Monday, August 31, 2015

The Pharisees: A Study in Fundamentalism

The Pharisees get a bad rap.  There, I said it.  So often we like to label the Pharisees as the villains of the Gospel.  We do this because life is easier when we have clear cut heroes and villains. Just like in Transformers—the good guys are the Autobots and they wear red symbols, and the bad guys are the Deceptions and they wear purple symobls.  The hero of the Gospels is easy—it’s Jesus, by the way—so the Pharisees must be the villains, right?  Well, they’re not; in fact, they’re more like modern-day Christians than we might be comfortably admitting.

In our Gospel from Mark we see the Pharisees chastise Jesus’ followers for eating with defiled hands, that is not washing their hands before a meal.  And then we hear Jesus chastise the Pharisees.  He calls them hypocrites and directly contradicts them by claiming that nothing from the outside can make someone unclean.  Uncleanliness comes from within, not without.  The Pharisees are wrong.  

But who exactly are the Pharisees?  They are, for lack of a better word, fundamentalists.  They know the Torah, the Law, backwards and forwards.  They know the Prophets, and they know that no prophet is supposed to arise from Nazareth, which is why they don’t trust Jesus.  They’re not bad people.  Paul, after all, was a Pharisee and even says so in his letter to the Philippians.  They’re just doing what they think God wants them to do.  God gave them the Law and the Prophets, and they have devoted their whole lives to the Law and the Prophets.  In some ways they are what we all strive to be.  And they’re only doing what Moses commanded the people to do in our reading from Deuteronomy today:  they do not add or take away from the Law and they are diligent in their observations and teachings.  But they’re not the villains. 

The Pharisees try to stick to the letter of the law, rather than the spirit of the law, and their strict adherence has blinded them.  They’ve forgotten what’s important, that ones heart be in the right place.  Forget the fact that Jesus and his disciples are curing people, forget that they are bringing people hope, that they are spreading the Good News that the Kingdom of God is both here and is coming.  No, what matters is that they follow every single letter of the law.  

This tension between strict observance and a somewhat more lax view of religious life will characterize the Church.  It will be at the heart of Paul’s ministry, when he goes to the Gentiles, the worst of the worst as far as his people were concerned, and shares the Good News with them.  It will be at the so-called Council of Jerusalem, when the apostles gathered with other elders and debated which pieces of the Jewish Law were mandatory for followers of Jesus.  And it continues to characterize the Church all the way up to today, leading many to throw up their hands and say, “Why bother?” in the midst of so much arguing.

Every single one of us has acted like a Pharisee at some point in our lives.  That doesn’t mean we’re bad people, it just means that sometimes we put our blinders on and focus so much on our own ways of thinking that we forget what's important, even to the point of neglecting others. We all have ideas on how church should be conducted and how Christians are supposed to act, after all, and whenever change happens we get in a bit of a tizzy.  Maybe it was when the altars got moved off the walls.  Maybe it was when we started ordaining women and openly gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender folks.  Maybe it was when someone dared sit in your pew on a Sunday or the priest said we’re gonna start using a new Prayer Book. The reaction is usually the same, “We’ve never done it that way!”  Those, brothers and sisters, are the last 6 words of a dying church.  Those 6 words were the rallying cry for the Pharisees.  And are still the rallying cry for fundamentalists today. 

There is a fine line between Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism.  Orthodoxy—which the Episcopal Church teaches—is about dogma, those beliefs and deeper Truths about God that the Church has always agreed upon. Fundamentalism is about doctrine, those practices that get added and taken away over time to suit people’s needs, resulting in folks holding on to those doctrines and insisting that salvation can only be achieved by them. Yes, there are things we universally agree upon in order to be part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church—the historic authority of bishops, the Truth of God in Trinity, the legitimacy of the Sacraments, that’s all dogma.  But where the altar stands, or  whether or not I chant or use incense, or whether you kneel or stand during the Eucharistic Prayer, that’s doctrine, and that don’t matter.  In his letter, James warns his readers against focusing on the things that don’t matter.  They are more concerned with the pomp and circumstance of their own worship and forget that, as James puts it, real religion, real worship of God lies in the heart and how we treat one another.  We can sing songs and pray prayers all we want, but if we aren’t genuinely caring about each other, what’s the point?  That’s what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.  James’ congregation coulda been full of Pharisees.  Basically, he’s saying the same thing that Salma Hayek’s Muse said in the classic movie, Dogma:  “Your heart’s in the right place, but you’re brain’s gotta wake up!”  That’s one of those deeper Truths.

