Sunday, August 26, 2012
Ephesians 43.15-22; John 6.56-69
+ Every since I was about fourteen years old, I have a strange fascination. And it is a strange one. Back then, people thought it was pretty weird. No, it’s not a fascination with science fiction or even poetry or, God forbid, sports. No, my fascination back when I was fourteen was with and still is with monasticism. I love anything to do with monasteries and monks and nuns and all that interesting things. I find it fascinating that people are called by God to devote their entire lives—their day-in and day-out lives, to God. My interested in monasticism has led me to visit many monasteries in my life. And it lead me to actually be a kind of non-monastic associate at one.
This past August 13 was a momentous day in my life. On August 13, I celebrated the twentieth anniversary of my oblation as an Oblate of St. Benedict. This, of course, is one of the most important things I have ever done in my life—right up there with my baptism and my ordinations to the Diaconate and Priesthood.
An Oblate, for those of you who might not know what one is, is a person who makes promises at a particular Benedictine monastery, promising to follow the Rule of St. Benedict while associating with a monastery. Sadly enough, I am an Oblate without a monastery at the moment, because the monastery at which I was an Oblate—Blue Cloud Abbey—closed earlier this month.
But, when I made oblation on that day in 1992, I promised to “offer myself to Almighty God as a Benedictine Oblate and I promised to serve God and all people according to the Rule of St. Benedict.”
As I said, that day in 1992 was a very important day to me. In some many ways my identity as a Christian was formed, hand-in-hand, with my identity as a Benedictine. And I think this was St. Benedict’s intention all along.
The Rule of St. Benedict, that all Benedictines strive to follow, whether professed members of religious communities or those of us “out here” in the world, is essentially a down-to-earth, structured way of living out the Gospel. I have been amazed many times over these last twenty years by how many times the Rule of Benedict has surprised me and delighted me in new and innovative ways—even after I thought I knew for sure everything there was to know about the Rule and how to apply it in my own life. And I have found it especially very effective in my pastoral ministry as well.
Certainly for all of us here at St. Stephen’s who practice our sort of “rule” of “Radical Hospitality,” we find that hospitality rooted very solidly in the Rule of St. Benedict, wherein St. Benedict admonishes Benedictines to receive everyone as Christ himself. Very radical, even now. And that is, very much, what we do here at St. Stephen’s.
Another very important aspect of Benedictine spirituality is one that has been very beneficially spiritually to me. It’s called Lectio Divina. Lectio is nothing more than a prayerful reading of Scripture. As one monk I heard once described it, “Lectio is the prayerful reading of Scripture, meditating on the message, and asking how it can be applied to my own life at this time.”
In other words, Lectio allows God to speak to us, though the Word. It allows the Word to guide us and direct us where we are at this moment in our journey. It is a powerful prayer experience and once that has yielded countless joys and surprises in my own spiritual life.
For Jesus’ followers, as they lived with him, they had their own form of lectio to some extent. They too lived and mediated on his Word. And in doing so, they recognized what that Word meant to them. These were words not of just any teacher, any wise counselor. These words carried something more, something substantial to them. This Word they heard coming from Jesus’ mouth was not the voice of an ordinary man, but of God.
In our Gospel reading for today, we find Simon Peter answering that question of Jesus, “Do you wish to go away?” with strangely poetic and vibrant words.
Peter asks, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
For all of us as followers of Jesus, the Word (which we find contained in scripture) is essential. It not only directs our lives, it sustains us, and feeds us and keeps us buoyant in the floods and tempests that rage about us. The Word is the place to which go when we need direction, when we need comfort, when we need hope. The Word is essential to us because, through it, God speaks to us. The Word is essential to us because it is there that we hear Jesus directing us and leading us forward.
The irony for me, however, is most poignant when I listen to those detractors who use the Word in such cutting ways. We of course hear them all the time. People who use scripture to support their homophobia or their political beliefs or their condemnation of others.
