Texts for Tonight
Exodus 16:2-4; 31-32
all over the world tonight,
literally, all over the world,
there will be foot washing.
On this night
Christians have plucked a peculiar,
arcane story from John
and created a universal ritual from it.
It is a particularly touching
and beloved ceremony
for many people
but it strikes me as missing the point
of “the night before he died for us.”
On this night, remembered at Passover,
and different from all other nights,
when God’s people were enslaved
and about to be liberated,
they were told to huddle in their homes.
A dark spirit of death
was enfolding the land
like a lake enshrouded in mist.
The slaves were to take blood,
blood from the carcasses
of lambs they slaughtered and shared,
and smear it
upon the threshold of the house.
would be a sign
to the ravenous spirit of death
to “Passover” those homes.
Blood protected them.
In the meantime,
they were to make bread –
because they did not have time
to let it rise.
The unleavened bread
was to be eaten with the lamb.
Bread and blood
became the symbols of rescue – of liberation.
So at the very beginning of our story
bread is the symbol of liberation.
A story told
for three thousand, two hundred years.
Then, zooming ahead to Chapter 16 of Exodus,
the slaves having now escaped the threat of
oppression from Pharaoh,
are complaining to Moses
that life was better back in slavery
where they were not hungry and thirsty all the time.
In response to their complaint about being hungry
God rains bread from heaven.
The narrator calls it “manna”
but, as it turns out,
it is more than just bread.
Manna was not just something to eat,
it became a metaphor for everything else
that God would ask them to become.
They are introduced to manna
when they wake up in the morning.
It says, “When the layer of dew lifted,
there on the surface of the wilderness
was a fine flaky substance,
as fine as frost on the ground.”
Manna, as it turns out,
had special properties
that the reader of the story
needs to pay attention to.
First, each family
was to gather as much manna
it as it needed and no more.
But of course, people being people,
some families gathered more
than they needed
and some not enough.
Even so, when it was all measured out,
the narrator says,
everyone had the same amount.
Secondly, they are told
not to leave any overnight:
take only what is needed.
There was to be no storing or hording the manna.
But again, people being people,
some tried to hoard it.
When they woke up in the morning
they found it full of worms.
So manna, the bread given by God,
was to be distributed evenly
in order that everyone would have enough,
and likewise, it was to be taken as needed
but never horded.
Manna was the metaphor
for how God wanted them to live
once they reached the Promised Land.
Manna was the symbol of life
as God wanted them to create it:
Everyone with enough,
everyone with what was needed.
Try as we might to spiritualize that idea,
it will not be domesticated.
The idea of Manna is as radical today
as it was 3200 years ago.
So it is little wonder that Jesus,
on the night before he died,
twelve hundred years after Moses,
took bread and blood
and asked his friends
to keep sharing it.
Bread and blood
have been the symbols
of God’s best dream for us
for over three thousand years.
On the night before he was executed,
why would we remember anything else?
Bread: manna in the wilderness to sustain us.
Blood: the wound that makes us whole.
But that was then and this is now.
Why, when we have so much food to eat
and at so little cost
compared to 1st century peasants,
is this bread
still our food – our spiritual food?
Here is why.
In community, as we gather
again and again,
it is with the loss of many friends along the way,
and in the presence of what once was
but is no longer.
These and other grief,
and many afflictions beyond grief,
are in this bread
and the very bitterness of it
is its honey.
We knead our afflictions
into this bread, co-mingling them
with other people’s afflictions.
from other communities
of Jesus followers
who we don’t even know – some afflictions
so much more tragic than our own
that it would make us weep.
We co-mingle all those afflictions
and push them together until it is one
ungodly lump of sorrow
than any bread we could make or buy.
It is our afflictions
leavened with the afflictions of others
with whom we share community —
our intimate one here
and the larger, mythical community
across the planet,
and then we break it
as if the brittle bones of an aged body.
We break it:
“Christ our Passover has sacrificed for us”.
We name this bread Jesus Christ,
and then we break it.
By some kind of spiritual osmosis
we place our afflictions
into this bread.
The blood and sweat of real pain
and real sorrow
flowing into this bread
from our hearts and minds
to right here on this altar.
And then we break it.
We break it like a heart
and say, “Allelulia.”
And it would be heart-breaking
if we had
even a tiny glimpse
of all the afflictions
that reside in this bread.
From ancient Hebrew slaves
to the Rose family slaves of Geneva
who likely worked on the building
of the first Trinity Geneva.
From feudal serfs
crushed by the weight of opulent popes
to Campesinos tortured and murdered
by our own economy
and our appetite for drugs and guns.
household sorrow and loss
suffered by princes and CEO’s and Senators
as well as teachers and plumbers and ministers.
If we knew even a small slice
of the grief and personal traumas
that went into this bread
it would make us sob.
It would make us fear to eat it,
even the fish-food morsel we put on our tongues.
It would be an enormous act of bravely
just to extend our hands outward
for this Communion.
We don’t think about all of that, of course,
when we place the bread between our lips.
But when we do realize it,
then we can suddenly see
that we are all in this bread —
right here with millions and millions of others.
WE are in it –
WE are in the bread we will eat tonight.
So that is why we are still eating it –
we are consuming ourselves
in some weird way,
just as we are consuming Jesus
in some weird way,
just as we are consuming Hebrew Slaves
in some weird way…
and everyone else whose affliction flows here.
The story of Holy Week
tells us straight out
that both the betrayed
and the betrayer are right here
in this bread together.
The one you love
and the one you hate
are right here in this bread.
Your enemy is here,
so are her or his afflictions.
The stranger is here,
so are her and his afflictions.
The repugnant and grotesque,
the haughty and the arrogant,
the criminal and the victim…we are all here
and you can’t eat one without the other.
That’s why we are still eating this bread.
Where else, I mean where else
in the whole freaking world, can we go
where everyone’s afflictions are welcome?
Not just yours and the good guys…everyone’s.
Where else can we go,
where else is safe to pour out our afflictions
knowing that other people will consume them too?
That is why we are here tonight.
That is why we still eat this bread
all this time and all these miles later.