the penultimate WORD
Series 2009 - July
Whoever comes to me...
Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” 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.” John 6: 32ff.
Paper plates and napkins are dealt around the table with the deft hand of a croupier at a Casino. Other hands count out plastic knives and forks like chips, while another distributes plastic cups. Large bottles of chilled pop are cracked open and plastic wrap is hungrily torn from bowls of salads that decorate the table: a cornucopia of lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bacon bits, potatoes, onions, apples and raisins. The colours are festive and the combinations are limitless. Plates are filled with a variety of creations and cups are filled with beverages reflecting a caffeine preference.
Everyone came hungry and thirsty. They gather weekly during this fourth Salad and Study Series in as many summers. The ten of us sit, and grace is said and the summer minion begins to share the meal and their day while the late afternoon sun slips behind an elm and gives us shade.
Seconds are offered and where the eye is still hungry, taken. Cups are refilled. Bowls are emptied and garbage quickly assigned to a large bag and set aside. The table cleared, a Cross is placed in the midst, along with a Chalice and two containers, one holding consecrated wine the other consecrated wafers. Our study begins in a journey to Emmaus on a hot summer day – and will conclude at this table as Bread is broken. Epiphanies await us.
Our expectations cannot be much different from that of Jesus’ disciples who pressed him for signs and miracles. John recorded at least one episode when Jesus encountered their impatience. While a miracle may touch us and momentarily satisfy us, we digest them quickly and we hunger for more. As good as the best we have had may be, it is never sufficient to quench our deepest hunger. We have discovered this to be true with our Salad and Study Series and four summers bear witness to a hunger felt deep amongst us all. We look for more.
The People of God have always looked for more.
While the salad dressings and the fresh produce satisfy, the satisfaction is limited and we remain after the table is cleared, looking for more. Moses and the Prophets lay a foundation and the discussion across the table weaves a pattern that encourages each one to reach beyond their comfort.
An earlier generation was satisfied with the manna Moses instructed them to gather in the wilderness. But offered more, a later generation asked for that which comes down from heaven. God’s provision holds promise beyond the expected as an Easter paradigm unfolds at the end of a long day. Moses and the Prophets provide the arena for us to allow penetrating questions. And on this journey to Emmaus we discover that the questions bring us back inexorably to Jesus. While Luke finds the forum on a long afternoon walk, John gives expression to Jesus’ teaching on the Galilean shore.
In either case, that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world is recognized in the bread of life: an expression of Jesus that satisfies the deepest hunger. Not simply tolerated as a Lenten discipline, and not part of a pious Advent preparation, this summer feast finds participants – disciples all – at a Messianic banquet that interrupts a busy summer agenda and gives the assurance that we will never be hungry, we will never by thirsty.
Wrestling with the accepted societal wisdom, we explore what our faith means in the midst of the conflicts we face daily. It can’t be far removed from the three walking with heavy foot steps along the Emmaus Road. It echoes unrecorded discussion that the disciples gathered on the Galilean shore had with the Rabbi from Nazareth. And it happens each summer now, and regularly throughout the year and always brings us back to a Host and Chalice. It did it then; it does it still. As our discussion concluded, one led us in prayer.
Copyright © 2009 James T. Irvine
Salad and Study Series
2007 - Hidden in Plain Sight
2008 - The Provocative Church