I have always warned parishioners and students to be careful of using Scripture as a sword, because, I say: remember. It is a two-edged sword. If you use the Word to cut others, trust me: it will come back and it cut you as well. However, if we use the Word to affirm, to build up the Kingdom of God, if we allow the Word to be, in our lives, the voice of Christ, then we in turn are affirmed.
As Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians that we heard this morning: “take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”
That sword of the Spirit is an amazing weapon. It is a powerful device that carries more strength and influence than any of us probably fully realize. And because it is so powerful, we need to use carefully.
We need to use not in anger, not in hatred, not in oppression, but in love. When we wield this sword in love, we find love being sown. When we wield this sword in compassion, we spread compassion. When we wield this sword to shatter injustice and oppression, we find justice and freedom. When we wield this sword as a way to clear the way for the Kingdom of God, we find that we too become a part of that building up of the Kingdom.
We too are able to clearly hear Jesus’ voice in our lives. Those words of eternal life that Jesus speaks to us again and again in scripture truly do break down barriers, build up those marginalized and shunned and, in doing so, we find the Kingdom of God in our midst.
When a Benedictine monk or nun makes a profession of vows they pray a wonderful prayer. Their prayer is: “Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”
I love that.
“Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”
This is our prayer as well.
“Accept me, Lord, according to your word, and I shall live. Do not disappoint me in my expectation.”
We too have prayed to be accepted according to God’s Word. The sword of the Spirit has swiped the veil of separation from us and has made us one. And none of us, in this oneness, in this kingdom of God in our midst, is disappointed in our expectation.
When all are seen as one, when all are accepted, then our expectation will be fulfilled. But we need to keep listening, to keep straining our ears for Jesus’ words to us. We need to keep listening so God can speak to us—so the Word can speak to us and through us. When God speaks to us, we respond. When the Word comes to us, we then need to engage it. This is what prayer is—holy conversation.
And as the Word is spoken to us, as we hear it and feel it, our response is the same as those who heard the Word spoken to them by Jesus.
“Yes, Lord, you have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
So let us hear those words of eternal life. Let us embody that Word in our lives. Let is share that Word through the good we do in this world. And when we do, people will know. People will know who we follow. People will know that the Word we embody in our very lives is the Word that the Holy One of God.
Sunday, August 19, 2012
Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6.51-58
+ Every so often people will ask me two questions, invariably. First, as a poet, people often ask me who or what my influences are. Second, because most everyone who knows me knows I LOVE films, they ask me what film is currently on my top ten list. To the second question (the second question will lead us back to the first question—trust me), I usually have to reword it. If a film has made it to the top of my top ten list, then that means it is the film that is currently obsessing me. And that film that obsesses me the most often changes. The past few films that have obsessed me have been films like Punch-Drunk Love or No Country for Old Men or Rosemary’ Baby.
But the film that has been at the top of my top ten list recently has been a film that is like nothing else I have ever seen. And it is a film that affected me in ways that I wasn’t expecting the first time I saw it. This film is True Grit, directed by the Cohen Brothers.
Now, I know you might be surprised. The last film you would think Father Jamie would like is a Western. Ah…but True Grit is different than a Western. If you’re thinking True Grit is like that John Wayne movie, you’re far off the target on this one. This film was different. Yes, it takes place in the West. Yes, it could qualify as a Western. But it’s much, much more.
When I first saw this film, not long after my father died, I found myself sitting in the theatre after heaving with tears. I mean, I was bawling like a baby. It was that powerful for me.
I’m not going to go into detail about the film itself. You need to see it, if you haven’t already. But, the movie is filled with theological underpinning. And the issue that permeates the film the most is the issue of grace, if you look closely for it.
As I said, I’m not going to say much about the film. I want each of you to see it and to tell me what you got from it. But, I will say this. The one aspect of the film that caught completely off-guard was the one I least expected. And it was the final piece of music. I should refine that. It was the final Hymn.
