“The greatest spiritual battle begins- and never ends- with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love”
~Henri Nouwen from Life of the Beloved (48-49).
Today I decided to make a loaf of bread. It is a wonderful gluten-free mix from King Arthur Flour. I found it when I was living gluten-free. As I stirred together the ingredients, I remembered communion. I think of communion because this is the mix I used at my previous congregation to make communion bread for worship a few times and for my wedding.
Stirring the mix, I found myself thinking about the challenges our congregation had as we tried to have bread for communion that was made by the members. Being on the Worship and Art Committee and being the one who suggested it, I wanted things to go well. My reasoning for the use of real bread (even if bought from a local store), was that it was a better symbol for what the Bread of Christ is as a body. Jesus didn’t come to us neatly packed in cellophane and separated into countable pieces. Jesus came to us as an embodiment; as a whole.
“When we invite friends for a meal, we do much more than offer them food for their bodies. We offer friendship, fellowship, good conversation, intimacy, and closeness. When we say: “Help yourself … take some more … don’t be shy … have another glass,” we offer our guests not only our food and our drink but also ourselves. A spiritual bond grows, and we become food and drink for one another other.
In the most complete and perfect way, this happens when Jesus gives himself to us in the Eucharist as food and drink. By offering us his Body and Blood, Jesus offers us the most intimate communion possible. It is a divine communion.” – Henri Nouwen
Like anything that humans try, nothing can be predicted. One of the things I could not predict was how people were not willing to step up and participate. A few did of course, but not as many as I expected. Some even complained that we were going to try. Here’s what happened as different people tried. Sometimes it was comical.
There were times when the chalice bearer (or cup passer outer) followed too closely on the heels of the pastor. The pastor would share largish portions at times because the breaking of bread is not neat when the bread is fresh. Sometimes large chunks tore apart. The pastor handed the bread to the people as it came apart. This meant that some people had big bites of bread. There was a bit of laughter at the table because those with the larger chunks of bread could not chew it before the cupbearer came offering the wine. Later, some said that they felt they almost choked or that they took a bite of the chunk and then took the rest back to finish in the pew. Doesn’t that sound like a family meal to you?
Once, one of the loaves was so dry, it was hard for the pastor to break. In addition to coming off in squarish chunks, it was crumbly and left crumbs at the feet of both the pastor and the communicant. Then, the bread was so dry it was hard to swallow even
Matthew 15:21-28 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
with that bit of wine. Doesn’t that sound just like God to give to us and we think something is hard to swallow? Isn’t that just like sharing a meal with family around a table? Not all of us are bakers and even some of the best bakers have a bad day. Also, we were trying to be thoughtful to those who were allergic to wheat or gluten intolerant. Baking gluten-free is quite the challenge.
Perhaps the smartest one of us was the organist. She found some gluten-free pita rounds. The circular bread, held up at the sacramental offering rose from the table like the sun. When the pastor tore it, it split proportionately, but also ragged like torn flesh would be.
Though we don’t like to think of torn flesh, the bread is supposed to represent that part of Jesus’ humanity; that part of God’s redemption. Then, once the pita was torn, we all soon realized it was challenging for some of us to chew. Isn’t that just like family? Not the part where some family members “chew” us out, but that sometimes dealing with the tougher members of the body of the church can be a bit taxing. Jesus called fishermen as the first disciples. We can bet they were tough.
Our small congregation tried for several months to continue to bake bread for communion. The sad part is that we began to see it as a chore rather than a gift. I love to bake, but even I became weary of making sure I had the bread baked on time so that I
would remember to take it to the church for the altar guild. It wasn’t long before the church returned to wafers. Isn’t that also like family? No matter what happens, we go back home and our grandma or mother or father says, “You want something to eat?” Feeding is a sign of love and nurture.
When our family, friends, neighbors, parish share a meal with us, we are chosen as beloved. Communion is about being chosen as a beloved of God. Not because we can bake bread or not, but because God chooses to love us in all of our brokenness and enfold us in acceptance. You are beloved. Take that life to bless others so that they may too know of their belovedness.
More quotes from Nouwen’s book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World
“The limited, sometimes broken, love of those who share our humanity can often point us to the truth of who we are: precious in God’s eyes. This truth is not simply an inner truth that emerges from our center. It is also a truth that is revealed to us by the One who has chosen us” (50).
“When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant” (52).
“Deep friendship is a calling forth of each other’s chosenness and a mutual affirmation of being precious in God’s eyes” (54).
“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the deepest affirmation of our true self. It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives” (59).
“Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness. The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed” (71).
“The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity” (77).
“When we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us…[G]reat and heavy burdens become light and easy when they are lived in the light of the blessing. What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge. What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification. What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning. What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion” (79).
“Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others” (85).
“True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others” (87).
“As the Beloved ones, our greatest fulfillment lies in becoming bread for the world” (89).[i]