Tag Archive: Bread


“Get Up and Eat!”

Sunday’s Sermon from Community Lutheran Church, Sterling, VA.

With all these readings about bread, I’ve been thinking about Holy Communion an awful lot.  In 2004, during my year abroad in Germany, I attended a tiny Lutheran church.  That first day I was there, they had Communion, but I didn’t go forward because I didn’t know the rules.  After the service, I asked the pastor in my slow German, struggling to pull together the right church words in another language, if I could receive communion.  “I wasn’t baptized Lutheran,” I’d told him.  I just remember the smile on his face as he said, “as long as you believe Christ is present there, you may receive.”  I felt so relieved to be welcomed at that table, able to be fed with the others gathered for worship.

When I returned home in 2005, I didn’t go to church since I was nervous because I’d had a difficult experience at a church when I was in high school.  But by 2007, I found myself really missing the community of faith.  I was hungry and thirsty for God, and I knew the only way I could grow in my faith was to try going to church again.  I needed Holy Communion – I needed to hear those words, “the body of Christ, given for you” and “the blood of Christ, shed for you.”  So I found a church, was welcomed again at the table, and I continued to heal from my past experiences with the church.

In 2012, during seminary, I studied for three months in Munich, Germany, living in a wonderful ecumenical community.  One night we gathered for worship in the small chapel, coming together from all different countries and denominations, singing, praying, listening to God’s word and sharing Holy Communion.  When the time came to distribute the bread and wine, the pastor gave to one person, and then that person distributed it to the next person, saying, in German: “Nimm und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  I think the non-native German speakers were a little worried because no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises to another person.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words of grace.

But then I saw the kingdom break in in a wondrous way.  When the bread reached a man from Brazil, he closed his eyes and spoke in Portuguese to his neighbor.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in their native language.  But even with the variations in the words, you could tell that the words people used were the words that meant something to them.  It was wonderful to hear these powerful words in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come – that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language – the language of praise.

Running throughout my life, like a beautiful and life-giving thread, throughout various faith communities and around the world, Holy Communion has been there.  It has been a meal of welcome, of healing and forgiveness, a sign of the kingdom, a foretaste of the feast to come, and a challenge.  I would not have been able to make my journey without it and I hear that echoed in Elijah’s episode in the wilderness.  Elijah has just had an epic duel with the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal to see whose god is truly God.  Elijah and the Lord of Israel win the contest, and in a difficult bit of Scripture, Elijah has the prophets of Baal killed by the sword.  Queen Jezebel is outraged and threatens to kill Elijah, so he flees into the wilderness.

There, under a lone tree, he’s scared, exhausted, overwhelmed, perhaps feeling like a failure, and wondering what the future is going to hold for him.  Struggling with his situation and wishing for his own death, he lays down, tired of fighting, to get some rest.  It’s then that an angel of the Lord wakes him up, saying, “Get up and eat.”  He does, and then promptly lays back down for a nap after his holy snack.  But the angel of the Lord returns and tells him, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

Now, if I were Elijah, and I was exhausted and hungry, that angel would have to be awfully careful approaching me and telling me that I had a journey to get ready for! But he eats, and he’s sustained for 40 days and nights until he reaches Mt. Horeb where he will encounter God in silence and be called to go back into the fray.  He’s fed to go back out to do God’s work in the world.  He’s challenged not just to sit and be fed, but to use that sustenance and strength to be a part of God’s changing work.

Sometimes we find ourselves feeling wiped out, tired of all the rigmarole, and we don’t know how we’re going to make it.  We face illnesses, aging parents, difficulties with raising children, stress at work, struggles with our finances, problems at school… Sometimes all we want to do is curl up in a ball and stay under the covers.  And those first followers of Jesus felt the same way.  Those who followed, experienced his healings, listened to his teachings, and were fed by him, were a people who were tired of oppression under foreign rulers, tired of struggling to eke out a living, and wondering when their circumstances would change.  They knew all too well about poverty, discouragement, and hardship.

And when Jesus, a man whose family they know, says that he’s the bread of life – the one who will give life, not only now but eternally – well, that’s just too much for them! When he says – “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – that must have sounded downright crazy to his listeners! They must have been thinking, “teachings are helpful.  Healings, feedings, and miracles, we love! But this is going too far. How on earth can we accept this?”

