March 18, 2012, Lent 4
Grace Episcopal Church
The Reverend Lois Keen
Numbers 21:4-9; Psalm 107:1-3, 17-22; Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21
From the Gospel of Luke: “Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness…He ate nothing at all…and he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone” ‘ “ (Luke 4:1-4)
It’s July 16, 1054 A.D. We are in Constantinople. The people are gathered in Hagia Sophia Cathedral for worship. Suddenly, the floor rings with the boots of intruders. They are westerners from Rome. They stand before the altar and babble something in Latin, then they throw a document on the altar and, as they leave, they shout, in Latin,
“Videat Deus et judicet and walk out.
“Videat Deus et judicet”; “God sees and judges”. These are the words of excommunication. Pope Leo IX of Rome has sent his envoys to deliver his excommunication of Cerularius, the new patriarch of Constantinople, and with him all his followers. Leo has excommunicated the entire Eastern half of Christendom.
Four days later Cerularius, returns the favor. He excommunicates Pope Leo IX and all his followers, the entire Western half of Christendom.
Thus begins the Great Schism between the Christians of the West and the Christians of the East, Rome and Constantinople and, it seems, never the twain shall meet.
There were lots of things in contention between eastern and western Christians – married clergy yes or no, reverence for the saints, days of fasting and whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son – the belief in the West - or only from the Father – the belief in the East (please note which side we are on, east or west, when we say the Creed today). These were just a few of the disagreements, but we had been one church for 1,000 years and we managed, even with our quarrels, to stay together.
Then came the straw that broke the camels back: bread.
The Eastern Christians used leavened bread – wheat bread made with yeast or other leavening. The Western Christians used unleavened bread. The East said we’d been using leavened bread from the beginning so leavened is the right kind of bread for the Eucharist. The West pronounced that the right bread for the Eucharist was one that was different from the bread we eat every day, and besides, an unleavened, round wafer is purer than real bread. Neither East nor West was willing to let go on this matter. And so they excommunicated one another and the schism continues to this day.
Clearly, Satan has been hard at work since he tempted Jesus to turn stones into bread.
It is interesting to note that, from the time of the 1552 BCP, which marked the Reformation in England, the Anglican church used real, leavened bread, but not as a sign of unity with the Eastern churches, rather to discourage people from worshipping Jesus in the bread. This changed in the 19th c, when some of the anti-catholic strictness was loosened. Today we Anglicans can use either kind of bread.
However, the war of bread is not over yet. Satan is still at it. Today it’s over whether or not to provide non-wheat, gluten-free bread for those with celiac disease. I am glad to say this congregation provides gluten-free bread for those who need it. However, the argument is that because the bread in Jesus’s day, the bread of the last supper, and the bread for the whole history of Christianity has been made from wheat, no other kind of bread can be used for the Eucharist.
The irony is that, in the feeding of the 5,000 according to St. John, the bread was barley loaves, the food of the poor! And in the Hebrew scriptures, the bread that came down from heaven to feed the people as they wandered in the wilderness after escaping Egypt was called “manna”, which means, “What is it?” for it certainly was not bread from any kind of grain at all.
And so, our wars about what kind of bread, leavened or unleavened, wheat or not, become a nonsense, for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear. I vote for barley bread, the food of the poor, but what do I know, except that Satan is always there in the niggling details. But, remember, “One does not live by bread alone.”
“Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread…”
Give us THIS bread. The bread we have been given is Jesus himself. He is the true bread. This bread is not leavened or unleavened, not wheat, barley, manna, or gluten-free. This bread is the Love of God.
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…” This is the bread from heaven, the love of God in his Son Jesus, the Christ. It is immaterial what kind of bread we put in our mouths at the Eucharist. We eat that bread to actually put in our bodies a bit of the love of God for us and all people, and as a sign that we are all, living, dead, and yet to be born, one in Christ’s love, whether we love one another or not.
“As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, is in this broken bread made one…” (hymn 302, Hymnal 1972) Jesus, this true bread makes us one.
Yet, the Body of Christ continues to fracture along lines of what kind of bread to use, who is saved and who is damned, who is in and who is out, which beliefs are correct and which are heresy. Jesus, at his last supper, according to John, commanded that we love one another as he loves us. “By this,” he says, “everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another”. But we can’t seem to love one another.
And this is a problem, because Christianity now has a credibility issue. The Church is created and sustained out of God’s reconciling, restorative love for all creation. But we can’t even reconcile with one another. And the world really needs that reconciling, self-giving love right now.
At the risk of being thought to be preaching politics, I think it’s safe to say we all know that something is wrong with us in this country. Incivility, partisanship, self-centeredness, greed, isolationism, and demonizing those with whom we disagree are being raised to art forms. There is a place for Christian communities in the midst of this, not for the sake of saving dying churches but for the sake of the Gospel, for the sake of the Lord of love, who commanded us to love all people, not just one another, even to love our enemies. Can we do it?
With the help of God, we can, but bread is useless until it is broken so it can be eaten, and we have to be willing to be broken, to open our minds and hearts and see and hear how God is drawing us to a new way of being community, a community that heals, reconciles, gives itself away, and opens itself to be shaped by others not like us.
This church hosted a magnificent sign of the kingdom of the love of God made real and visible on the Monday before Thanksgiving when we hosted the community Thanksgiving service. Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Christians who disagree on doctrine, all worshipped together in English, Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, and Punjabi. This is what we Christian communities can be ALL the time – visible signs of the love of God for all people, broken open and used as the food of love.
Whether or not we can keep buildings or clergy or even our way of being church, we Christians of all beliefs and persuasions must examine ourselves as individuals. Hold before God those things within ourselves that contribute to separation from one another as people in the world – all our phobias, all our isms – and ask God to take them away. Then we need to find a way to form communities like that Thanksgiving service, communities of unconditional, radical love, signs of God’s love, signs of the reign of God. People cannot live by bread alone. We, the people, need to love God by loving one another, and we need to be loved by God, through people we least expect to love us.
“As grain, once scattered on the hillsides, was in this broken bread made one.” Jesus is the true bread that gives life to the world. Evermore give us this bread, Holy God, and make us your love.