August 2, 2015
Rev. Dr. Amy Ruth Schacht
Think of one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever been. Really see it in your mind’s eye – If it helps, close your eyes. See the different colors of that place, the different scenery, the flora and fauna, as they say. Does it have a certain smell, or certain sounds, or a unique feel. How did it feel to be there? Do you have such a place in your mind? Would anyone like to tell us about their place – A most beautiful place they have been. Can you tell us where it is, and describe it for us?
For those of us listening – Do you have a sense of it? Can you picture something in your mind as you hear it described? Or maybe it’s a place you’ve also been – And that is what you are thinking about. Anyone else have a place they’d like to describe to us? There are many beautiful places in this world, and we’re fortunate to live in a time and place when we can go to them. Some of them aren’t far – Maybe for you it’s the mountains of Western Maryland or the beaches of Assateague. And maybe you’ve flown to places on the other side of the world, and gotten to see some of the amazing landscape or wide open night skies of this planet.
Anyone gone to an amazing place in this world, and taken a picture, and brought it back home, and printed it out? What’s it like, to look at that picture? Does it capture the place? Carry enough of a semblance of the place that it reminds you of the fullness and vastness of what you saw? As we listened to these places described, is it the same as being there ourselves? What about looking at a picture of a place we’ve never seen – Why is that not considered “good enough.” Why do such pictures instead make us yearn to be there ourselves?
Our language, as rich as textured and vibrant as it is, our language fails us when it comes to such things. Reading about growing old, even hearing about growing old from our grandparents and parents – It’s not the same as experiencing it ourselves. Reading about parenthood, or memorizing the new job description, or watching a training video, or watching a best friend go through cancer or the loss of a spouse – None of it even comes close to the experience when it’s us, and it’s firsthand. We can be as prepared as we possibly can be for some event – positive or negative, longed for or worried over – And once we’re in the midst of it, we discover just how little we really know.
It seems all Jesus has to explain to this crowd who he is are the words and images available to him – He’s not going to talk about walking on the moon, or riding in an airplane, or the internet to help the crowd understand what he is talking about – He’s using the images and metaphors they know intimately from their own lives. But it’s like he’s showing them a great view, and they are so focused on the picture they can hold in their hands, they can’t look up and experience it for themselves – They can’t take it in.
Our language has limitations; even at the same time it has incredibly depth and nuance and layers. My kids have now decided their parents are indeed middle-aged fogeys – Not only do I have to reach for my reading glasses to look at anything they want to show me on their phones; we have just begun binging on Downton Abbey. It’s not that we’re watching Downton Abbey that pushed us over the edge into middle-age as far as our kids are concerned – It’s that we’re so late to the party, and that we are binge-watching it. Anyone here a fan? Yes, I expected so –
While I was digging in to this text, and seeing how Jesus and the crowds were talking past each other, and the many layers of meaning to the word “bread,” I couldn’t help but remember some of the zingers Lady Violet shoots out, in such a proper tone and cadence appropriate for someone of her stature and standing. Things that if you aren’t listening carefully, you’ll miss. Like this quote, “I don’t dislike him. I just don’t like him, which is quite different.” Or when she says to her Cousin Isobel as they go on tour of Downton: “You are quite wonderful, the way you see room for improvement wherever you look. I never knew such reforming zeal.” And Cousin Isobel preens a bit and says, “I take that as a compliment.” And Lady Violet replies, “I must have said it wrong.” Or when Cousin Isobel says to the American who married into the Downton family, “It would be foolish to accuse you of being unprofessional, since you’ve never had a profession in your life.”
It’s the repartee that seems so innocent if you are only paying half attention, but when you stop to really listen, or do a double take and think it over, then wowza! And that is what Jesus is fighting against here – The crowds are only half-listening; they just want to know what’s in it for them right now this minute; they want to be wowed again, filled again, fed again. With actual food, the kind they can chew.
And Jesus is frustrated, trying to describe the bread he’s offering that is so much more meaningful and lasting and vital to a life of faith. How can you believe, if you are not willing to give your heart to the one who offers you true life? How can you know this faith, this Jesus, this God, unless you experience it for yourself? And today, as we celebrate communion – Communion with all the saints – how can we describe what we experience, so that others will know?
You have to experience for yourself. Because the best our language can do is point to symbols that stand for the sacred. There’s nothing special about this bread from Shoppers – Except that here, this bread carries the meaning and weight of how we literally take Jesus into our hearts and souls and bodies. There’s nothing miraculous about this grape juice and wine – except that we can feel it filling the empty places in our hearts, souls, and bodies. There is nothing extraordinary about a bunch of people getting together in a room to pass loaves and cups – Except here we are joined by others, longing to know – Not just read about, not just hear about, not just be told about, not just have an intellectual curiousity satisfied – But to know Jesus up close, personal, in our hearts and souls and bodies.
How brilliant, for Jesus to use the ordinariness of bread and juice, and say, “Here I am.” Sure, you can hold a picture, or you can look up and be surrounded. Sure, you can listen with half an ear, or you can listen deeply and catch a glimpse of what Jesus is trying to get you to see, with the eyes of your heart. It’s a matter of faith, of trust, of what you will give your heart to. And so today, we practice, seeing with the eyes of our heart – As we literally take in the presence of God into our own bodies, and therefore our hearts and souls and minds. And then may we remember who it is and what it is we carry around inside us: The divine. And may we live into and out of, that reality, that we may see as God sees, with the eyes of our hearts.