Thursday, March 25, 2010

Stale Wafers

One Sunday morning I asked another minister to lead the Lord’s Supper during worship. The young man did a great job of helping us prepare our hearts for receiving the meal, just not our palates. Seated with the congregation, I took a wafer when the tray passed my way and, exercising good communion etiquette, held it until all were served. At the appropriate time, I slid the wafer into my mouth.

What happened next is hard to describe. The wafer was so old it surely dated back to the first-century church. It was so dry and pasty that it instantly sucked all the moisture out of my mouth, causing me to pucker, sucking both cheeks almost inside out.

I turned to a young couple seated nearby, Kayce and Neal, and saw Kayce puckering up, too. As best I could, I quietly puffed out to her, “That is one nasty Lord’s Supper wafer.” She whispered back, “Have you ever tasted a good Lord’s Supper wafer?” It occurred to me that I never had asked for seconds at the Lord’s Supper.

It also made me wonder how the bread must have tasted to Jesus the night he first took what we now call the Lord’s Supper. It was a meal he felt compelled to serve and receive, not one he seemed to particularly relish. After all, it was his body, he said, broken for those who needed its forgiving power.

In his remarkable work, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard postulates that “the most telling thing about the contemporary Christian is that he or she simply has no compelling sense that understanding of and conformity with the clear teachings of Christ is of any vital importance to his or her life, and certainly not that it is in any way essential. The practical irrelevance of obedience to Christ accounts for the weakened effect of Christianity in the world today.”

In other words, taking Jesus’ supper at church is one thing, but actually surrendering ourselves daily to the same death Jesus called us to share with him just doesn’t make practical sense. Isn’t that taking things a little too far? Forgiving others as God has forgiven us? Praying for our enemies instead of avenging ourselves? Selling off our stuff and giving the proceeds to the poor? Dying to self, whatever that actually means? Well, those things just aren’t palatable to our ever-refined taste for good living. A good living to which we’ve increasingly grown accustomed to believe we’re entitled, not in spite of our faith, but, because of it.

I’ll never forget that nasty wafer and the way it was almost too hard to swallow. Jesus never forgot either and, having choked down his last earthly meal ever, he then said, Eat this stale bread, “in remembrance of me.”

We can’t really celebrate, or experience, the resurrection to a truly good life until we observe and surrender to the stale death that made resurrection possible, and still does.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Easter Patience

There’s a growing sense of excitement, even impatience, as people await the arrival of spring, the season that teases us the most each year. Birds are singing their springtime medleys, perched upon branches filled with blossoms of red, white and purple. Flowers have started peeking out of their underground winter homes. Easter is just around the corner.

With new life bursting out everywhere, we’re filled with a stubborn sense of anticipation, awaiting the opportunity of witnessing God’s annual reminder that life always overcomes death. Then, just about the time we think we’ve turned the final corner coming out of winter, another cold front blows through and we’re left to wonder if the skies will ever clear and the earth will ever warm again.

Waiting patiently. That’s the hard part. That’s the Easter discipline. “If we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience” (Romans 8:25, NRSV). Not that we’re expected to just sit on our hands until God proves our hope true with our own resurrection from the dead. Quite the opposite, we’re compelled to work like the resurrected people we are now for what is eternally good.

Impatience is born of futility, the sense that what we’re doing now is just biding our time until something better comes along. It’s born of a sad cynicism, most often fostered exclusively at church, that only when the clock starts on eternity, as in future time, will anything really matter. Yet, waiting with patience as we hope for what we do not see means laboring now in the faith that working on what we can see matters in ways we cannot see, in eternity present and eternity future.

Easter patience means believing in the worth of this moment, even as we wait for the new thing God is about to do. It means loving and forgiving, working for justice and peace now, sharing our hope in Christ that sin is forgiven, now and forever. Easter patience means leaning into this day’s work even as we keep our eyes on the eastern horizon, watching for the day when God will bring God’s kingdom to be on earth even as it is in heaven. Easter patience means trusting that eternal life is not just about going to heaven after we die to live there forever, but, instead, that “eternity is now in flight and we with it” (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy).

