Longing for Nourishment – Br. Jim Woodrum
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1 Peter 2:2-10
Those of you who have had an opportunity to stay with us here at the monastery or have had an occasion to join us for a Sunday meal know that I am a foodie. I enjoy cooking and eating all kinds of food, but most I most especially have a passion for southern cooking. While I love living here in New England and jump at an occasion to enjoy a Lobster Roll or warm up with a bowl of chowder, one of the things that I miss the most are the tastes of home. And so on the Sundays when I volunteer to cook lunch, I more often than not will cook food with a southern flair: Chicken Fried Shortribs, a variety of greens wilted in a homemade bacon jam, and classic peach cobbler a la mode is just one of the many meals you may experience when I’m in the kitchen.
I get this love of food from my mom and grandmother who were well experienced in the Appalachian cooking of our region. While the dishes themselves were not as involved as what I like to cook, they were delicious and had a way of filling the air with an enticing aroma that would sometimes draw of the envy of my friends who might have an occasion to stay for dinner. There is something about family and friends gathered together at the dinner table, sharing food and fellowship that has a way nurturing our bodies and souls, and sustaining us in both the best and worst of times. Whether gathered for a meal after church or sharing a casserole with someone who has experienced a death in the family, community is most often celebrated in all facets of life, at the dinner table.
The past few days when praying with our scripture lessons for today I have noted the many times I’ve come across the mention of food as a way to describe God’s goodness to us. Perhaps this is because of the agrarian nature of the audiences for which scripture were written or it could be even simpler. One of the most basic things we all share in common in spite of class, race, economic status, location, or age is our need to eat. And so we see throughout scripture examples of this. This morning when praying Matins we chanted from Psalm 34: Taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are they who trust in him![i] And then from our lesson from Thessalonians: But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth.[ii]
There are many places in the gospels where Jesus is observed sitting at table and sharing a meal. You may remember that when Jesus calls Levi from his tax booth, he immediately shares a meal with him and a few of his nefarious friends which invokes criticism from the Pharisees.[iii] Or upon looking up and seeing Zaccheus in Sycamore tree he calls out to him: “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. I imagine that Zaccheus shared a meal with Jesus and in that exchange Zaccheus was changed.[iv]
It was no accident that Jesus shared a meal with his disciples in that upper room before his betrayal, death, and resurrection. It is the very meal we commemorate each Sunday in the sacrament of the altar where we hear once again Jesus say: Take, eat, this is my body. Drink this all of you, this is my blood of the New Covenant.[v] After Jesus resurrection it was in this way that his disciple came to recognize him as their risen Lord. In Luke we read of the stranger walking with the disciples along the Emmaus road. They invite him to stay for supper. Luke writes: When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ It was then they returned to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others who shared with them their own experience of having seen Jesus.[vi]
In this season of Easter we hear many stories like these of the appearance of Jesus after his resurrection. How do you identify with these stories? How have you come to know the presence of Jesus in your midst? In my own life I would say my experience of the resurrected Jesus has been through my experience of fellowship with family and friends, in both good times and bad. I mentioned earlier that both my mom and my grandmother provided opportunity for many in our family to sit down together at table and to be sustained by food and fellowship. I cannot help but think on this Mother’s Day the opening sentence from the First Letter of Peter we just heard: Like newborn infants, long for the pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. The metaphor is apt for me because it reminds me that how from the beginning of life we are nurtured through our mothers, first in the womb, and then from the breast. It is from this intimate communion that we gather up the defenses of our immune system, and the nutrition to make us strong to survive our infancy.
In his commentary on this passage William Barclay writes: The metaphor of the Christian as a baby and the word of God as the milk whereby he is nourished is common in the New Testament. To symbolize the rebirth of baptism in the early church, the newly baptized Christian was clothed in white robes, and sometimes he was fed with mild as if he was a little child. It is this nourishment with the mild of the work which makes a Christian grow up and grow on until he reaches salvation.[vii] You may know that in the prologue to the gospel of John, Jesus is referred to as ‘the Word made flesh,’ the very being of God present in the midst of our human condition.[viii] How is this true for you?
