My Life Will Be Full
The Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost (RCL, Year B)
August 19, 2012
August 19, 2012 —St. Mark’s
“My Life Will Be Full”
I have never forgotten to this day the time when I was not invited to Granddaddy’s house for Sunday lunch. I was 12 years old and it was summer and I was on Nantucket with all my Tennessee cousins whom I loved. The word was that Granddaddy was going to have his whole family, which included my mother, her sister and two brothers plus all their spouses and children–my cousins–over to his house. This was a big deal. It didn’t happen often. And besides a southern Sunday lunch is a huge deal in itself, not the tuna sandwiches of a northern family like mine. I was excited. Then, my parents casually dropped the bomb: because of space limitations at the table, we Deutsch children, David, Judy, and Woody, were not invited. I’ve never talked to my siblings about his, but I am still upset to this day. I felt hurt, left out of my family, and discouraged. Discouraged from the French word “coeur” meaning heart, and “dis” meaning apart. I felt separated from my heart. I didn’t know it at the time, but I think deep down I knew I was locked out of my beloved community. I not only couldn’t share in the food, but I couldn’t share in the stories that always bubble up when southerners get together.
When I read the Gospel passage from John, it stirred up my emotions, and I thought of the story I just told. My theology is mostly disjointed and sometimes non-existent. But over the years I have been increasingly interested in relating what we, I, do in church to what we do outside of church. And I often think of the sacred shared meal we have every Sunday. And I often think that meals we share outside the walls of this building can be equally sacred. Christine Pohl, in her marvelous book Making Room; Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Traditionwrites that
A shared meal is the activity most closely tied to the reality of God’s Kingdom, just as it is the most basic expression of hospitality.
Pohl goes on to say that hospitality means treating strangers with the same amount of kindness one would give to friends and family. “Hospitality is a concrete expression of love.”
If we share the living bread with each other and with God on a Sunday, then are we not then to share the living bread with others outside these walls on any day of the week? Living bread, it seems to me, is a physical symbol of that which is life affirming, that which can tie us to the Kingdom of God. I do not think that we are to walk out of St. Mark’s hoarding our living bread…which really is hoarding ourselves. We are to practice hospitality because it is a real example of love. Sharing can be life affirming. And being turned away can feel like death. It can feel discouraging.
Moreover, in the Gospel of John…and let me digress for a moment: I used to find John’s Gospel incomprehensible and in bad need of editing. Those long Jesus “I am” passages go on forever and the rhythm seems so weird coming off the other Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. But I have grown to appreciate John. His incarnational theology resonates with me. Incarnational theology posits that God is among us and in us. This can most directly seen in the very beginning of John in verse 1: “…the Word became flesh and lived among us.” John seems to move beyond church walls. God is not living in a building somewhere
Anyway, today’s Gospel passage is John’s take on Communion. But guess what? There are no words of institution as in the other Gospels. The words of institution are the: “He took the bread gave thanks, broke it, etc.,” or, He took the glass of wine, blessed it and said…” The words of institution are said right here at St. Mark’s every Sunday. But they are not in the Gospel of John. I love what Gail O’Day, a professor at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, has to say:
Johanine Eucharistic [Eucharist, Greek for thanksgiving, is another word for communion. I prefer communion.] theology…poses a challenge to those churches, Catholic and some Protestant, that elevate the role of the person who presides at the Eucharist. By placing his eucharistic theology in the context of the bread of life discourse rather than an Institution narrative found in the Synoptics [Matthew, Mark, and Luke], the Fourth Evangelist emphasizes the personal dimension of the sacrament rather than the instutionalization and institutional control of the sacrament…The believer’s participation in the eucharist thus revolves around Jesus’ gift and the believer’s relationship to Jesus, not on the mediation of the church.
The key for me is the emphasis on the personal dimension of the sacrament and away from institutional control. It is a door through which we can take communion to the world beyond the church.
All the above–the shared meal as an activity most closely tied to God’s kingdom and the de-instutionalization of communion–leads me to look for ways that I can share the living bread with others in my life outside of a St. Mark’s Sunday.
For me, and perhaps many of you, I found my first experience at the Shelter Ministry a great example of ways to share communion outside a church service. I will confess up front that I did not want to spend the night but I particularly did not want to share a meal. I felt a curious tension of being inadequate but also too much upper middle class. I would never be able to relate and I would probably just end up saying something totally embarrassing or even accidentally hurtful. The answer was to stay away. But, of course, Stephanie was running the program. I went.
I had an amazing time. One of the children was interested in airplanes. I ran home and brought over some my airplane books…I like airplanes, too. So we talked airplanes before and after dinner, looking at pictures of Spads, B-17s, and Saber Jets. Other conversations were going on around the table. It was communion–a coming together in community during which we shared our stories…some of which were about airplanes! Everyone enjoyed the meal and I dare say, each other. It was life affirming. It was the exact opposite of the feeling I had when I was not invited to my Granddaddy’s house for lunch.
Now I don’t want to paint a Norman Rockwell portrait here: young and old, black and white, rich and poor, male and female, posing together in a nostalgic rendering of cutesy images. The next morning all of us began once again to cope with the same raggedy problems that dog us every day: work, finding work, mortgage payments, bus fare, coping with aging parents, coping with child care, fighting our demons, trying to keep on keeping on. But here’s the point: for a brief moment, all involved gave each other the bread of life, which I mean to say, each was life affirming for the others. In an awesome way, I felt affirmed. During that sacred, life-affirming meal in Baxter House, we gave each other encouragement–again from that French word “coeur” heart…we filled each other’s heart.
But it doesn’t last. That’s why we are called upon to do it again and again. I need encouragement every day. I need my heart filled every moment. And, I guess, so do you. It feels good to be affirmed…to have one’s heart full as well as to have one’s stomach full. Hospitality is a concrete expression of love.
I will end by sharing the email Liz Layton put on the St. Mark’s egroup several weeks ago. It took place at a Shelter Ministry dinner at Baxter House:
So declared bouncy little Veona, aged 5, who, with her mother, is a guest of our shelter this month, “If I eat more my belly will be full, and my life will be full.”
Christine Pohl, Making Room, Eerdmans, 1999, p-30
Gail O’Day, The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, Abingdon, 1995, pps-613-614