The film closes with a heart-rending rendition of the popular hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms.” And when that hymn started playing at the end of the film, I felt as though I had been grabbed by the shoulders and shaken. It was, to say the least, powerful. Of course, for me personally, it was difficult, because “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” was one of my father’s favorite hymns.
Hymns are something else—I don’t think I need to tell anyone here this morning that fact. And here’s where that first question I mentioned at the beginning gets answered.
What are my poetic influences?
I once took issue with Pastor Mark Strobel when he made an observation about my poems. He said to me one day, “You know, all those Lutheran hymns you grew up with were your first poetic influences.”
“Oh no they weren’t,” I protested.
But, you know, as much as I hate to admit it, he was very right. Those hymns I grew up listening to were my first and certainly my longest lasting influences.
The American poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was brought up being heavily influenced by the Baptist and Presbyterian hymns of her childhood, once claimed that hymns were her first influence as well. In fact, she once said, “I am full of hymns.” Which is a strange comment from a woman who consistently claimed to be non-religious. But I have noticed that with a lot of people who are non-religious—who are agnostic or atheist. Oftentimes, they love sacred music and hymns.
Now, for me, I find that surprising. I guess, I have always taken to heart that old adage that, I believe, Martin Luther once used: “Those who sing hymns, pray twice.” Or something like that. And I think it’s true.
In our Epistle reading for today, we find St. Paul telling us to avoid drunkenness and debauchery (he’s always going off about such things!) . Rather, he writes, “be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalm and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts…”
For me, at this point in my life as a priest and as an Episcopalian, everything we do on Sunday morning in our liturgy is all bound up together. The hymns we sing are as essential to me—and I hope to all of us—in worship and liturgy as the reading of Scripture and sharing in the Holy Eucharist. It all leads our minds upward and God-ward. It truly is a kind of “second prayer.”
And on those mornings when we sing one particular hymn, like today, here at St. Stephen’s, when we sing “Praise to the Lord,” or on other Sundays when we sing “Jerusalem, my happy home” or “Jesus Christ is risen today,” I feel like the whole worship services has come together like puzzle pieces. I don’t know if I can articulate in any clear way how hymns simply everything fit together in our Mass.
I think one of the best Anglican summaries of how it all works was written by Charles Price and Louis Weil in their classic book on Anglican liturgy, Liturgy for Living:
“‘The whole service consecrates,’ is a customary expression among us. No one part of the Eucharistic prayer, no one part of the Eucharistic liturgy, is considered more effective or more sacred than another. When the Christian community meets to do the whole eucharistic action in obedience to the risen Lord, he comes. He gives himself to us, again and again. It is part of the mystery of time.”
For me, that Eucharistic action extends to our singing of hymns. I’m sure James—and hopefully most of us this morning—would agree. Oftentimes as we sing this sacred poetry and the words speak deep in our hearts, we find it is like prayer.
Jesus is present in a specially clear and distinct way, in much the same way we experience Jesus speaking to us in Scripture or feeding us with his Body and Blood in Holy Communion. And like the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, we don’t want to push the issue too far. As Price and Weil add, a statement which summarizes perfectly the Anglican stance on Anglican Eucharistic theology:
“To say anything more than this in the name of the church would, we believe, transgress Anglican restraint.”
And Anglican restraint means everything for me.
This time in which we gather together here in this church is a sacred time. The Christ that we celebrate in song and scripture and whose very Presence in the Bread and Wine is what sustains us and feeds us and binds us together. In this service all the elements come together. When we sing, when we share the food of the Eucharist together, divisions are broken down. Old wrongs are made right. Whatever problems we might have with each other out there have vanished when we are caught up in the words of this music we sing. And those differences vanish at this altar at which we share this meal and partake, in a very real way, of Christ.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
What we eat here at this altar is the living Bread of heaven that has come down to us. And in this bread and in this wine we have found life. How do we truly celebrate that miracle? We do it in song. We do it by singing out our joy and saying with poetry and music what we ourselves are not able to say by ourselves.