Let’s not vilify the Pharisees.  Instead, let's learn from them.  Yes, our lives should be devoted to study of Scripture, to learning more and more about God and living out our faith everywhere everyday.  But let’s not get so hung up on our own ways of worshipping God that we forget what true worship looks like:  remembering what really matters and seeking and serving God in all persons. That's what the Pharisees and other fundamentalists forget. So let us have the grace to put our own doctrines to the side for the sake of dogma, for the sake of embracing the deeper Truths about God.  Because when we embrace those truths, we pay a lot less attention to who’s doing it right and who’s doing it wrong, and we see one another as fellow members of the human family on the same journey.  So let our hearts be stirred, let our brains wake up, and let us worship the Lord in this place and everywhere in spirit and in truth. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Lord, To Whom Can We Go?

"Because of this, many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.  So Jesus asked the twelve, 'Do you also wish to go?'  Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.'"
-John 6: 66-69

The General Seminary class of 2012.

I wanna tell you about one of the most remarkable and resilient groups of people that I’ve ever come to know:  my seminary class. We were a hodgepodge.  The youngest of us was 21.  The oldest of us was 68.  We were black, white, hispanic, gay, straight, married, partnered, single, divorced.  We were so very different, and yet God had brought us together to live together, worship together, and be formed together. But in the spring of 2010, not long after we arrived, we got word that our seminary was in trouble.  The dean was retiring, we were millions of dollars in debt, and there was a very real threat that the place might close before we could graduate.  What were we going to do?

As a class, somehow, we rallied around each other and made a vow:  we would stay.  I personally didn't think that vow would hold up.  I even thought I would leave at a few points. But we stayed.  All of us.  The next two years would be anything but easy: we sold half our property, outside folks who had nothing to do with the church were now living and walking around OUR close, the administration turned over (twice!).  It was chaotic, scary, hard to accept.  Yet the men and women with whom I had the pleasure of being formed stayed resilient.  They remembered why we were there in the first place:  because God had called us there.  They showed me what faith looked like, what discipleship looked like.  It looked like resiliency and grace in the face of events that were so very hard to accept.

We finally come to the end of the Bread of Life discourse, and after all this talk about eating his flesh, drinking his blood, and him being the very bread that has come down from heaven, Jesus finds his followers in a state of confusion at the conclusion of this long sermon. "This teaching is difficult, who can accept it."  You can hear the uncertainty and fear in their voices.  

And you can hear the frustration in Jesus’ voice:  "Does this offend you?  Well, what if you saw the Son of Man ascending?"  Would that convince them?  It’s almost like Jesus is begging for them to have some small ounce of faith in the midst of all this, and you can almost see them shaking their heads.  You can see them saying among themselves, we can’t stay with this guy.  His teachings are too hard.  His way of life is going to set us up against the authorities.  It’s going to be too hard, it’s going to be be too demanding.  So they leave.

We don’t know how many of them left, but it was enough to get Jesus’ attention.  So he turns to the 12, his inner circle.  Maybe even half expecting some of them to leave too.  “Do you also wish to go away?” he asks them.  And Peter has the best response ever.  “To whom can we go?”  To whom can we go.  Where are we gonna go?  You’re the very reason we started this journey. We are here because of you.  You.  The Holy One of God.

Peter makes a lot of mistakes (he falls when he tries to walk on water, he denies ever knowing Jesus after he gets arrested), but here he nails it.  This is John’s version of the story that we call the Confession of St. Peter, where he stands up and proclaims Jesus as Lord.  But here it’s more than just an acknowledgement of Jesus’ authority.  It’s an acknowledgement of the very reason why Peter and the others have left their old lives and come together to form this community and their role in it.  It’s the same spirit that burned in the hearts of those classmates of mine who were the first to say, “We’re not going anywhere” when things got so hard at General Seminary.  And because of their witness and willingness to acknowledge the very reason we had come together, the rest of us had the courage to stay as well.  I suspect the other apostles felt the same when they saw Peter stand amongst them and say that they weren't going anywhere.