I think as much as we may try to avoid talking about it, we, too, have these feelings.  We hunger for God.  We long to believe in God’s promises.  We ache to know that things are changing and the kingdom is coming.  But sometimes we feel like Elijah and those first followers: tired, weak and broken down by all of the pain of our lives and the world.  And the thought of heading back out there is wearisome.  We come to this place and we desire to be fed.  We come to Communion and we wonder if a wafer and a sip of wine can change our lives.  We ask, “Can such a simple meal change me? Will Jesus really meet me there in such simple food?”

Yes. Yes, he will.  And this simple meal does change our lives.  You see, the God we worship doesn’t work the way we think or expect God to work.  God works through plain old water and every day, ordinary bread and wine.  God’s voice is heard through normal people reading from a book, through fellow bumbling disciples called to preach, and through every one of us ministering to others.  God’s presence and power are felt in praying for others, in unglamorously serving together in the community, in small acts of kindness and hospitality.  The glory of God worked through frail human flesh, vulnerable and weak, to redeem the entire cosmos.  Yes, Christ will meet us in bread and wine.  It’s just the sort of surprising, outrageous and laughable thing that God would do.

It’s easy to get caught up in life.  To be overwhelmed, even during summer vacation season.  To find ourselves running every which way and dealing with all sorts of things we never anticipated.  To find we have far too much on our plates, but realize we’re, ironically, not really being fed spiritually.  So how do we slow down, stop, and eat? How do we make time to receive and participate in that which is life-giving and life-sustaining?  How do we remember that when we open our hands, we’re not just going through the motions, but saying, “Jesus, I need you.  I can’t do it on my own.  Thank you for welcoming me.  Forgive me for the things I’ve done or failed to do.  Help me to follow you and strengthen me so I can serve you in the world.”

We are called to get up and eat – to receive the God who comes to us, the God who is continually drawing us to himself.  We may, like those following Jesus so long ago, have a hard time swallowing that Jesus can and will sustain us throughout the bumpy journey of life with all it’s twists and turns, peaks and valleys.  But the One who dwelt with us and experienced the hardships of life as we do, has conquered this world once and for all through the cross and resurrection.  We have nothing to fear.  He has promised to be with us and to meet us in broken bread and wine outpoured.  While it may seem that a morsel of bread and a sip of wine cannot possibly keep us going, time and time again, they give us forgiveness, hope and strength.  And as this food with God’s promise sustains us, slowly, but surely, Christ transforms us one little bit at a time.

God knows that it seems impossible.  That it seems too good to be true.  So we’re invited again and again to see, hear, touch, smell, and taste that the Lord is good.  To keep meeting God at this holy table to that we can remember that Jesus is the Bread of Life – the one who nourishes us so we can go out and live.  Because God knows we need this grace, we are invited over and over again to join the feast – young and old, rich and poor, no matter where we’ve come from.  God draws us and calls us to come and be refreshed – to get up and eat so that our life’s journey will not be too much for us.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

© 2015. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

Hi friends!  So, I’ve been writing more reflective posts about my time here, but now it’s time for my random thoughts and things I’ve noticed in the past nine and a half weeks here in Munich.  I report on these in no particular order and with a great deal of love for Germany 🙂