While I have been nurture by my grandmother and mother in good times, I have also been sustained by them in times of sadness and grief. I am reminded of Jesus’ care of his own mother, that when dying on the cross looked at her and the beloved disciple standing there and entrusted them into each other care: When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.[ix] A few years ago my grandmother passed away and I was fortunate enough to be present alongside my mom and my aunt. I watched these strong women, who had had a complex relationship with each other over the years, forgive each other. As my grandmother slipped away, my mom and her sister held her hand and told their mother that they loved her and it was okay for her to go, that they would be alright. This continues to be one of the most powerful moments in my life, a moment of compassion, which even though was sad, it was also filled with much grace. It is this moment in my own life that has nurtured a sense of grace and reconciliation in my own life.
Perhaps you here today and are not quite sure where God is acting in your life. If that is so, then this can be the essence of your prayer. Ask Jesus to be known to you. Like Thomas, ask to see his wounds and touch them. In a few moments you will be invited to partake in the sacrament of the altar. Take a step forward in faith, bringing that which is burdening you, and lift up your hand and give it to Jesus. In return, receive a piece of bread and a sip of wine; food to nourish you, give you strength and courage to take the next step. Each time you participate in this meal, you will come to know more the presence of Jesus in your life. In the words of our founder Fr. Benson: As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us.[x] Amen.
[i] Psalm 34:8
[ii] 2 Thessalonians 2:13
[iv] Luke 19:1-10
[vi] Luke 24:13-35
[vii]Barclay, William. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Letters of James and Peter. Revised ed. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster, 197. Print.
[viii] John 1:14
[ix] John 19:26-27
[x]Benson, Richard Meux; The Religious Vocation: Of Communion, chapter XII, page 160-161
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thank you so much for this sermon….it means lots to me….
That quote from Fr. Benson gives me an entirely new perception of the eucharist and the living benefits of receiving the sacrament. In these times it has been painful to be unable to share that meal with my community. Thank you. Elizabeth Hardy+
Thank you, Br. Jim, for taking me back nearly 60 years to my first preaching assignment at Berkeley Divinity School, Psalm 34, vs. 8 was my assignment and it has been a phrase on my mind ever since. You so aptly describe the intertwining of food, fellowship, communion and faith. Your messages are always a joy for me to read, ponder and pray.
Br. Jim, Savoring some of your cooking, I understand from your writing here how deeply nourishing these words are from the Scriptures and your reflections. thank you. Missy
Thank you, Br. Jim for reminding me of the deep significance of what the simple act of eating says to us in Christ’s words. We eat. We feed others.
In November I was had the honor of staying with the community at the Cambridge monastery. One morning I went to the common room and sat at a overlooking the monastery tower. Suddenly I was in the presence of something which I feel was Christ’s presence. “Why am I here”? I asked. “To love me.” was the reply. It was some time later that the rest of the answer came. “Then feed my sheep”.
Simply eat and feed others. Yes.
Thank you, James. Your words are very moving. // Two years ago, I woke one Sunday morning and a whisper suggested I go to worship service at a different church: a return to the denomination of my roots, and a church I knew nothing about. It has been the most amazing experience. Every day, I give thanks for the whisper and the fact that I listened to it. // I might have thought that I was too old for such a radical change, but that is not so. I will be 85 later this year (God willing). Blessings. Christina
Lovely sermon on a most important theme in our religion. As St. Leo the Great wrote, “what our Savior did visibly has passed over into the Sacraments.” If we go back to Scripture and the teachings of the Church Fathers we can see most has already been said, but each generation must relearn and rehearse these themes for themselves in their own epoch.
The words from Fr. Benson inspire and move me:
“As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us.”
Such a beautiful way to understand communion!
Thank you for this moving sermon. I wish I could send you some of the collard greens cooking in my stove as we speak!
Bacon jam ! ?