The door was open for them to leave.  “Do you also wish to go?”  Jesus asked. Here.  You’re free to do so.  And our bishops all said that we could transfer seminaries if we wanted to, no questions asked. Who could blame us? But is that what discipleship looks like?  Is that what living in community looks like?  No!  Discipleship and living in community are about remembering the very reason why we come together.  And the reason is Jesus Christ.  He is what bound the 12 together, what bound us together as a class at General, and he is what brought each of us here to this place right now. 

It’s not easy because there are plenty of times when things happen that we cannot accept or understand and such drastic change occurs that it cuts us to the core.  We know all about that in the Episcopal Church! But what makes us different from, say, the churches in the hollows where I grew up is that when disputes arise or times get tough, a few folks generally leave those churches and go start one of their own.  In the Episcopal Church we have lost brothers and sisters who have done the same, who decide that to leave their community and start new congregations is better than sticking together through difficult times. That’s not how discipleship, works brothers and sisters.  That’s not how life works.  We cannot always abandon and run away when times get tough.  We have to lean on the one who brought us to the situation in the first place.  Because it’s not about us, it’s about him.  The folks that left, they were in it for themselves.  Peter and the apostles, they were in it for Jesus.  True discipleship is remembering why we do what we do, especially when we can’t understand what’s happening around us. It’s easy to do when things are going our way, but the test of our faith comes in the times when it’s not going our way, when the future is uncertain or when we cannot accept the present.    Peter got it.  My classmates got it.  We get it too.

Why did the 12 stay?  Why did my classmates stay?  Why have you stayed in the Church?  Why stay in a place that can be so volatile, where mud is slung and politics so often take over and people get hurt?  I think I know the answer.  Because you understand what it’s all really about.  It’s about Jesus.  Where else can we go? Maybe you find yourself in the midst of something that you cannot accept.  Don’t run from it or abandon it.  Remember why you’re here.  Remember who brought you here.  Remember that our journeys are not just about us as individuals but about us as a community, leaning on one another and on the one who brought us here.  And together, by him, with, him, and in him, we can face any obstacle, any uncertainty, even when we can’t hope to understand or accept it.  There is no other place for us than with the Lord Jesus and with the Body of Christ assembled in community. 

Monday, August 17, 2015

Remembering a Martyr

This past weekend clergy and lay folk from all over the Episcopal Church descended upon Hayneville, Alabama to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of a seminarian who had died helping folks register to vote during the height of the Civil Rights Movement.  His name was Jonathan Myrick Daniels, and his witness helped change the direction of the Episcopal Church in this country.
The Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, Bishop of North Carolina and newly elected Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, preaches to a gathering of pilgrims commemorating the 50th anniversary of the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels. 

I first learned about Jonathan when I was a junior in high school and was invited to enter a public speaking contest called the Voice of Democracy, hosted by the local Veterans of Foreign Wars (Post 9600).  The topic:  "What price freedom?"  My dad, himself a Citadel graduate, introduced me to Jonathan's story, in part, because he was a product of that other great southern military institution, VMI. And while I did not fully understand the role he helped play in shaping the church that I loved so much and would one day serve, Jonathan's story captivated me from the start.

He was a young white man from a well-to-do New Hampshire family who, after graduating from VMI, entered grad school at Harvard to study English literature.  In 1962, while attending an Easter mass at The Episcopal Church of the Advent in Boston, Jonathan had a revelation:  God was calling him to the priesthood.  He quickly entered Episcopal Theological Seminary (now Episcopal Divinity School) in Cambridge and took especially to issues of social justice, particularly as they pertained to the Civil Rights Movement.  In March of 1965, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made an impassioned plea to clergy from all over to come to Selma, Alabama to help folks register to vote and to stand for equality for all of God's people.  Jonathan, while at Evening Prayer at ETS, heard in those familiar words of Mary in the Magnificat exactly what he must do.  In Jonathan's words:

"'My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.' I had come to Evening Prayer as usual that evening, and as usual I was singing the Magnificat with the special love and reverence I have always felt for Mary's glad song. 'He hath showed strength with his arm.' As the lovely hymn of the God-bearer continued, I found myself peculiarly alert, suddenly straining toward the decisive, luminous, Spirit-filled 'moment' that would, in retrospect, remind me of others--particularly one at Easter three years ago. Then it came. 'He hath put down the mighty from their seat, and hath exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things.' I knew then that I must go to Selma. The Virgin's song was to grow more and more dear in the weeks ahead."