  1. Tracht (traditional garb) – Children in Lederhosen and Dirndls are super adorable!
  2. Milchkaffee – This frothy coffee made with lots of milk is one of my favorite things and I could seriously drink it every day.
  3. Escalators – There are really cool escalators here that are capable of going either direction, depending upon whether or not people are standing at the top or bottom.  Sadly, you can’t change directions once the escalator has started moving – that would really mess with people, after all!  Overall, these escalators in the subway (U-Bahn) work really well, but sometimes they’re out of order.  That’s to be expected – nothing bizarre there.  However, on several occasions, I have witnessed people begin to walk up the escalator, realize that it’s not working, turn around, and then go up the stairs.  Was?!  And the funny thing is, I’ve started to do it, too! All of this reminds me of a stand-up bit by dear Mitch Hedberg, a comedian who left us far too soon (it’s the second half of the skit).
  4. International Relations – A goofy grin, a laugh or a kind word go a long way in international relations 😀  So many times, a smile or even saying Gesundheit to someone on the U-Bahn have brought awesome cross-cultural moments.
  5. Der Lehrturm –  If your class is held in a building called the Lehrturm or “Teaching Tower,” you may be excited because it sounds like something from Harry Potter.  Oooohhh, maybe it’s like the Astronomy Tower!  But, alas, Professor Dumbledore is not coming.  Nor will there be enchanting moving pictures hanging on the walls.  Instead you will find that, like the Astronomy Tower, there are only stairs…seemingly endless stairs to your classroom which is located at the very top of the tower.  And like the Astronomy Tower, I don’t believe there’s an elevator…
  6. Early Starts – Classes for Hebrew and Greek begin at 8:00 am.  That’s just mean… I can barely think in any language at all at that point in time, let alone a Biblical one!
  7. Breads/Pastries/Sweets– The world is missing out because I don’t think people know that Germany has some amazing baking skills.  One of the things I miss most when I’m not here are the delicious breads, rolls and pastries.  Frankly, even if the world knows about the bread, I think Germany’s sweets and pastries are seriously underrated.  Amazing cakes and tortes, sweet rolls with nuts or apples, flaky Strudel and all manner of other treats with delicious fruits and/or sauces.  Just writing about it makes me want to go find something! *mouth waters*

    Schwarzwälder Kirschtorte

  8. Libraries – Each university department has it’s own library; I, for example, use the theological/philosophical library.  The resources here in Munich are really incredible, but within the departmental libraries you are not allowed to check out books.  There is a university library, but if you want to check out a book there, you need a library card.  To obtain said library card, you need a student ID and a personal ID.  And this is where it gets a wee bit ridiculous… When I presented my student ID and driver’s license, I was informed that that would not work because I was not a citizen of the EU.  She would need to see my passport and proof that I had a place to stay here.  For a library card.  Please bear in mind that my student ID was obtained by showing my passport and proof that I had a place to stay.  Yes, the same student ID that was needed to get the library card.  *Face palm*  Oh, and if you want to borrow a book from the library, you have to order it on a computer and wait for it to arrive (3 days!), not because it’s coming from a different location in Germany or Europe, but because they need to get it from one of the libraries in Munich.
  9. Dogs – We discussed this in my language course: Germans love dogs.  And there are tons here!  They travel with their people on the U-Bahn, on buses, and sit with them in restaurants.  But the interesting thing is that they are far better behaved (for the most part!) than dogs I’ve seen back home.  Walking through the Englischer Garten (English Garden), you see tons of people with their dogs and many aren’t on leashes.  However, it’s fascinating to watch because they stay pretty close to their owners, don’t harass others, and most of them return quickly when called.
  10. Mülltrennung (trash separation) – This is something I have continued to be in awe of since I first studied abroad in Germany in college.  While we may complain about having recycling bins and trash cans, there are 5 different containers here!  One is for biodegradable things, one is for paper, one is for glass of various types, one is for packaging and cartons, and the last is for the rest.  Talk about taking your time to try to figure out where everything goes!  But I think it’s a good system because it really forces me to not be lazy about thinking about where my trash/items go.  I find that it makes me more conscious of trying to not waste things and to reuse/recycle as much as possible.
  11. Staying Active! – I have been walking so much since I’ve been here and while sometimes it’d be great to just get to where I’m going quickly by using a car, I have really been loving the walks.  Fresh air, time to move and to think, and being able to experience changing leaves, bright sun or even gentle rain is wonderful.  It makes me feel alive.  Besides, I think it’s saving me from the breads, sweets and pastries from number 7 😉  People use bikes here as well – lots of bikes – which can be intimidating and/or life-threatening if you are standing in a bike lane and miss the ring of the bell that singles you are about to be run down! I would expect that a lot of young people would walk or bike, but older people do too, which always makes me super happy.  It’s great to see 70+ year-old people walking or biking and staying active.  I hope that I can remain this active when I go back and as I become older!

As I said these are just some thoughts and reflections into what I’ve been noticing and experiencing!  What are your experiences away from home?