What we do here in this service is not some private devotion. It is a liturgy in which we use all our senses to worship God. We have music. We hear the words of scripture. We stand. We kneel. We cross ourselves. We eat. We drink. We hear music and bells. And on Wednesdays, we get to even use the sense of smell in the incense we offer to God. We use all the senses and gifts God has given us to send up our worship and to share what we have been given.
This Mass is about us as a whole. What we do here, we do together. We come together, we celebrate, we listen, we affirm, we consent, we sing, we eat, we drink, we offer up ourselves. We come forward of to feed and then we go out, fed, to feed. We might not be able to define perfectly what happens here. But we do know that the holy is happening in our midst. The sacred is happening here when we gather together. God is present here—in the music, in the scriptures, in this bread and wine.
So let us take part in this living Presence that comes to us in a very basic and beautifully vital way—in food and drink, in music, in the very words of the Word. But let’s not let this sacredness be something we confine to this building. Let us embody this sacredness in our very lives. Let us carry this sacredness with us as we leave this building and go out into the world.
Just as we embody the Body and Blood of Jesus, as we speak his Word to the world, so let us also sing his music by our very lives. Let that music that touches us and affects us and shakes us at our cores be the music we take with us into the world that we can also share with others. This is what means to embody God’s Presence in our very lives.
So, let us be that living Presence to others. And let us together share this living presence with all those whom we are called to serve.
Mother Theresa once said, "Loneliness and being unwanted are the worst form of poverty" --
Most of us here today are striving in our own faith communities to be places that eraticate the povery of loneliness and being unwanted. Unless we are places of full acceptance and radical love, we will become archaic. We will become empty of meaning and purpose in our faith communtiies. We will become useless. We who believe in a loving and fully accepting God have few choices: we must be imitators of that God in our love and our acceptance of all people, no matter who they are. We must embody that God in our own lives and in the lives of our communties. And only then, will this God of love and accpetance be present in our midst. And in that holy moment of relaization, loneliness and shunning and discrimination and hatred and anger will finally, once and for all, be banished from us.
Sunday, August 12, 2012
+ This past week I talked a bit on two occasions about literature. I met some writers friends earlier in the week and, on Thursday, I had a wonderful opportunity to talk about my book, Fargo, 1957, to a great book club, which included our own Jan Stewart and Cammy Wilson.
In the earlier of those discussions, I surprised people by saying that one of my favorite forms of literature is the whaling literature of the 1800s. Namely, literature like Moby Dick by Herman Melville. As much of a fan of Melville’s classic as I am, two fairly recent books that I have greatly enjoyed are Philip Hoare’s very excellent book, The Whale and In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick, which is the actual true account of the whaleship The Essex which was destroyed by a whale, and on which Melville based Moby Dick.
What I found most interesting about the whaling industry of the 1840s is that the heads of most of the whaling companies and many of the whalers themselves were Quakers. Now, I have a deep love of the Society of Friends, better known as the Quakers. If they were only more liturgical—I correct, if only they were liturgical at all—I could see myself in many ways as a Quaker. I have read Quaker theology for many years and I often find myself agreeing with so much of what they believe.
Of course, the Quakers are best known for their pacifism. And maybe this is why I really enjoy the Quakers.
As many of you know, I am a pacifist. I am very fortunate to serve at a congregation that prides itself on its commitment to the cause of peace. And, as we all know, St. Stephen’s is known at the sort of token, “Peace and Justice” Episcopal congregation in Fargo. That Peace Pole outside is not just for show.
In my own life as a pacifist, I have learned much. Back when I turning 18, when I had register, as all 18 year old males did for the draft, I tried to apply for Conscientious Objector status. Everyone I talked to at the time about it laughed at me.
“We’re not at war,” they would tell me. “Don’t worry about it.”