So Jonathan Daniels, a white man from the north, came south to aid his brothers and sisters, to help lift up the lowly, to exalt the humble and meek.  Initially he had planned to stay for a weekend, but after missing the bus and reflecting with his classmates on how it must look to the people of Selma for these white folks to come down and lend a hand for a day or two and then return to their cushy lives, they decided to stay.  They spent the rest of the term in Selma, helping with voter registration and inviting African American folks to come worship at local Episcopal congregations on Sundays.  In late May of 1965 Jonathan returned to Cambridge to finish his exams, only to return to Alabama in July.

On August 13 he and others went to the town of Fort Deposit to join in picketing three local businesses. On Saturday they were arrested and held in the county jail in Hayneville for six days until they were bailed out. (They had agreed that none would accept bail until there was bail money for all.) After their release on Friday, August 20, four of them were walking into a local shop and were met at the door by a man with a shotgun who told them to leave. After a brief confrontation, he aimed the gun at a young black girl in the party named Ruby Sales.  Jonathan pushed her out of the way and took the blast of the shotgun himself.  He was killed instantly. 

Almost overnight the Episcopal Church took a look in the mirror and decided it had been on the wrong side of history.  We had been the rich white man's church (and in many places we still are).  How many of our parishioners had owned slaves?  How many of our churches had been built on the backs of enslaved human beings?  We had turned away individuals like Alexander Crommell from the priesthood because of his skin color.  We had refused African Americans a place at our first General Convention in 1789, resulting in the creation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  We had played a part in this narrative, even if it wasn't always explicit, and we set out to never make that mistake again.  Within 10 years we ordained the first female priests in North America.  Within 15 years we had a new Prayer Book, adapted from the language of the time, signifying a move away from the archane manners of old. Within 25 years we made Barbara Harris the first female bishop in the history of Christendom.  And within 40 years we had consecrated the first openly gay bishop (Gene Robinson), as well as the world's first female primate (Katherine Jefferts-Schori).  In the years since Jonathan Daniels' martyrdom, I am proud to say that the Episcopal Church has found itself at the front of the fighting lines for social justice, remembering the words of Mary that God has "exalted the humble and meek."

Our great sin is that it took the death of a white man to make it happen.  It took one of our would-be priests being gunned down for us to finally say, unequivocally, that we had been wrong and that we would do all we could to make sure the rights and privileges of ALL of God's children would be upheld from now on.  Still, one does have to wonder why it took us so long...

Nevertheless, thanks be to God for the witness of Jonathan Daniels.  His witness reminds us that the price of freedom--and indeed, the price of equality for all men and women--is vigilance.  That witness reminds us that, as baptized followers of the Suffering Servant, of the one who prayed for his enemies and called us to care for "the least of these," we mustn't sit on the sidelines.  We mustn't be silent.  We must stand and we must shout and we must work until the day when all truly are one.  

When you proclaim that black lives matter, you speak with the voice of Jonathan Daniels.  When you demand that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals deserve all the rights and privileges that their heterosexual and cisgender brothers and sisters enjoy, you speak with the voice of Jonathan Daniels.  Whenever you speak up for "the least of these" and work for the dignity of every human being, you speak with the voice of Jonathan Daniels.  His voice is the voice of the prophet, of the martyr, of the one who calls us to eternal vigilance and service of to our brothers and sisters on behalf of our Lord.  

So on this 50th anniversary of his martyrdom let us pray that we may have even an ounce of the courage and faith of Jonathan Daniels.  Let us pray that we may hear God calling us to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, to care for those who have no one to care for them, to love in the spirit of the One who first loved us.  And may blessed Jonathan pray for us!

O God of justice and compassion, you put down the proud and mighty from their place, and lift up the poor and the afflicted: we give you thanks for your faithful witness Jonathan Myrick Daniels, who, in the midst of injustice and violence, risked and gave his life for another; and we pray that we, following his example, may make no peace with oppression; through Jesus Christ the just one, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.Amen.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Welcome to the Body of Christ!!