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

One Language

So all has been going super awesome here, but things have been quite busy and, once again, I’m later than I’d like to be on my blogging.  But tonight, something caught my attention and I had to write about it to think about and to chew on it some more.  I’ve been thinking a lot about Holy Communion for the past couple months.  Before I left, we heard the Gospel of John’s readings on bread, so I think that got me thinking.  And I preached a couple of those weeks, so that also made me really ponder these texts about Jesus, bread, wine, and Communion.

But I’ve continued thinking about Communion since I’ve been here.  During the past (almost!) two months, I have been absolutely blessed to participate in many different types of services.  Thus far, I’ve been to:

  • two Lutheran services
  • two Catholic services (one more of an open meditation/prayer evening with music)
  • morning and evening devotions here at the Collegium Oecumenicum
  • a joint Thanksgiving service (Germans celebrate this holiday on the first Sunday of October – this year, on the 7th) between the Collegium and the Heilpädagogisches Centrum Augustinum (HPCA) with whom we share space (similar to a L’Arche community)
  • one ecumenical semester opening service at the Collegium
  • two ecumenical services in the style of the Chicago Folk Service at the Collegium

These have been truly rich experiences because they have given me a chance to see different styles and forms of worship, something that is harder to do when one is serving at one place.  However, I have missed Holy Communion.

In Germany, Communion is not practiced as regularly as it is in Lutheran churches back home.  Here, it often seems to take place once a month or so, and when you’re used to receiving Communion once a week or more (between seminary, internship, home visits, etc.), you notice not having it.  And at Catholic services, I do not receive Communion since it goes against their teachings about receiving the sacrament.  The Communion services here at the Collegium, done in the Chicago Folk Service style, have been the only two times I have received that little bit of bread and that sip of wine that have become so important to me.

Even this morning, I was already looking forward to tonight’s service because I knew we would not only sing, pray, and hear God’s word, but that we would also celebrate the Eucharist.  And then, during the service, the most beautiful thing happened.  The Words of Institution had been said (“In the night in which he was betrayed…”) and we formed a half-circle in the tiny chapel.  Then, the pastor gave the bread to the organist and each person passed it on.  I was so excited because at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC those who help lead worship stand in a circle and give each other bread and wine every Sunday.  It’s such a wonderful reminder to me of how we give and receive, of how we need each other, and how we are to live in the body of Christ with one another.

So the pastor gave the wafer to the organist and spoke, naturally, in German: “Nimm hin und iss. Christi Leib, für dich gegeben” (“Take and eat.  Body of Christ, given for you.”).  Well, to a non-native German speaker, to speak these foreign words to others could have been a daunting task.  I know sometimes people get nervous speaking these words in English because they’re such important words.  They are words of promise.  They are words of God’s action in our lives.  And no one wants to mess up speaking God’s promises or acts to another person!

But here’s where the beauty occurred.  The bread reached a man from Brazil and instead of speaking these words in German, he closed his eyes and spoke them in Portuguese.  He spoke these words in the language that was close to his heart and said them the best way he knew how – authentically in his mother tongue.  As we went around the circle, others spoke in English and it was interesting to hear all of the slight variations of these words.  But even with the variations, you could tell that the words people chose and used were the words that meant something to them.  The same happened with the chalice: “Nimm hin und trink. Christi Blut, für dich vergossen.” “Take and drink.  Blood of Christ, poured out/shed for you.”  It was wonderful to hear these words that mean so much to me in different languages and voices.  The variety brought such a richness to the experience and made me think about the feast to come.  It made me think about that feast, that colorful heavenly banquet, where people will be gathered from every corner of the world, from all different backgrounds and times, all speaking one language: praise.

When we finished with Communion, we sang a song that brought the whole experience together for me: “Strahle brechen viele [aus einem Licht]” (“Rays break many [out of one light]”).  The last verse seemed particularly apt:

Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib.
Wir sind Glieder Christi.
Glieder sind es viele, doch nur ein Leib
und wir sind eins durch ihn.  (Lyrics found here)

In English: “Members, there are many, but only one body.  We are members of Christ.  Members, there are many, but only one body, and we are one though him.”  And the cool, and really nerdy, thing is that in German, the word for body (Leib) and the word for a loaf of bread (Laib) sound exactly the same when spoken aloud.  Body and bread, together in one sound.  People joined together through bread in the body of Christ through the one language of praise.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Abendmahl” by/von Brunhild Klein-Hennig

