The Nourishing Life
May 1, 2022, John 21 The Nourishing Life
When it comes to apprehending the beauty and mystery of the spiritual life, much wisdom comes from sharing the faith practices with our children in all the ways we do. Years ago, I watched little Amelia as she slowly found her way into the rhythms of Holy Communion. She was brought forward in her parents’ arms from a very young age. Before long she was holding out her hand to receive a piece of bread, then bring it to her mouth to savor. No juice at first—just the bread. One day at home, with cookies as her snack she reached out and placed a cookie in her father’s hand. It was Communion beyond the walls of the church!
Some months later Amelia ventured further. Coming up to receive Communion she took the bread, and for the very first time dipped it lightly into the cup. She was so excited to see the result—bread tinged with grape juice—that rather than eat it she wanted to show her accomplishment to everyone around her. [Two things becoming one is a wonder we behold quite often in the work of the church, isn’t it?] At home that next week she had potato chips and a cup of milk for her snack. She began to dip her potato chips into the milk and then eat them. If you’ve never tasted potato chips dipped in milk, then I gotta tell you something . . . neither have I! Her mother asked her, “Amelia, what are you doing?” prompting Amelia to take a potato chip, dip it in the milk, and say, “Eat your communion, Mommy.”
Amelia was living off the pages of John 21. The front end of today’s story features a grand feast—breakfast on the beach with bread and a ton of fresh fish cooked over a charcoal fire. The abundance is emblematic of the whole of John’s gospel, which begins with Jesus blessing a wedding feast with 150 gallons of fine wine; and ends with a breakfast on the beach with 153 fish for roasting on an open fire. Probably the most quoted verse in the Bible is John 3:16. Here’s another good one: John 1:16: From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace . . .
Abundance. After this extravagant breakfast, the story immediately moves beyond the small circle of disciples around that charcoal fire to the whole world. Jesus asks that his newly nourished friends now nourish others. Feed my sheep, he tells Peter. It is abundantly clear that the risen Christ is on a mission to see that everybody is both fed and about the work of feeding others; gifted at the table, given to the world. The gifted—that’s everyone here—are gifted.
From our United Methodist Discipline comes this elegant phrase: This ministry of all Christians in Christ’s name and spirit is both a gift and a task. The gift is God’s unmerited grace; the task is unstinting service to others. Clarence Jordan, co-founder of Koinonia Farm, puts it this way: “The Good News of the resurrection is not that we shall die and go home with Christ, but that Christ is risen and comes home with us, bringing all his hungry, thirsty, sick, imprisoned brothers [and sisters] with him.”
The grace of this table is a gift that keeps on giving—leading us into the world to share the bread and cup—or potato chips and milk, as the case may be—with others, until all are nourished.
Do this in remembrance of me is a mandate we hear in a certain way at the last supper.
Following this first breakfast, with Jesus’ charge to feed his sheep, to tend his lambs, we can hear those words in quite another way: do this in remembrance of me.
More wisdom from our children regarding the spiritual life. One Sunday little Gus Jr. came forward with his family—his mom and dad and three big sisters—for Communion. As he and his dad left the Communion rail hand in hand he whispered up to his father, “Daddy, I’m still hungry.”
His words are sweet and funny, but become poignant when we learn that his father, Gus Sr., worked for the Justice Department in the Southern District. His job was to seek to ensure that the Civil Rights Act was observed consistently in municipalities and counties and states across the south and southwest. You can imagine the life he lived as he related to governors and mayors and city councils and community groups and activists of all kinds: a constant blending of accountability and affirmation, disappointment and hopefulness. From one day, one crisis, one march, one riot, one arbitration to another, he would go to these trouble spots, returning home either encouraged or discouraged depending on the task and the outcome, always hungry for more civility, more fairness, more justice; in some instances, simply more humanity.
Daddy, I’m still hungry. Thank you, little Gus, for giving to all the faithful who have come to be nourished at this table the words, the disposition for how we are meant to leave it. The bread of the table that satisfies us also kindles a yearning for more of what we’ve tasted of the beloved community, encounter with God, assurance of forgiveness, hope of new creation; and for others who hunger to taste it, too. I’m reminded of a prayer from the Latin American tradition: “O God, to those who are hungry give bread; to those who have bread give hunger, a hunger for justice.”
We say sometimes that when we come to this table we touch and handle things we cannot see. real presence. forgiveness, Grace. But in here, too, are things we cannot see—yearnings to be truly about the work of love in Jesus’ name; one hunger meeting another as we step into the work of unstinting service; the work of reconciliation, advocacy, relief of suffering, repairing the world one generous hour, one financial gift, one grace-filled gesture at a time.
Young Amelia. Little Gus. They’ve given us good stories about the nourishing life. Maybe you have one, too. Or will very soon.