Sermon preached by the Reverend Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 12, 2012
When I was a child, before Sunday evening service (yes, we went to church twice every Sunday!), we would have a light supper. Often it was sandwiches and a cup of tea. Now, before you start picturing an English tea – with delicate finger sandwiches and scones with clotted cream – let me fill you in. The bread was Dutch Rye bread (Roogebrood) – a heavy, dark brown, sprouted rye, no-leavening-allowed bread – smeared with butter and laden with thick slices of Liede Kass – a tart Dutch cheese pocked with tons of caraway seeds that, frankly, looked like bugs to me back then, and got wedged between our teeth like the husks of popcorn kernels.
What I wanted was Wonder Bread – but coveting it was as close as I got to having it – watching as my friends unwrapped the waxed paper from their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches – until I was about 13.
At that point, after years of catechism classes, the church we attended assumed that my classmates and I knew enough about spiritual things so that we were ready to make our public profession of faith. We were invited to attend a meeting of the elders – a dozen men my dad’s age who always wore dark suits instead of smiles – and we were given the opportunity to give our testimonies. I don’t remember what I said, but evidently it was good enough to let me get my first taste of Wonder Bread.
Four times a year – after two consecutive weeks of confessing our sinful nature and behavior, we were permitted to participate in Holy Communion. When the silver plate went by, we were allowed to take one piece of the ¼ inch cube of Wonder Bread, followed by a sip of grape juice from our own personal mini shot glasses. We were always reminded, just before that same team of interrogating elders passed the goods around that if we were not living a life worthy of this holy sacrament, we would be eating and drinking our own condemnation.
It was a real pickle for a 13 year old. Do you abstain so as not to hammer the last nail in your eternal coffin, or do you partake so your parents don’t suspect what you’ve been up to – thus striking the eternal deadly blow yourself? It was a real conundrum.
As many of you know, the Episcopal Church has determined once again that participation in the Holy Communion – eating the bread and drinking the wine should be reserved for those who have been baptized. The table, in this way of thinking, seems to be set by the church and only those who have been duly prepared are welcome at it.
Here at St. Paul’s, we take a different stand. It hasn’t gotten us into trouble yet, but our understanding is that GOD sets the table and offers bread to EVERYONE. This is not the norm, however, not in our denomination and not in most Christian communities.
Behind this kind of thinking – the determination that only people who are baptized should be permitted to the Table (or who have had “sufficient” Christian education) – seems to be the notion that the bread of life, this food-stuff that Jesus offered his followers was one particular thing: something that can be qualified, quantified, understood.
Furthermore, there’s an underlying assumption that the bread of life is consistent over time and over space – that it remains constant from generation to generation, from belly to belly.
Bread is bread is bread…..or is it?
It is Jesus who describes himself as the bread of life. What we do when we participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion, is to remember and give thanks for this gift – Jesus’ life of ministry, his death and his resurrection.
Jesus’ gift of life, however, is not static or easily put in a tidy theological box. It simply can’t be.
Life, like bread, comes in many forms and the variety of forms is just another indication of the awesome grace, the magnificence of God’s love in Christ. What feeds and nourishes me is unique to me; it is fluid and changes when I change. What nourishes you is unique to who you are and where you find yourself.
This is not to say, however, that there is not some very clear consistency regarding this Bread of Life – either in the life and ministry of Jesus or in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
This is the Bread of Life we’re talking about. That means it brings life: L-I-F-E. That, it seems to me, is the constant.
Life-bread does not bring anything that would diminish the work of the Creator and it most certainly does not bring eternal damnation.
Jesus did not say to the oppressed, “Live with it.”
Jesus did not say to the abused and neglected, “Buck up and deal.”
Jesus did not say to the poor and the hungry, “You’ve got boot straps, pull up on them, for God’s sake!”
And Jesus never said to the sinner, “You made your own bed, lie in it, eternally.”
Nope. Jesus never said any of those things.
What Jesus said is this: “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.”
I’m not sure it could be any clearer than that. Because God loves what God has made, Jesus lived and died and rose again to be a powerful and trustworthy revelation of God’s love for all of creation. When we raise our empty hands and open our lips at God’s Table, we individually and as a community are fed with that amazing love – it becomes a part of who we are, just as the molecules of bread and wine find their way into our flesh and blood.
Let’s face it. We’re all hungry.
But this incredible gift is more than for our own feeding. When we leave this place, we are invited to be the bread of life in the world. The bread is multiplied – just like the loves and fish offered by the little boy in the Gospel story we heard a few weeks ago – two fish and 5 loaves of barley bread fed thousands.
When we stand up for justice and wage peace, those who are oppressed taste hope.
When we include the marginalized and the forgotten, the neglected are restored.
When we offer friendship, the lonely are renewed.
When we respect the dignity of every child, every woman, every man, those who feel unworthy will experience something of the magnificence of their being.
When we share our resources, the poor will not starve.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”
It’s not always Dutch rye bread, nor is it always soft, white Wonder Bread. It may be a sweetbread full of fruit and nuts, or a crispy baguette, or it may be that wonderfully spongy bread served in Ethiopian restaurants, or light, puffy Indian Puri. No one has the corner on this bread-market.
This bread comes from heaven – from the source of all that is – from the God who loves all that is.
So come, eat. Be filled with the kind of bread you need today.
Let the Bread of Life become who you are – and then go out to share this most precious gift with those who are looking for, who hunger for, a piece of life-bread. Amen.