But, I did. I wanted to make that statement and I wanted it officially marked. But it never came to pass.
Now, I know that many of us here this morning are pacifist. And I know that many of us are not. And I actually empathize with those who are not. I think there is a valid argument for “just war.”
My reasons for being a pacifist are personal—I simply feel morally apprehensive about killing anyone, even in self-defense. For me, being a pacifist is a fine thing to be when nations rage and are at war with each other. Being a pacifist for me is easy when it means standing up against what I view as unfair wars. However, I have discovered, being a pacifist means more than just striving for peace in the world. Being a pacifist, means striving for peace in my own life and in my own relationships.
And here’s where I find the difficulty. As you know—I know this is a surprise—I am a headstrong person. And being a headstrong person means I also carry around a certain level of frustration sometimes. I will even go so far as to say that I carry around a fair share of anger inside me. And I have had to deal in my life with many, many people who have been antagonized by me personally.
There are people out there who do not like me or do not accept me for who I am and what I am and what I represent to them.
Many people here this morning have felt that same way—whether it be because they are GLBT, liberal, conservative, agnostic, catholic, or whatever…. What I have learned for myself it is in those situations, that I am called on the most profoundly to be a pacifist. Being a pacifist for me means being a pacifist in all aspects of my life. Being a pacifist means seeking and striving for peace in every area of my existence. Which, let me tell you, is harder than it sounds or one can even imagine.
It is difficult for any of us to admit that there are people out there who do not like us, who hate us, who want the worse to happen to us. And it’s even more difficult when we realize they hate us either for who we are or for who they perceive we are. But that’s just a fact of life. More likely than not, there will always be people out there who simply don’t like us.
What matters most is how we—as individuals, as Christians, as followers of Jesus—deal with those situations. Do we deal with them with peace in our hearts? Probably not. We most likely deal with them in anger. And I can tell you, countering anger and hatred with anger and hatred never works. It simply involves two walls going up against one another. And nothing gets resolved.
In my own life, I have found that sometimes peace and kindness and legitimate caring for that person who hates me does make all the difference. Peace and kindness and legitimate caring. Not acceptance, mind you. Not acceptance of their hatred or small mindedness. Not acceptance of their prejudices. But love of them, as a fellow human being, a fallible human being, a broken human being, just like me, just like all of us. And, more often than not in my life, that counter offense of love and kindness does more to break down barriers than anything else.
Of course, it doesn’t happen in an instant. Sometimes it takes years and years. But it does, more often than not, win out. Peace always wins out in the end. And peace is our prerogative as Christians.
We, as followers of Jesus, don’t have a choice in this matter. As followers of Jesus, we are agents of peace in this world. We are agents of love and kindness to our enemies—to those who hate us, to those who refuse to love us or show kindness to us. We are called by Jesus to love, and when we love, there can be no room in our hearts for anger or hatred.
In our reading from Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul lays it on the line. He does not hold back on this issue:
“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice” Paul writes, “and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
But, then, as though to drive home his point, he puts before us a challenge like few other challenges.
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
“Be imitators of God,” Paul says to us. Be imitators of the God of love we worship. Be imitators of the God of love who loves each of us fully and completely. Be imitators of the God of love who loves us for who we are, just as we are.
For me, this has to be the most difficult thing about being a follower of Jesus. There are days when I want to be angry at those people who have wronged me and hurt me. There are days when I want to get revenge on them and “show them.” There are days when it feels almost pleasurable to think about “getting even” with those people and “putting them in their place.” That is certainly the easier thing to do—at least for me. But driving that anger and hatred and frustration from me is so much harder.
Being an imitator of God—a God of radical acceptance—is much harder, much more difficult. To be an imitator of the God of love takes much work. But, in the end, it’s better. Life is just so much better when the darkness of anger is gone from it. Life seems so much less dangerous when we realize everyone is not our enemy. Life is so much sweeter when we refuse to see a person as an enemy who sees us as their enemy. Life is just always so much better when peace and love reign.