Yesterday we were blessed to welcome two new members to the Body of Christ.  Jason and Parker are 7 year old boys.  Why were they not baptized sooner?  Well, life often gets in the way, and simply put, the boys' parents just let it slide, as so many of us are prone to do, even with the things that are of such importance.  Bottom line:  the boys kept asking when they would be baptized.  And from day one of my arrival to this wonderful parish, we've been talking about it.  Finally, it happened yesterday, and it was glorious!  Not only was it my first time baptizing someone in the context of a parish--I've already done a river baptism--but the asperges that followed were filled with tears from folks who later told me how much the day meant to them, as it brought them back to their own baptism, how we're all part of this great big household of Christ.  As I told them in my sermon, "Today is a big day!"  It sure was.

What might be most surprising to me was that the boys' parents insisting that they not take communion before they were baptized.  Kids much younger than them were receiving, but those kids had been baptized, and Jason and Parker had been taught that baptism was what gave them their ticket to receive the bread and cup.  It wasn't that they weren't welcome at the table; in fact, they had always come up and reached their hands out, even though they knew they would be receiving a blessing.  They understood the importance of baptism, understood that it is what makes us Christians, makes us the Body of Christ.  These 7-year old boys got it that we eat the Body of Christ because we ARE the Body of Christ.  Augustine of Hippo would be especially proud!

There's been so much said about the reception of communion without baptism, what some people call Open Table.  I'm not going to devote a great big post to all the reasons why Open Table is wrong.  (The VERY short version of that post would be that we already DO celebrate Open Table, as we open it up to ALL baptized Christians!!)  Instead, I simply want to raise up the example of Parker and Jason, two little boys who understood just how important their baptism was.  Not only did it mean that they belonged to Jesus forever, but it meant that they got to receive the very best gift that Jesus can give us in this mortal life:  himself, present in the very real stuff of this world, in wine, water, and wheat.  These kids get it!  They get how the two sacraments are connected.  They get how they put us into a relationship with Jesus.  And they get that, just as Jesus got his water bath before the holy meal, we are supposed to do the same.  They get it!

To my clergy colleagues who worry about offending someone, who fear that explaining the significance of baptism before communion might alienate someone or confuse them, I say this:  you're doing it wrong.  It's as easy as that.  You're not devoting the time and attention that it takes to explain why we do the things that we do.  And you're letting your own ego, your own fear of alienation, get in the way of being an effective pastor.  If folks in our pews do not understand the connection between baptism and communion, it's our fault!  We have done a grave disservice by not emphasizing the connection between these two sacred moments.  We simply cannot have one without the other!  Blessedly, Jason and Parker and their mother understood this.  She easily could have "forgotten" that they weren't baptized and let them receive on my first Sunday here.  But she didn't.  She took catechisis very seriously, and because of that so did her boys.  And as a result, their experience at the Holy Table from this day forward will be made all the more special.

If a pair of 7-year olds can get it, so can anyone else in the pews.  So can clergy.  It really is that simple. It's up to all of us, clergy and lay folk alike, to make the effort to understand who we are and the significance of our actions.  Those actions, after all, speak way louder than words, and if do not get why we act the way we do, then those actions are, at best, hollow or, at worst, heretical.  Thanks be to God for Jason and Parker and what they and their mother showed me about taking this journey seriously.  Welcome to the Body of Christ!

Monday, August 3, 2015

Luminous Beings Are We

Last week we heard the story of the feeding of the 5000, and this week we find a group of followers tracking down Jesus in the aftermath of that miracle.  And when they find him they want more.  They are not satisfied.  They want more of the bread, and they want more of the signs.  Theyre not concerned with the fact that Jesus, by the grace of God, managed to feed all of them.  No, they can only think of their own stomachs, of their own physical desires.  They want more and more and more.  Never satisfied.

What the crowd doesnt seem to realize, however, is that their desire is so much deeper than the physical hunger that they experienced earlier. All they know is that they arent satisfied, and so they try to fill that void inside them by demanding that Jesus give them more bread, that he provide more signs.  The one who can satisfy them is standing right in front of them, but they are so overcome with this hunger that they cannot even see him for what he really is.

