Bread and ...

Passage: Luke 24:36-48; Psalm 4:7
Date: August 09, 2009
Preacher: Rev David Hutchinson
Guest Preacher:

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    How do every day things take on holy significance?
    Or to put it another way…what makes something ordinary - into something special?

    This question might at first seem as simple as asking why a little girl would rather have her older sisters “hello kitty” cup - rather than her own sippy cup - even though her own cup contains juice - and her sisters only has water in it.  It’s because the cup she wants is her sisters.  And so no matter how ordinary the contents, it is appealing because it is her sisters.  And now nothing else will do.  
    A similar version of this explanation might be found in the image of a framed belt buckle.  It is on the wall of my study.  It was my grandfather’s.  I would never wear it, and it is basically worn out.  But I remember him wearing it.  And it is special.  Almost…holy.
    So, sometimes ordinary things bring to mind special things or people.
    But ordinary also means something like daily: as in daily bread.
    There is something familiar about those things that we do every day.
    Familiar, like in family, maybe.
    Have you ever thought about the connections between those words: ordinary, ordinal, daily, everyday, familiar, family….?
    In a way bread is all of these things.  We share it every day with family.  Or at least, we often share ordinary bread with the people with whom we live.  Or at least, that is the idea Jesus may have had in mind, when he picked up a loaf of bread and gave it eternally holy significance by associating it with his body.   
    So bread is ordinary.
    And for us it also has holy significance.
    There is a fancy word for daily and ordinary: quotidian.  Quotidian means daily, or occurring every day.  It also means usual or ordinary.  It can be used to refer to daily ordinary household chores.  
    In a little book called the Quotidian Mysteries, Kathleen Norris explores the connection between daily things and holy things.  At one point in the book she describes her experience of a Roman Catholic mass.  This is an observation she made attending one of her first Roman Catholic Masses - - and while watching the Lord’s Supper closely - for really the first time in a while.     
    She had grown up Protestant - - and her husband Catholic - but he had not worshiped regularly at the time.     This observation came at the beginning of a kind of spiritual and creative awakening for her:
    “I watched the ceremony - intently - from far back in the big stone church.   /   And at one point - I gasped - “Look!” - I tugged on my husband David’s sleeve.
    “Look at that !    /    The priest is cleaning up !   He’s doing the dishes !”
    When she wrote that - she was referring to that part of the Catholic mass in which the cup and wafers are put away - - as PART of the celebration of the Supper. 
    “He’s doing the dishes !”
    “My husband shrugged.    /    Others in the pew looked at me - and then at him - as if to say - - Dave, your girlfriend has gone soft in the head.
    But it was remarkable.”
    “That in a fancy church - after all the formalities - homage was paid to the lowly truth - - that we human beings must wash the dishes after we eat and drink.”
    “The chalice - - which had held the very blood of Christ - was no exception. 
    And I found it enormously comforting to see the priest as a kind of daft - overdressed - housewife - - washing up - - after having served so great a meal.”
    Norris wrote this little book long before the movie with Meryl Streep as Julia Child was released, of course.  But as I read this last week I couldn’t help thinking of Julia Child and Streep, and of Julia Child’s ordinary approach to things. 
    Kathleen Norris goes on to describe her experience of watching this priest “do the dishes” and the effect it had on her…
    “It welcomed me - - a stranger.
    This was - my door in.”        / / 
    The chalice - which had held the very blood of Christ. . .
    The plate - on which rests the very body. . .
    Broken - - - - - for us. . . 
    And the connection - - - between the mystery - - - and the daily.  /
    The connection is - - - that - it is in seeking the holy - - - day after day after day after day after day after day after day after day - - - - - - - in a daily way - - that we begin to ENCOUNTER  the holy in a deeper way.
    That is what daily prayer is about.
    That is what joining a PARTICULAR church congregation is about.
    That is what the Lord’s Table is about.
    There is no easy way to say it.
    There’s no quick fix.
    No - - - fulfillment in 5 easy lessons. 
    Like there is no pro golfer - - - or pianist - - - or physically fix person at the gym - - or whatever - - - - - without - - - the daily.
