November 1, 2020
John 6: 35-51
And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”
The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”
Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”
Tables are holy places. I learned from my mother how the beauty of a well laid out table could make any meal feel special. Candles, flowers, polished silver, a pitcher of water, the condensation on water goblets. There’s nothing quite like a crowded table, full of laughter, and tears, and life. I can think of so many tables with Eric, our first date, our sweetheart table at our wedding, the table we set up in our apartment to host Christmas for our family a few years ago.
I carry around within me the memories of tables, as I imagine many of you do. From friends’ apartments to family meals in favorite homes. One of my favorite table experiences was in the summer of 2019. Leigh and I had loaded up into my Prius and drove down to Hot Springs, North Carolina, for the Wild Goose Festival. It’s a gathering of progressive Christians for a weekend of music, arts, speakers, worship, and community. It was one of those odd moments in my life where all my mentors, from across my journey, were all together in one place. The living Saints who shaped me, helped to form me into the person I am, were all, magically, together. At one point I left the gaggle to refresh our beers, and when I came back, Pastor Ken and Pastor Beth were laughing. These two shaped me more than anyone else in my life, Ken in High School and College and my first year of Seminary, calling and emailing with me, and Beth for the remainder of my Princeton Years, as my mentor while I worked at the Church she served. They shared that they had realized just how similar they were to each other. They could see a through line, why I had chosen to become close and stay close to them. They were both Saints in my life, who reflected God’s love and Wisdom, in different times, in unique ways, that same search for grace and belonging. Their brilliant, if slightly odd senses of humor, and cutting insight into parts of myself I couldn’t quite name or understand, were different sides of the same coin. And here I was, with my Saints, with a new friend, a new colleague, all bound together by our search for being a part of the Holy’s work in our lives, and in the world. Two mentors who loved me deeply, two Saints in my life, enjoying seeing themselves in someone else, seeing the Holy Spirit’s gifts in themselves and one another in new ways. Reflections of the same love.
Our table this morning, I imagine for many of you, is a place of remembering many mentors, friends, loved-ones, who loved you into being, who reflected and refracted God’s love into parts of yourself they knew better than anyone. I wonder, this day, as we remember those who have died, who else in your life reflects and refracts God’s love, the joys of life, in ways similar to these candles, these blessed dead? No one can replace those who now rest, but a similar love, a similar joy, sometimes catches our eyes in the presence of others. As we celebrate the Lord’s supper together, at our dashboards and our laptops, phones and back seats, somehow we are in communion with Jesus and his disciples 2000 years ago, in the presence of our loved ones who have died, and those who haven’t been born yet that we will be the ancestors of. But we also are connected to one another, and to the Living Saints who bless us in these strange times. I invite you to open yourself to the Saints who surround you now, and in the days to come. Maybe, as we are fed, and reminded that we are Jesus’ flock, as we pause to reflect that we will always be loved, maybe this year there’s an invitation awaiting you. An invitation to let someone else be a Saint in your life. You might be full of loneliness, or grief, feeling isolated in these uncertain times. I know for myself there is such sadness, such yearning for so many we have lost this year. There are also so many living Saints I miss, because of the Pandemic. Just know this, when you are ready, there are Saints in the wings, living among us, ready to love you well, be your friend, be your community, and so, so many who you encounter that see refracted the love of those who now rest. May we remember that in the coming weeks of uncertainty. We might wish for the wisdom, the presence of those separated from us by distance, or death. But through those we can be in the physical presence of, God can bring about new life for us all. It will never replace those we have lost, or those we can’t travel to see, but we can reflect the divine into the lives of so many, just by being ourselves. There are living Saints who in this season of life, can journey with us, laughing at God’s tenacious grace that finds a way to love us still.
May we remember that we are never alone, for we are surrounded by the Love of God, the Saints at Rest, and the Saints alive, all of them pulling out a chair. Our Saints are ready to take their place in our life’s journey, that will lead us to that Heavenly banquet where we all, at last, be at home. May we live lives where we can look forward to introducing our Saints to one another and be surprised at who we have been partners with, loving others well.