Have you ever felt hunger?  I dont mean physical hunger.  I mean a deeper hunger, the kind of hunger  that leaves you feeling like there is a great void in your soul and makes you feel alone, misunderstood, and even hopeless?  Ive felt that hunger, that spiritual and emotional hunger, and I suspect many of you have as well.  So what do we do to satisfy that hunger? More of often than not we turn to the things of this world to provide us with sustenance.  Sometimes, like those folks who tracked down Jesus, we turn to physical food in the hopes of some momentary satisfaction. Some of us may have changed jobs or locations or relationships, thinking that a new start will fill the void.  Some of us try to fill it with toys, with cars, with fancy houses, with money.  Sometimes the void gets so big, the hunger so strong, that we turn to drugs or alcohol to try and fill it and satisfy the hunger pangs, even for a little while.  But those things dont work, do they?

So why do we turn to them?  Maybe because John Chrysostem was right when he said that people are nailed to the things of this life.  Too often we make idols out of things, thinking that they will somehow save us, that they will somehow fill us.  But we forget that the most important things in life are not things at all--love, acceptance, forgiveness, hope. We forget that physical objects cannot ever satisfy the deep longing that we have. 

This is what the crowd did not understand.  There was a void in them that they felt when they realized Jesus had gone away to the other side of the sea, and so they followed after him, not really knowing why.  And when they found him all they could think of was the bread.  Give us more of this bread, they demand.  That will satisfy us.  That will fill the void inside of us.  Reign down manna from heaven, like Moses did, that will do the trick.  But no amount of physical bread, no amount of signs from heaven, will ever do the trick.  Not for them.  And not for us.

There is a void inside all of us.  We sometimes think that its shaped like a car, or a house, or surgery, or a bottle of booze.  But St. Augustine got it right when he noted that there is a Christ-shaped void at our core. None of those other things can ever truly satisfy that longing that is deep inside us because they are of this world and they perish.  We work so hard for the food that perishes, dont we?  We work ourselves to the bone to make money that we then spend on stuff, stuff that we can't take with us, stuff  that ultimately rots away and doesnt bring us the satisfaction we desire and doesnt fill the void inside of us.  Only Jesus can do that and deep down we know it. 

We know it because we know that this is not all that there is.  These clothes, these bodies, this building, its not all that there is.  We were made with the spark of God inside us, made for heavenly purposes.  Master Yoda said, luminous beings are we, not this crude matter. We know that the material possessions of this world will ultimately fail us.  That the bread that we eat daily may satisfy our physical hunger but it can never satisfy our spiritual hunger. 

This little guy is full of wisdom, picking up where Chrysostem & Augustine left off.

The only bread that can do that is the bread of life.  And the bread of life is Jesus.  Bread sustains life.  And life is something far more than our physical existence, more than our stuff.  Real life is relationship with God, with the very spark from which we all came and to which we will all return.  And in Jesus, in this regular human being is the Incarnate God, and in him that relationship is made accessible to us.  Without that relationship we may have existence but not life.  Jesus unconditional love, the freedom that he offers us from the tyranny of our stuff, the reassurance that he provides in reminding us that this life is not all that there is.  Jesus is the essential of life, that which satisfies our deepest spiritual hunger.  That is the bread of life. 

So what is your deepest spiritual hunger?  What is it that you are longing for so much, that which the stuff of this world cannot satisfy? Love?  Acceptance?  Hope?  Peace?  Forgiveness? You will find them all at the altar of God.  You will find them at the place where heaven and earth collide, where Jesus bids us welcome as the host of the meal, and sustains us as the meal itself.  You will find it in Jesus.  You will find it Christ's table, where mortals eat the bread of angels. 

They said, Sir, give us this bread always.  They didnt know.  They didnt know that the bread was standing in front of them, that it wasn't about physical bread at all, but instead it was about relationship.  Well, we know.  And as you make your way to God's altar with your hands outstretched know that the very bread that will be placed in your hands is nothing less than the bread of angels, the bread life. And you will be filled.  We partake in the bread of life so that we may offer the bread of life to others, that bread that is found in relationship with God in Jesus--a relationship of love, acceptance, hope, peace, and forgiveness. Jesus, we pray, give us this bread.always!