Community Life

Hi friends!  I’ve been bad about updating this blog, but it’s because there’s been a ton of fun things going on, and that’s a good thing, right?  Over the past month or so, I’ve been living at the Collegium Oecumenicum in Munich and it’s been great! One thing I’ve really been thinking about is community.  Here, I live with about 50 other students from all over the world.  I share a floor with others, which means that I share bathrooms, a kitchen and a living room with other people.  Some people might shirk at the idea of living together and having to share with others, but I actually think it’s a great thing that everyone should do – at least once!  And, for the record, this is my second round of living in a Wohngemeinschaft (WG – or, “flat-sharing community”).

So now you may be wondering why I would want to live like this, right?  Well, I can sum it up in one word: community.  Here at the Collegium, we have the opportunity to eat breakfast and lunch in the large dining hall, or we can cook in the kitchens found on each of the floors.  In doing so, it means that we often run into others who are in the dining hall or in the kitchen at the same time.  This leads to fun conversations, or to making plans to go out and do things in the city or the surrounding area, or to delicious community meals.  Last night, for example, many of us pooled our resources to make a huge dinner of salad, bread, pasta, and homemade tomato sauce (yes, bread and pasta – I think we were carbo-loading!).  All shared what they had and helped with the cooking and cleaning.  It was a blast and we had plenty of food to left over for today.  It was truly beautiful because everything was freely shared and enjoyed.

And this is not the only time in my life I’ve experienced this.  People here and in Freiburg, where I studied before, – poor students, mind you! – have been so generous with what they have.  When I think about this, I think of the wealth we have in the States (and in a large part of the developed world in general) and the fact that it seems the more wealth we have, the more people seem to clench their fists tightly around what they have.  “This is mine…,” we say (myself included), and we insinuate that these possessions will not change hands any time soon.

I’ve also been struck by how the members of this community support one another.  I was quite nervous a few weeks ago because I had an important interview, but my roommates stepped up and listened to me, later asking how everything had gone and rejoicing with me when things went well.  People really paid attention and cared about what was going on in my life.  This is also something I’ve experienced in the community at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg and within various church communities.  It makes such a difference to know that people are really looking after you – that they are listening to you, praying for/with you, and that they follow up with you.

This particular community at the Collegium is also drawn together by our mutual belief in Jesus Christ and I’m really enjoying my experience here.  I find it exciting and refreshing that people invite others to attend church services of various flavors and that faith is something that is openly discussed here.  In an increasingly secular country (32-37% do not profess a religion), I find a great deal of hope in the students gathered here who explore and struggle with faith together.  We’re a community of people that gather together from various backgrounds in worship, confessing our faith together in the Apostle’s Creed and praying the Lord’s Prayer together.  These confessions and prayers happen in whatever language people choose and many have remarked how fascinating it is that, somehow, we all begin and end together when we speak, even if we’re not using the same language.  We’re a people who break bread and share wine together, both in the Eucharist and in every day meals.

Don’t get me wrong, I love having my own personal space, but there is something truly wonderful about living together in community.  It’s not always easy or perfect, but there’s a holiness or a sacredness that happens in community when people come together in spite of their differences.  Communities challenge and stretch us – they force us to examine ourselves and how we interact with others.  And besides, the Trinity, is, after all, a community, isn’t it?

So my question here is how can we intentionally build community where we are?  We may not live in a WG (“flat-sharing community”), but we can still work at building these communities in our churches and in our neighborhoods.  Maybe the foundations have already been laid and there only needs to be a critical mass of people who are willing to commit to spending time together, listening to and caring for one another, or working together to transform the local neighborhood.  The church should be a natural place to start, but if community is lacking, how can you help to foster change?  What ideas do you have?  I’d love to hear them!

For me, though, it’s late…and I don’t want to miss the morning breakfast with everyone!

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

“Get up and eat!”

This is the sermon I preached this morning at Christ Lutheran Church in Washington, DC.