Yes, I know. It seems so Pollyannaish. It seems so naïve. It seems as though we are deceiving ourselves. But, the fact is, it takes a much stronger person to love. It takes a very strong person to act in peace and love and not in anger and fear. It takes a person of radical strength to be an imitator of a God of radical love. The strength it takes to maintain peace in a time of strife is more incredible than anyone can even imagine.
I have had more than one former enemy become my friend, or at least my acquaintance, because of the effort to maintain peace rather than to antagonize. Not always. But a few times, peace has changed people’s hearts.
Peace can do that. It can change people. But it has to change us first. We, as followers of Jesus, as imitators of God, need to rid ourselves of the thorns and brambles of hatred and anger to let the flowers of peace blossom in our lives. But it begins with us. It begins with us seeing ourselves for who are—loved children of God attempting to imitate that God.
So, let us be true followers of Jesus in all aspects of our lives. Let us strive to imitate our God of peace and love in everything we do. Let us let peace and love reign in our hearts and in our lives. Let that peace and love overcome all that anger, the hatred, the frustrated that seems to reign in most of the world. And when we let peace and love reign, we will find that it permeates through us. Everything we do is an act of peace, is an act of love to others.
And that is what being a follower of Jesus in this world is. That is the sermon we preach to others. That is the message of Christ’s love that we proclaim in our very lives. That is evangelism. And that is what each of is not only called to do by Jesus, but commanded to do by him.
“Live in love as Christ loved us,” Paul says to each of us.
When we do, that love will change the world.
Sunday, August 5, 2012
Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78.23-29; John 6.24-35
+ For those of you who know me, you know I don’t complain a lot. I really don’t. In fact, I think, to some extent, that I have perfected the art of putting on the professional mask when things go awry. Some of you have mentioned lately that you were surprised by some of my latest Facebook updates in which I confessed to be dealing with a lot of physical pain recently following my car accident in June. I’ve learned that I can fake it very well and I have perfected that art of making sure no one knows what’s going on inside me, especially during the liturgies. It’s a good thing to master for a priest.
But, let me tell you, privately, I do complain a lot. And to my inner circle of friends and colleagues, I complain more than I should. Not about any of you, of course. Now about St. Stephen’s. But about my physical aches and pains, which have increased tremendously these past few weeks. And, of course, some of issues with the larger church as well.
I do have to admit, it has been a very difficult summer—for many reasons. Which of course is simply the capstone on two of the most difficult years of my life. These difficult times are what you have heard me call “fast years.” I don’t mean “fast” as in speed. I mean fast as in fasting. As in lean years. As in years of hunger. And I’m not talking about physical hunger. But spiritual hunger. Maybe emotional hunger.
These have been years of my own personal “wandering about in the wilderness,” so to speak. And we all have to have these fast years. Because as we all know, as Christians, we have fasting in our lives and we have feasting. That’s just the way life works.
So, I hope the few people who have actually heard me complain during these past few “fast years”, will forgive me. But complaining is not necessarily a bad thing.
Certainly today, we get some complaining in our scripture readings. In our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures—from Exodus—we find the Israelites, in their hunger, complaining and grumbling. In some translations, we find the word “murmuring.” Over and over again in the Exodus story they seem to complain and grumble and murmur.
To be fair, complaining and grumbling would be expected from people who are hungry. We, in their place, would be doing the same thing no doubt. But in their hunger, God provides for them. God provides them this mysterious manna—this strange bread from heaven.
Nbody’s real clear what this mysterious manna actually was. It’s often described as flakes, or a dew-like substance. But it was miraculous.
In our psalm, we find the story of the Israelites in the wilderness echoed in song and poetry. We find the psalmist proclaiming that
“God satisfied their greed”
In the Prayer Book’s version of the Psalm, that phrase if translated. “God gave them what they craved.” I love that phrase.
