as a wedge. I’m not blaming you, John, I’m just saying that we’ve been given “living bread” and because we’re people, often simple and without sense, we need a little more clarity from our gospel writers. I’m not saying I blame you, I’m just saying it’s your fault. After all, John, We’re not that different from the Jews who surrounded Jesus, not understanding who it was that stood before them. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

John, you’re a great writer, and when you get those images rolling, there’s some really beautiful stuff in your library. That whole Word became flesh and made his home among us thing? Big fan. You’re better than any of the other gospels and point to how Jesus is God, and I think that’s really important. But seriously, John, how does that whole life of the world/flesh/bread/Jesus thing work itself out? Can you give a footnote or something to explain it?

Well let’s see how Jesus clears things up “So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you earth the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

See John, that’s what I’m talking about. I don’t feel like I know any better than I did before what’s going on. You seem to be really resisting my polite request for an explanation.

John, it makes me wonder if maybe the “living bread” doesn’t have a clear explanation, and you’re just enjoying the mystery of it all. That seems like your style John. You crowd the images into your version of the story so that we won’t be able to diagram the details. Instead, perhaps it’s more fitting for us to be grateful for the mystery.

After all, Wisdom invites us in.

John, you remember Wisdom. Not our own wisdom, of course. Wisdom takes on human form in the book of Proverbs. She's an aspect of the divine, a personification of a gift from God. The one who comes from God invites us in to a meal she has prepared, in a house she has built. John, Wisdom’s hospitality spreads even to the simple, the immature, those without sense. Dining with wisdom is not an awards banquet for those who are most brilliant, or most discerning.

John, Wisdom invites us in to share a meal that is a gift for all.

Perhaps that's what we overlooked in the living bread. We have sought to explain, understand, nail down, and we have forgotten who has invited us into the meal. The divine wisdom that surpasses all understanding sets a table before us and invites us to eat living bread. The Word made flesh who made his home among us offers us true food and 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."

We live because of Christ. There's a double meaning in that. Not only is Christ our source of life, but he's also our purpose for living. We live because of Christ, who lives because of the living Father. I wonder, John, if you piled your gospel full of imagery and metaphor because you wanted to preserve the mystery of God.

John, here’s what I think. We come to this table to eat living bread, not because of any magic trick, but because in Communion, we are elevated by the power of the Holy Spirit to dine with our Lord. I don't know how it happens, I only know that when we gather around this bread and this cup, we are awakened to the real presence of Christ in our midst.

A few years ago, I sat in on a few session of a Worship and the Arts Conference. The worship leader was a Korean artist, and as the week wound down, he invited us to join the conferees for their closing ceremony, which would involve communion.

We gathered around small tables, sitting or kneeling next to them in a very traditional Korean Presbyterian posture. Then the worship leaders began passing out the elements, the bread and the cup, for us to share the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. The juice was a simple cup of grape juice, just like you could find in any of a thousand Presbyterian Church across the United States, but the bread was different.

It was colorful, not just the browns and whites of a regular loaf of bread, but with blue and green in it as well. The worship leader explained that this bread was a special kind of rice cake. In the Korean culture, they baked this cake for special celebration, times of great joy.

John, as you know, I’m a middle class white American male, so to translate it from their culture to mine, it was the equivalent of using birthday cake as communion bread. The bread itself represented the liveliness of celebration, the joy of a shared meal. John, I’ve got to tell you, I cannot think of a more appropriate bread for communion. We remember Christ who broke the bread and gave it to us, and also we remember that this is a the joyful feast of the people of God. The liveliness of the celebration points us right back to the living bread. It reminds us that we live because of Jesus. That, John, is a joy worth celebrating.

So John, I guess I take it back. The layered meanings aren’t meant to answer or explain, they’re meant to point us toward the mystery of the living bread which we eat until it consumes us. The living bread shows how the story of Jesus overwrites and completes our own narrative, and is the root of our identity, even as we express it in our own particular ways.

John, in our congregation, the communion bread is usually a baked pie crust, sliced into serving and passed around to be shared by all. I think that is every bit as fitting as the celebratory rice cake of the Korean Worship and the Arts Conference. Here in the south, we have deep roots of sharing a home-baked pie as a sign of love, of hospitality. The fillings are interchangeable: blueberry, apple, blackberry, cherry, rhubarb, but the value is knowing that it is extended as a gift, as an expression of love.

Here in our culture, John, the pie crust carries the love of the community to whomever eats it. So too the communion bread carries the love of Christ to all who eat it. For Christ is the living bread.

What’s more, our congregation has a special connection to pie crust. John, you know we’ve put together thousands of Chicken Pot Pies and sold them so that we could reach out to the community around us with a playground.

So as we take communion this morning, we are to remember the living bread, which is given for the world. John you know that just as the living Father sent Jesus, and he lives because of the Father, so whoever eats the living bread will live because of Christ. With all your complicated layers and sometimes confusing images and metaphors, John, we’ll also hold on to the mystery of it all. We’ll remember that God is still working in this congregation, among these people who join us in this meal. The bread and the cup in communion nourish our bodies in the same way that God’s presence nourishes our whole selves. This bread wakes us up to the truth that Christ is with us, and the living bread sends us out into the world to spread the good news of God. John, confronted with the mystery of faith, we’ll join Wisdom as she sends out her servants and calls from the highest places in town. We’ll add our voices to the invitation, telling and retelling the mystery, pointing to Jesus and proclaiming “This is the bread that came down from heaven… the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

Dear John, I hope this letter finds you surrounded by God’s grace, and filled with the hope and peace of the Living Bread.

Your Brother in Christ,


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