Our wedding day was a day to remember. June 25, 2000, Thousand Oaks, California. From start to finish it’s one of those days at the top of my list. It was a Sunday, and our families and friends had started gathering in and around our hometown a few days before – the bachelor party was on Friday, Saturday was of course the rehearsal and the rehearsal dinner, and Sunday was the big day.
A wise friend of ours – and I can’t even tell you which one – had suggested we stop and take moments throughout the festivities just to take it all in – really intentionally stop and look around or pause and consider all the love and joy that is present. I had one such opportunity after the Rehearsal Dinner: the older crowd had all gone home to bed, the younger crowd was out dancing at the restaurant next door to where we had the Rehearsal Dinner, and I had decided to leave that party a little earlier to get some rest. I had walked back to the hotel by myself and apparently that same weekend at our hotel was a big international Irish folk music convention. In the lobby of the hotel were all these Irish folk musicians – this is a random hotel North of L.A., not the north coast of Ireland, but there they were, circled up, about 30 of them. The lobby was filled with this beautiful music, so I sat down right in the middle of it to—as our friend said—take it all in, to consider the all the love that was present. And it was a foretaste of the joy to come. That was Saturday, the day before I got married.
Then on Sunday, the wedding was scheduled for the afternoon, and so I went to church with my family in the morning. And we gathered with the faith community around the Word. Lots of winks and hugs and “see you laters” that morning I remember. Such a special time and a centering place for me. I won’t go on and on with the details of the wedding and reception. But I can tell you, that in the midst of it all there was such great joy and peace that over came us. The ceremony was beautiful; it was at California Lutheran University’s chapel, where Heather and I had met. Mark Knutson was our campus pastor and the pastor that married us, so our 2 pastor dads could wear tuxedos and just be dads. The words and the toasts were all so touching (and appropriately humorous), the pictures turned out amazing, there was dancing and singing – literally: our friends got up and did a rendition of a Jimmy Buffett song in our honor. We had negotiated to have the hotel ballroom until 1 in the morning, unlike most contracts, I understand. And people stayed late into the night, talking, and laughing and dancing. Heather and I stayed ‘til the very end too! It was all our closest people at the time gathered in one place! We couldn’t miss it.
But you know what I didn’t mention in my recollections here? The food! Traditionally, isn’t this one of the greatest food days in so many of our cultures?! I honestly don’t even remember what I ate for dinner! I’m sure it tasted great. And I never even had a slice of wedding cake! I know I ate.
But when I look back at it all, I think the real food that sustained me that whole weekend, the real food that filled me was the love and the community and the laughter and the joy that had come to surround and embrace Heather and I, as we made our sacred vows to each other...
This is my illustration for our Gospel text today. And my great wedding experience is only a glimpse of the way that God feeds us. Jesus says, “I am the true bread that comes down from heaven.” There’s lots to be said of earthly food – and I love it – but when Jesus says he is true bread, we are brought into something much greater than the short-term joy of a good meal or even a wedding feast. When Jesus offers himself to us as the true bread of life, we are offered a place on the dance floor, a seat in the pew at church surrounded by the faithful, a front row to the swirling melodies of traditional reels and jigs, with fingers and toes tapping along to the rhythm, our bellies full of laughter, our eyes full of tears, our hearts full of joy, and our minds full of peace. This is what God’s got in store for us. And it’s offered to us here, in this life, even in this day, at this table! Christ is present with us, today, offering himself here – in bread, in wine, in water, and in the community of faith and doubt. (reverencing both ways)
Let us eat of this Bread of Life. Because it’s so much better than just the bread of lunch or even the fancy breads of dinner. The Bread of Life gives us the true strength and nourishment and the p-e-a-c-e of God that we need to face our difficult days. [pause]
Now, we can actually become addicted to earthly bread: to food and other substances, to money, to stuff. Those earthly breads do comfort us at times, they even give us great joy in the moment...or at least, they numb our pain for a second. And they’re not all bad. But all the earthly breads do come up short.
The real bread, the true bread that comes down from heaven, is God’s Love. Have you received this bread before?
This is the true bread of forgiveness. All that you’ve done, all that you’ve failed to do. Mercy. ...held out to you this day.
Have you been able to accept this bread before? (dead ritual)
Friends, I want to invite you: don’t look at the bread and wine that you will receive at this table in a few minutes with earthly lenses. Everything else we consume, we use our earthly lenses to evaluate it, critique it, quantify it.
Don’t taste and compare this meal to other breads and wines you’ve tasted before, don’t pay attention to the flavor, with an earthly palette. Don’t think about digesting with an earthly stomach. But when you come to this table, you are not receiving earthly bread! Through faith, through the words of Christ, through this sacred community — you are receiving heavenly bread today! So see this holy meal with the lenses of faith, taste it with the palette of trust, digest this meal in a body of hope.
For this is the true bread of justice and compassion! In a climate of injustice and hatred, Christ is born in quiet, holy ways, in crumbs and sips, and yet fills us to the brim with the ability to open our hearts in care for the stranger, the immigrant and the orphan, the hungry and the sick, and also those we’ve struggled to love and like! – This is the true bread of justice and compassion, and it is offered to you this day.
This is the true bread of joy and peace. Calming our anxieties and our cravings for more, bringing a contented smile to our faces and air to our lungs. “Ah,” take it all in, like my wedding weekend. Joy and peace is offered to you this day, despite all the chaos, all the opposite-of-joy-and-peace swirling around our cities, our nation, our world, our our own hearts — divine joy, peace, the true bread of heaven, Christ himself is for you.
Let us take this bread together. Let us break it and share it. Let us eat it in community, with the whole earthly community heavy on our hearts in prayer. For this is the true bread of heaven that raises us all up on the last day, that draws us to God and therefore to one another and the good earth.
“Take and eat, this is the body of Christ,
given for you and for all.” AMEN.