    How can I add glamour to a thing like that ?
    How can I draw you into it ?
    I’m not sure.
    We are not celebrating Communion this morning.  We do that on the first Sunday of every month.  And so today maybe we are taking a moment to do a mental step back and think about the meaning behind what we do.  And maybe that will prepare us better for the next time. 
    We are not celebrating Communion this morning, but you all will probably eat something before you go to sleep tonight.  Maybe you could think about whatever you eat in a different way.  Or about your chores.  Or doing the dishes.  How do these daily, ordinary things remind us of God?
    Maybe it has something to do with our dependence.  If we didn’t eat we would eventually die.  And so Bread and life go together.  Life is nourished by bread.  Bread is basic every day stuff, AND it is essential and necessary for life.
    Anyone who has ever wished that their sick friend or relative would eat more - - while watching them grow thin in a hospital - - knows this to be true.  
    Or anyone who has ever known a lonely person who eats and eats to fill a void, or a wealthy recluse who enjoys expensive food alone in a secluded dining room with a long table and one lonely chair at the end, knows this from another side.
    Bread and nourishment are for living.
    And living is the only way we come to know God.  
    In our ordinary lives, we have holy encounters. 
    In the Gospel reading for today - - from John chapter 6 - - Jesus draws what seems like a CONTRAST - between DAILY bread or as he calls it, “the food that perishes” - - - AND on the other hand - the bread of LIFE which is: “the food that endures to eternal life”  -  as he says.
     Jesus says, “do you seek me - because you ate your fill of loaves ?”
    And as he says this we are expected to remember - the feeding of the hungry 5000 - on a hillside - with 5 loaves.   /
    Jesus says, “I am the bread of heaven - giving life to the world”
    That loaf that fills your stomach for a day is nothing - - 
        - - compared to - really living - nourished in spirit - - 
        - - and yet even THAT loaf of bread - a regular loaf - is the difference between life and death.   /   We DO need bread to eat.    /   Without it we would die.   /   SO - - think how much MORE then - - - is the value of the bread of heaven.
    Without which our spirits - and our souls - would die.
    Daily bread.
    And the bread of eternal life.
    That - is the tension - - - that gives LIFE - - - to this text.
    Consider another example - a man - described in an article by Stephen Shoemaker:
    In his church - communion is always served after an evening meal.  Every Thursday night.  So put yourself into the room in your imagination.  Thursday evening in Shoemaker’s church, might be a bit like Friday at Grace Meals if you have ever helped with that ministry of Westminster and Grace Episcopal church here in Portland.  Communion is not served at the end of Grace Meals, but otherwise the setting is similar.  So there you are at this meal.  And there is a man at the table.  
    Now look across the table at him:
    “. . . A    middle-aged man - - came for communion.”, writes Shoemaker,  “As I served him he made the sign of the cross - and tears streamed down his face.  Afterwards I said glibly, “Come back next week, the food is always good.”
    He stopped me.   “The food’s not why I come,” he said as he nodded toward the fellowship hall.    /    “THIS is why I come,”   he said - - - pointing to the Lord’s table - - and the bread and cup.”
    The story draws a distinction between ordinary food and the bread and cup of the Lord’s table.  But I wonder about that distinction.  Maybe the other way to go would be to invest ordinary things with holiness.  Maybe we need to BLUR the LINE more between what is ordinary and what is holy.  
    How could we blur that line?
    Would it be good to do?
    Would it help us cross it?
    Would it sanctify and heal our daily lives?
    Would it put us in touch with God more closely?
    Another poem - about a meals-on-wheels program - also found in Quotidian Mysteries 
             called,   “Nutrition Site” :
    We are off-site now,
    in the van, delivering
    hot meals
    in a fierce winter.     /
    One widow’s house
    smells of stale water.
    Ancient linoleium peels
    and buckles - on the wounded hardwood floor.

    Her Valentine roses
    have lost their bloom;
    wrinkled, they droop
    on their stems,
    as if weighted by beauty.

    Their beauty.   Yes.

    Like the widow’s icy walk,
    her gnarled hand on the lap robe,
    in the musty living room,      
    her Bible

    Her Bible open to Isaiah 35:
    “and the desert shall rejoice,
    and blossom as the rose,”

    her wrinkly smile
    as I knock and enter.   
    Beauty, yes.
    All of it.
    And truth.