Easter patience means living a life fueled by the hope that eternity is not so much a heavenly moment that begins when all earthly clocks stop as much as it is a relationship with God now and forever, not limited by time or place. Patience, Easter patience, is both the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1, KJV) and, at the same time, the offspring of hope, the result of believing in each moment we live now for its own value and purpose. So that, even as I tend my earthly garden or love my wife or tend to the work of my earthly calling, I’m participating, even now, in God’s eternal plan.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Happy Marriages and Cattle Auctions

Last week, ABC’s, The Bachelor, aired its final episode of the spring season. If you’re not familiar with the plot, The Bachelor is a weekly series during which a well-tanned, chisel-jawed, six-pack bachelor is presented with several stunningly beautiful young ladies from which he gets to choose one he’d like to marry, before the season ends, of course, and it’s too late. The audience gets to watch in as the bachelor dates each of the girls, even as he closes the door on their love nest for a near-end-of-season romp in the sack. Each week, the bachelor eliminates one of the girls until there is only one left, the right one for him to marry.

Aside from the blatantly chauvinistic nature of the show, Bachelor is an interesting commentary on American cultural values. That sexual intercourse, for example, is just an extension of making out, the next natural thing to do in order to get to know each other better before making a marriage commitment. That one’s ability to perform sexually should be a standard part of the litmus test that helps us all decide if we’ve found the right person. Really?

Aside from treating women like cattle at a sale barn auction and devaluing sexual intercourse, it’s that “finding the right person” idea of marriage that is most troubling. The entire premise of the show, and too many marriages, is that happiness is based almost exclusively on finding the right person. All of which is based upon the assumption that happiness is a commodity, of sorts, outside of us, that can be acquired or possessed, like a piece of jewelry.

I know. Shows like Bachelor are about making money for networks struggling to stay afloat in this Internet, DVD, Netflix generation. They are about high-dollar marketing, finding out what the audience wants and giving it to them in non-judgmental, amoral HD. Shouldn’t it tell us something about ourselves, however, that researchers have done their homework and concluded that shows like Bachelor are what it takes to get and keep our attention? What should it tell us that Christian marriages dissolve at the same rate as non-Christian marriages? Is it possible that just being a Christian doesn’t guarantee happiness?

Marriage doesn’t make anyone happy. Marriage only provides an environment which exposes our depth of happiness, or lack of it. Happy marriages are not the result of finding the right person as much as they are about being the right person. Healthy people tend to attract other healthy people. Happy people tend to attract other happy people. Happy marriages happen to happy people.

We were created for more than just standing around at someone else’s auction, hoping the highest bidder comes along before it’s too late.

Monday, March 1, 2010


A week ago Monday, one of my wife’s colleagues at work had to take his young wife, the mother of their only baby, to undergo a double mastectomy. We're just heartbroken for them. The next day, after sitting with a woman at the hospital while her husband had surgery, I was getting on the elevator to go home.

Trying to get on the elevator behind me was a middle-aged Hispanic woman, in a wheelchair, missing both legs just below the knees, freshly bandaged. I’d already witnessed her missing one elevator as I was walking up. She didn't have anyone there to help her get to the elevator and get on fast enough. I got to hold the door for her and something inside of me felt warmer.

As I stood in the elevator, staring at the closed door, taking the six-second ride up from sublevel 2, I thought, "I am so blessed. I have a spectacular and beautiful wife who loves me without reservation, I have two sons who still enjoy talking to me. I have a job, a roof over my head, food on my table, my health and, not least, a great dog. Everything else, I mean everything, is gravy - just gravy.”

It put all of my anxieties of the week into perspective. I said to myself, "I will love this day. I will live it fully. I will choose peace over anxiety. I will rest in Nancy's love and in the love of the Jesus who brought us together. I will not wait until all the bills are paid, until I have perfect answers to every question and absolute guarantees to all the uncertainties. I will dance in the sunlight that is mine today!"

Suddenly, the elevator door opened and I was standing two floors higher than I had started out. Not a bad day at all.