Claiming suspended space and manna...

NOTE: I'm getting ready to head out on vacation in a few days. I will be in worship this coming Sunday, August 2nd and then heading out to Montreal for a week - other parts of the area for a week, too. So, I will likely be away from the computer for some of this away time - certainly for Sundays - although I will probably add some observations about music and art along the way. My prayers for a renewing and relaxing time are with you all. This week's reflection builds on an observation from Peter Rollins.

Today I want to speak with you about our table manners: specifically the table manners we learn and use when coming to the Lord’s Supper. At its best, the body of Christ asks us to practice a form of radical hospitality in suspended space when we come to the communion table that is not only healing and counter- cultural inside these walls, but also boldly revolutionary and life-changing when made flesh out in the world.

+ How did John’s gospel put it? “I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus said. “Those who ally themselves with me will hunger and thirst no more… so come and feast on the bread that will not die.”

+ Come – and feast. It is a way of living that we’ve gotten wrong as often as we’ve done it right: excluding those who hunger for God’s grace, forcing wounded souls to jump through hoops that are mean-spirited and cruel, trusting our small minds and cultural habits more than God’s grace.

Oh my Lord, we can make a mess of it… Think of Moses and his faith community wandering in the wilderness on the way toward the Promised Land. After only two months of freedom, what’s happening?

+ Everyone is complaining – exaggerating the hard times – and waxing nostalgic about the good old days of… slavery!

+ "Why didn't GOD let us die in comfort in Egypt where we had lamb stew and all the bread we could eat? You've brought us out into this wilderness to starve us to death, the whole company of Israel!"

Now historians have documented that the slaves who built the pyramids of Egypt were – how shall I put it – not over fed Habitat for Humanity volunteers with all the lamb stew and bread they could eat. They were human animals in bondage – men kept in chains – and driven by the whip.

And still the story tells us that after only two months, they complained about the good old days… This is one of the places where the Bible is descriptive rather than prescriptive about human nature. It tells us how we tend to be with one another when we’re stressed or afraid – and it is not a pretty picture. But pay careful attention, too, to what happens next because it can be instructive to learning the table manners of grace:

+ First, Moses listens patiently to everyone – no one’s concerns are overlooked – yet no one’s words are given greater weight or importance either. This is about community, you see, not hierarchy and privilege so Moses receives everyone as an equal.

+ Second, he takes it all to the Lord in prayer – the joys and the concerns, the advice of the powerful and the insights of the poor – understanding that most of the time God brings us blessings that we do not yet know how to receive. No one has a monopoly on wisdom so Moses asks for eyes to see and lives to respond.

+ And third he tells his faith community that while God will listen to all their complaints – big and small, real and imagined –blessings are gifts of grace not the fruit of whining. That is, it is ok to be afraid – and to act out of our worst selves – but never, ever think that this forces God’s hand: blessings are a gift – bread from heaven – and never a pay off.

And in time, what happens? The heavens rain down manna – the mysterious bread of the Lord – as food for the journey and sustenance for body and soul. At first nobody knew what it was – literally manna is a “Hebrew pun on mah hu which means, “whaddayacallit” – but Moses helped them find eyes to see and they gathered up the blessings to be well fed. (Gail Ramshaw, Christian Century, July 28, 2009, p. 20)

I sense that it is important for us to hear this story of Moses and the manna regularly in preparation for our coming to the Lord’s Table. We, too, have hurts and fears and complaints, yes? Sometimes we’re angry or confused by God – other times we’re upset with one another – and all too often we don’t have eyes to see the manna that is already raining down within and among us all. What’s more, even when we know better, because of human nature and the culture we have grown up in, we really do believe that life really is all about me. We can’t help it – that’s how we are – remember how Paul put it in Romans 7?

I obviously need help! I realize that I don't have what it takes. I can will it, but I can't do it. I decide to do good, but I don't really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don't result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that it's predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God's commands, but it's pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I've tried everything and nothing helps

One of my favorite new theologians, a bright young man from Ireland by the name of Peter Rollins, recently observed that because we are so much like the Israelites complaining and wandering around in the wilderness, God gave us the church. Imperfect as it is – and as self-centered as can be – it still gives us what he calls an hour of “suspended space” every week to practice a new way of living.

+ For an hour a week, we get to try on the upside down values of Jesus with one another; for an hour we get to practice what it would be like if Jesus were our manna.

+ For an hour we get to try out living like there is no Jew or Greek, male or female, Republicans or Democrats, rich or poor, gay or straight. Because for an hour we have entered suspended space – a place set aside for learning the unforced rhythm of grace – an pretending that there are no distinctions.

Rollins goes on to say, “Now let’s be clear: we can’t really do this – I can’t forget that I’m really a guy – and that I’m not really poor – and that we’re not really in this church at this moment in time.”

But at the same time we let ourselves enter into a moment that is greater than historical time – a space that is deeper than our differences – where we lay aside our theologies and political ideologies and all the rest… and for just one hour we try to encounter another beyond the color of their eyes… Now, we know that we can’t do that for very long… but maybe after spending that one hour in suspended space – in the church – maybe when we go back to being political and argumentative… maybe we can recall that there is something deeper here that joins us all together… and we can turn the volume and the fear and the hatred down a bit.

Suspended space – letting go of our divisions – laying aside our differences – entering a deeper and more authentic level – is how we come to the Lord’s Table. Like Moses, Jesus welcomes us all and we all belong. Like manna in the desert, Jesus promises to nourish our deepest hungers – to become the bread of heaven for us – if we have eyes to see. And like Israel wandering in the desert, everyone will be nourished only if we all share.

+ The moment we start to horde the blessings – the instant we start to shut someone else out or elevate ourselves – the feast and the bread turns to worms in our hands.

+ I love these ancient words of invitation to holy communion – they get it so right – when they tell us: come, those who love Christ and those who want to love him more; come, you who have much faith and you who have little; you who have been here often and you who are here for the first time; come you who have tried to follow and you who have failed; come, not because it is I who invite you but because it is our Lord. Come because it is God’s will that we meet Jesus here and be filled and never hunger again.

Come, beloved, embrace this suspended space – let Christ be for you the bread of heaven – manna – sustenance for the journey of faith: for then we shall be bread for a wounded and hungry world.
(credits: wine and bread @; norman rockwell, "do unto others," @; bread and wine @


Black Pete said…
Travelling mercies and joys like ripe cherries on a tree, falling all about you, RJ.
RJ said…
thanks, my man. maybe next year we can wander up into your parts of the great northern way. blessings right back at ya!

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