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Don't repeat the mistake on page 847 of The Prayer Book . Here is what God really requires from the chosen people:
A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
“The Bread of Life”
HOMILY PREACHED AT THE ORDINATION OF PEGGY BRYAN: JUNE 25, 2010
By The Rev. Ernest Cockrell
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The appearance of bread on the world stage marked a beginning of civilization. Baked from a variety of grains, with various shapes, textures and tastes, its appeal has continued through the centuries because of its nutritional value - good nourishment. Our recent pilgrimage to the Holy Land confirmed the central role bread has played in our Christian faith: “Give us this day our daily bread,” inscribed with the Lord’s Prayer in hundreds of languages on the Mount of Olives; hearing the words of the Eucharist at Saint George’s, Jerusalem:
“Blessed are you, Lord of Creation. Through your goodness we have this bread to offer, which earth has given and human hands have made”
- a great expression of the Incarnation! Standing in the Upper Room on Mount Zion we were reminded of Jesus’ use of bread: “when you do this, remember. . .” And at that ethereal liturgy at Emmaus in Abu Ghosh we recalled Luke’s Easter story of the disciples’ eye-opening experience, which we acclaim in Eucharistic Prayer C: “Risen Lord, be known to us in the breaking of the bread.” As a priest, Peggy, you’ll be empowered to make that same Resurrection Bread!
A student in religion class explained that “Moses led the Jews to the Red Sea where they made unleavened bread, which is bread without ingredients.” Unfortunately , too many people are being fed that kind of bread. Like belief, bread is supposed to be nourishing, but – like some of our modern “white bread” - it can also contain empty calories.
People in the 21st century want to know what’s in the bread we serve. Is it edible? Real? Nourishing? A lot isn’t. Remember Jesus’ teaching – Matthew 7: “Is there a man among you who would hand his son a stone when he asked for bread?” – or as we might translate today: “Would you hand your child Styrofoam for bread?” I’m concerned that theological Styrofoam is sometimes served for bread, trying to convince people that it’s edible and nourishing. People know better. Too often the Universal Church serves old, moldy bread no longer fit to eat. Like packaged breads now-a-days, our communion bread theology should have an expiration date: “Fresh until. . . .”
This is nothing new. Charles Gore, Bishop of Oxford from 1911-1918 wrote,
“Jesus Christ is not frozen in the first century – he is part of an infinite variety of human experiences which alter from age to age. To imitate him will be to find out what the contemporary age is like and how love is expressed in it. (Are you listening, Anglican Communion?!) We may have to accept that the discipline of thoughtful holiness may be radically different from that labeled Christian in other periods of history.”
Like the words of the hymn, “Time makes ancient good uncouth,” time can turn ancient bread to dust. We are not called to serve – or eat – 2,000 year-old bread. It can be filled with remnants of outdated world views and Inquisitions, moral failures and
narrow-minded thinking which threaten to override Jesus’ inclusive love.
It’s time to let lay people know the ingredients of faith taught in seminaries for many years, and get honest about the Bible – such as tonight’s gospel. Those amazing words, “I am the Bread of Life,” probably expressed the faith of the early Church – an ancient creed, not words spoken by Jesus, who lived by faith, not certainty - and did not have “all the answers in the back of the book.” Neither did Jesus focus on himself, posing for pictures, so to speak. He was taking the pictures – his attention focused on other people, not himself. Plus, we need to remind people that the gospels were written in hindsight, so when you read them, you’re not looking at the front page of a newspaper, you’re reading the editorial page – and that includes John’s magnificent theology which affirms for us Christians that Jesus is the Bread of Life.
Since the bread of scripture was baked in pre-Enlightenment ovens, the Church has a problem evangelizing our 21st century generation when it’s not being transparent, distinguishing theology from history, since recorded action and its meaning are baked right in together. An article in TIME Magazine back in April headlined: “What Would Mary Do?” The author wrote: “Jesus, of course, said nothing about the role women would play in his future Church.” Does anyone dare say aloud that Jesus didn’t know about “a future church?” It’s time to get real – and honest! – with people who live in a world view unknown to the gospel writers - or to Jesus. For example: earthquakes are not from God, but tectonic plates.
One problem you may encounter as a priest, Peggy, is that not every person wants real bread - in communion or thought, as if some are accustomed to eating the old wafers that dissolve on the roof of your mouth – no chewing allowed! We’re lucky that Saint Andrew’s has really good bread!! Even if it may be more nourishing, new kinds of bread may feel or taste differently. Be patient. Reality ultimately can intrude, unveiling fake bread and opening a yearning for the real stuff.
The old stones given for bread may be some of the stones that need to be rolled away at Easter to see the living Body of Christ in our own time, bread containing real nourishment, combining spirit and reality to which people can say “Amen” with heart and mind. “Amen” to freshly baked Resurrection Bread. But. . . “Sir, where can we find this bread?”
We are fortunate that in his life and teaching - and his attitude in the face of death, Jesus gave us the recipe! It goes something like this: start with a cup of honest truth; sift to rid any weevils that have invaded his process through time, sifting away prejudice, out-of-date world views, bigotry and absolute certainty. (It’s impossible to remove it all, but heat from baking will purify.) Add a heaping teaspoon of gratitude. To give it body, stir into the mixtue the fiber of sincere, loving-care. Add the milk of human kindness and the eggs of total commitment to justice and equality. Add the yeast of Jesus to make it rise - of course! Stir it all together with energetic joy! Then use your bare hands to knead it - maybe work through your struggles with Paul! – so to reconcile all the ingredients in a way that brings nourishment and strength. Allow the dough to rest for 3 days in mystery beyond intellect – but not anti-intellectual, giving the dough a chance to rise. Bake in the fire of the Spirit, and serve with love in the context of Isaiah’s amazing vision of God joined with a new vision of the universe for our day that looks like this:
In 2004 the Hubble Telescope was pointed at an empty patch of space near the Constellation Orion, aimed at a tiny bit of space the size of a grain of sand held out at arm’s length. The lens of the telescope was left open for ten days. Photons that had been travellig for billions of years were recorded. Over 10,000 galaxies appeared, each one containing billions of stars, their light having started when the universe was only five million years old. Together the awesome visions of Isaiah and Hubble form the context of your new ministry, the world in which you are going to be serving that Resurrection Bread with the words, “The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven.”
Peggy (standing): This new world is filled with hungry people, yearning to be fed nourishing bread. As you embark on your new vocation I hope you’ll remember our time around the Sea of Galilee a few weeks ago: that mosaic of loaves and fishes in the church at Tabgha: ordinary bread baked by an ordinary person which became - in the hands of Christ - bread sufficient to feed that multidude. Bishop Mary is about to ordain you priest, giving you license to be a baker of Resurrection Bread, transforming ordinary bread into spiritual nourishment to feed the Body of Christ. Be a good and faithful baker of bread so fragrant, tasty, and nourishing that people will ask for the recipe! It comes with this tag:
May the Babe of Bethlehem bring you Joy,
May the Youth of Nazareth bring you Hope;
May the Man of Galilee bring you Strength;
and may the Risen Lord of Jerusalem bring you Love – and the blessing of God!
Copyright: Ernest W. Cockrell 6/25/10
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