The back door would slam and I would shout, Mom, I’m home. I would enter our kitchen and soak up the aroma of freshly baking bread. Mom would slice off a chunk and slather it with butter and peanut butter, and I would be in heaven with my after school snack. My belly was full, I was content, and there was nothing in the whole wide world that could harm me. Full, safe, and protected, my mom never had to say I love you, I knew that in the loaf of bread.
Jesus said to them, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Last week I said that this feeding is a massive picnic in the wilderness. Not only is the bread Jesus’ body, but it is manna from heaven, the bread of angels. The wine is not just Jesus’ blood, but the free-flowing drink at the messianic feast, the substance of joy. Word and table are brought together by the image of word as bread.
A loaf of bread is as practical as it is mysterious. Being Christian is as practical as it is mysterious. We make a huge mistake when we think that being Christian is to assent to a certain set of rules. Being Christian is much more about practice and much less about morality. We are a people who take in this bread of life and whose lives flow from the sustenance and the nurture that the bread of life provides. Being Christian is not about assenting to certainty, but about living a certain way, and becoming what God intends for us to be. We come here week after week, and week after week we take into our bodies the bread of life, we ingest the Word over and over again. In this practice, we become the people of God, we become a community of faith, we become who God creates us to be.
Part of the mystery is that the loaf of bread teaches us who we are as well as transforms us into whom we may be. Our practice and prayer surround the loaf of bread with word and action. There are books upon books about Christian spiritual practice as well as practice from many other spiritual paths. But we already have a book that invites us into practice that feeds us and nourishes us, that gives us life and enfleshes hope. It is our Book of Common Prayer. When we enter into the practice of prayer that our Book of Common Prayer shows us, we may be formed into Christian community, we are formed as people of scripture and people of love and care for one another, and the Good News of God in Jesus may be enfleshed in our midst.
I again commend to you this most wonderful book, filled with prayer, filled with practice, filled with song and psalm and worship. Our prayer book offers the practice of daily prayer, morning, noon, evening and night, alone and in community. This daily prayer teaches us and forms us. These are the words we speak at the break of the day, Lord open our lips, and our mouth shall proclaim your praise. Morning prayer forms us in a way that these words become the first words that are on our mind and our hearts as we begin each day. And at noonday we may pray, Heavenly Father, send your Holy Spirit into our hearts, to direct and rule us according to your will, to comfort us in all our afflictions, to defend us from all error, and to lead us into all truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. I am so thankful for the opportunity to practice prayer and love for others often in my day, because I so rarely get it right. In the evening we pray, O Gracious Light, pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven, O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed. Now as we come to the setting of the sun, and our eyes behold the vesper light, we sing your praises, O God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life, and to be glorified through all the worlds. And lastly, before we go to bed we pray compline, Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the joyous, and all for your love’s sake. And we finish the day with Guide us waking, O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ, and asleep, we may rest in peace. Each of these opportunities to practice prayer brings us deeper into a relationship with God in and through Jesus Christ and by the work of the Holy Spirit. Each of these opportunities binds us together in the community of faith.
We are formed and shaped by our practice of prayer with the Word as bread at our center. I came across a great piece of writing this week that I would like to share with you. It is from Episcopal Café, a web site that offers many things including a daily reflection. A priest at a cathedral was presented with a question from a potential new member about where the cathedral stands on the question of same-sex blessings. This priest struggled for a while trying to discern what the questioner really wanted as an answer, until he decided he would just answer the question and not try to guess how the questioner wanted him to answer. His answer, There are people in this congregation who are fully supportive of the Church’s blessing of same-gender unions. There are people in this congregation who are opposed to the Church’s blessing of same-gender unions. While the Episcopal Church as a denomination is on record as calling for equal protection under the law for all citizens, if you’re looking for a congregation that is of one mind on this issue, you’re going to be disappointed with this one. We don’t have agreement internally on this particular - or many - issues. Instead, we just agree to pray and worship together. We don’t agree with each other. We pray together. The writer goes on to say, as an Episcopalian of catholic leanings and ecumenical enthusiasm, if there’s one thing that argues for the continued existence of an Anglican witness in the Universal Church - it’s our charism of holding firm to praying with those with whom we disagree no matter how hard that is to do. (Thank you to The Very Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely who is Dean of Trinity Cathedral in Phoenix Ariz, found at Episcopalcafe.com) We don’t agree with each other, we pray together, we practice together, we eat together.
Our practice, each time we gather to celebrate the bread in our midst, forms us. We gather in the Lord’s Name, we proclaim and respond to the word of God, we pray for the world and the church, we ask forgiveness for that which we have done and left undone, we offer one another peace, we prepare the table at which we each, we make Eucharist; the Great Thanksgiving, we eat together and there is enough for all, and we are blessed and sent out into the world to do the work that God calls us to do. Practice means that we acknowledge that we need to do it over and over because we don’t get it right the first time, and maybe not even the bazillionth time, and we are humble enough to know that we will need do it all over again.
All of this practice may arise out of our fundamental activity of baptism. We baptize not because we know it all and are perfected, we baptize because our practice of getting wet and slathered with oil helps us to remember who and whose we are. We thank you, Father, for the water of Baptism. In it we are buried with Christ in his death. By it we share in his resurrection. Through it we are reborn by the Holy Spirit. And together we are fed by the word and the bread, for Jesus says to us, I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness: Come let us adore him.
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