Thursday, August 27, 2009

Becoming Bread

For four Sundays in August the Revised Common Lectionary Gospel reading was from the sixth chapter of the Gospel according to John and they were all about bread. Jesus is the bread of life, the living bread, the bread that came down from heaven.

Jesus’ teaching about bread was hard teaching and many disciples stopped following him. It was hard, I think, for two reasons. Some of those who heard Jesus said, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, `I have come down from heaven'?” Familiarity, as they say, can breed contempt. These people knew who Jesus was and where he came from and they were certain that he had not come down from heaven!

But I think there is another deeper reason. Disciples are to become like their Rabbi and, if Jesus is living bread, aren’t his disciples to become bread as well? St. Augustine of Hippo grasped this when he said, “Through that bread and wine the Lord Christ willed to commend His Body and Blood, which He poured out for us unto the forgiveness of sins. If you receive worthily, you are what you have received.”

We are to become bread, each of us and all of us together.

And that’s a challenge for us because bread – the bread of the Eucharist, the bread that we are to become – is taken, blessed, broken and shared.

I think of these four actions as two pairs – bread is taken with thanksgiving – bread is broken to be shared.

Taken with thanksgiving: how often do we look at ourselves, our lives, and the life of our parish and give thanks? Far too often we are like Peter in the story at the end of the Fourth Gospel. When Jesus told him about the death he would die, Peter looked over at the disciple whom Jesus loved and asked, “What about him?” Far too often I wish had someone else’s good looks or money or talents and fail to give thanks for my life. Far too often members of churches look at another church and wish that their church could be like that church. If we are to become bread, if our parishes are to become bread, we need to embrace the life that God has given us with thanksgiving. This does not mean that we are to be stuck where we are, not growing, not open to God’s transforming power. We are, as we give thanks for the life that God has given us, to be about the business of discerning the purpose of that life. Why has God given me these particular gifts and placed me in this particular place? Why are these people with their gifts members of our parish? How are we to be bread here and now? Or, to put it another way, what kind of bread are we becoming?

Broken to be shared: this is even harder. We don’t really want our lives, our life together to be broken open for the sake of the world. But that is what God wants. This requires further discernment as we seek to discover how our particular gifts can be offered to others. In two parishes which I have served there were significant signs of the parishes’ being open to the wider community. In a parish I served in Massachusetts, the front doors of the parish church had been replaced by glass doors. People walking by on Sunday morning often stopped and looked in to see what we were doing. One of my dear friends wondered how many people had over the years stood on the doorstep in times of despair and found hope as they looked in and saw the lamp burning before the altar. Since 2001 the parish church here in East Aurora has been open round the clock during most of the year and I talked with people who have stopped in to pray in the middle of the night. These signs of being open aren’t, of course, enough. Our buildings can be open while we remain closed off, unavailable to anyone outside of a small circle of friends.

I believe God’s call to participate in the missio Dei, God’s mission of reconciliation, is a call for our parishes to become bread. To paraphrase Thomas Merton, each congregation is to become bread, the Body of Christ, in its own unique way, and when a congregation fails to become the bread that God is calling it to be, its wider community may go hungry.

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