“[God] gave them what they craved.”
It also adds an other word to our “lexicon of the day”—craving. Craving is a great word to use. Craving seems to truly convey the gnawing aspect of hunger. And again, not necessarily physical hunger from lack of food. If were to ask ourselves what is it we are craving in our own lives, few of would probably say it is food. But many of us would say things like, love, or acceptance or peace of mind. Or maybe we’re just craving the fact that a nation-wide restaurant chain like Chick-Fil-A will just close. Or at least turn their hearts and minds away from their weird homophobia.
Finally, in our Gospel, we find the story of the Israelites and their hunger has been turned around entirely. As our Liturgy of the Word for today begins with hunger and all the complaining and murmuring and grumbling and craving that goes along with it, it ends with fulfillment. We find that the hungers now are truly the hungers and the cravings we have just discussed—the hungers and the cravings of our souls, of our hearts. Now, this kind of spiritual hunger is just as real and just as all-encompassing as physical hunger. It, like physical hunger, can gnaw at us.
We too crave after spiritual fulfillment. We mumble and complain and murmur when we are spiritually unfulfilled. We too feel that gaping emptiness within us when we hunger from a place that no physical food or drink can quench. In a sense, we too are, like the Israelites, wandering about in our own wilderness—our own spiritual wilderness. Most of us know what is like to be out there—in that spiritual wasteland—grumbling and complaining, shaking our fists at the skies and at God. We, like them, cry and lament. We feel sorry for ourselves and for the predicaments we’re in. And we, like them, say to ourselves and to God, “If only I hadn’t followed God out here—if only I had stayed put or followed the easier route, I wouldn’t be here.”
We’ve all been in that place. We’ve all been in that desert, to that place we thought God had led us. We went so self-assuredly. We went certain this was what God wanted for us. We had read all the signs. We had listened to that subtle voice of the Spirit within us. We had gauged our calling from God through the discernment of others. And them, suddenly, there we were. What began as a concentrated stepping forward, had become an aimless wandering. And, in that moment, we found ourselves questioning everything—we questioned ourselves, we questioned the others who discerned our journey, we questioned the Spirit who spoke within us. And, in our emptiness, in our frustration, we questioned God. And we complain. And we lament.
Lamenting is a word that seems kind of outdated for most of us. We think of lamenting being some overly dramatic complaining. Which is exactly what it is. It was what we do when we feel things like desolation. Like hunger, few of us, again I hope, have felt utter desolation. But when we do, we know, as followers of Jesus, that we will find our strength and consolation in the midst of that spiritual wilderness. We know that manna will come to us in that spiritual desert. And that manna, for us, is the Eucharist. The Eucharist sustains us and holds us up during those times. All we have to do, when we can’t seem to do anything else, is partake of it. And when we do, we know that Jesus will be present for us.
Jesus is very present in the Bread we share and the wine we drink. This is what Eucharist is all about. This is why the Eucharist is so important to us. Here, we truly do eat the Bread of angels. Here, we do partake of the grain of heaven. In this Eucharist, at this altar, we find Jesus, present to us in just the way we need him to present to us. In our hunger, he feeds us with himself. In our grumbling and complaining, he quiets us, for when we are eating and drinking, we can’t complain and grumble. And unlike the food we eat day by day, the food we eat at this altar will not perish.
In this Eucharist, in the Presence of Jesus we find in this bread and this wine, we find that our grumbling and murmuring and complaining have been silenced with that quiet but sure statement that comes to us from that Presence we encounter here:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
In the echo of that statement, we are silenced. In the wake of those powerful words, we find our emptiness fulfilled. We find the strength to make our way out of the wilderness to the promised land Jesus proclaims to us.
“I am the bread of life,” he says to us.
This is the bread of life, here at this altar.
“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
So, let us come to the bread of life Let us him take from us our gnawing hunger and our craving thirst. And when does, he will have given what we have been craving all along.