The Texts:
1 Kings 19:4-8

4But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” 5Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” 6He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. 7The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” 8He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Elijah is having a really rough time.  He’s just had this epic face-off with 450 prophets of the god Baal.  He alone stood up for and served the LORD, while everyone else was worshiping Baal.  In his face-off with the prophets of Baal, they had dueling sacrifices to see who was the real God – Baal or the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel.  The God of Israel shows God’s power and the hearts of the people return to God once more.  Then, in a difficult to swallow maneuver, Elijah rounds up the prophets of Baal and kills them by the sword according to the law in Deuteronomy saying that false prophets should be killed.  That should be the end of the story, right?  Well, it’s not.  Jezebel, the king’s wife, is none too pleased with this and threatens to kill Elijah just like he killed the prophets of Baal.  It’s not looking good for our hero!  This is where we find ourselves with today’s reading from 1 Kings.

Fearing for his life, Elijah journeys out into the wilderness, just out of Jezebel’s reach, plops down under a solitary shrub, and laments his situation.  “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  Elijah is burnt out.  He’s overwhelmed by everything that’s occurred in his life.  He’s wondering if he can take any more of this prophetic calling.  He just wants to throw in the towel.  He wants it to be over.

Well, as the saying goes, “things always look better in the morning,” so Elijah lays down under the tree in exhaustion and falls asleep.  While he’s sleeping, an angel appears and touches him, telling him to “get up and eat.”  Now, initially, I thought this seemed like an odd response to someone who is feeling utterly wiped out.  However, this spring I learned a word that might help us to understand a bit of what Elijah was feeling.  The word is “hangry.”  Hangry is when you are angry because you’re hungry.  It’s when you start to get a bit cranky and snippy and on edge because you haven’t eaten in a while.  It’s when the world starts to get a bit overwhelming because you haven’t been fed recently.  Has anyone experienced this?  So maybe being a bit hungry contributed to Elijah’s feelings of being severely overwhelmed.

In any case, Elijah was definitely dealing with some big problems.  Interestingly enough, it seems that God’s recipe for turning things around is taking care of the prophet’s basic needs first: a nap and a snack.  So Elijah eats the bread-cake and drinks the water the angel provides, then he falls back asleep.  But then the angel wakes him again, this time saying, “get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  Now, if I were Elijah, I would appreciate this heavenly snack, but I’d probably be thinking “ummmm, journey, what journey?!  I just want to curl up in a ball and sleep, ok?”

But there must have been something about that food that gave Elijah the energy to continue on with his calling.  Something that renewed his strength, turned his attitude around, and gave him hope.

In 1954, as Europe was continuing to rebuild after World War II, J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of what would become his most famous work: The Lord of the Rings.  In the three volumes of this fantasy book, the seemingly weak and insignificant forces of good battle the utterly overwhelming forces of evil.  Part of this battle includes taking the one ring into the heart of where evil resides in order to destroy it once and for all.  Those who will carry this burden are the most unlikely of all – simple creatures called hobbits who love good food and drink, pleasant company and the outdoors.  Taking the ring to be destroyed seems like an impossible task, but they are helped along their journey by others and by the gifts that their companions give them.

One gift is the gift of lembas bread or waybread made by elves.  In the book, Tolkien describes this bread as “very thin cakes, made of a meal that was baked a light brown on the outside, and inside was the colour of cream.”  When they run out of everything else, it is this simple bread that sustains the hobbits, Frodo and Sam, on their dangerous, lonely and nearly insurmountable journey.  As the author describes it later in the book: “The lembas had a virtue without which they would long ago have lain down to die.  It did not satisfy desire, and at times Sam’s mind was filled with the memories of food, and the longing for simple bread and meats.  And yet this waybread of the Elves had a potency that increased as travellers relied on it alone and did not mingle it with other foods.  It fed the will, and it gave strength to endure, and to master sinew and limb beyond the measure of mortal kind.”

Just like Elijah, the hobbits would have lain down to die without this food.  But just like Elijah, they were fed with bread that was far more than it looked to be at first sight.   The fact that this bread made by elves sounds like Communion is no accident.  J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of this wonderful book, was a devout Catholic, weaving Christian elements and symbolism into his fantasy story.  And as the book The Gospel According to Tolkien: Visions of the Kingdom in Middle-earth explains, “…the elven-food called lembas [is]clearly reminiscent of the Eucharistic wafer: its airy lightness gives strength in direct disproportion to its weight.”

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  Life is hard.  Life is journey full of twists, turns, bumps in the road, mountains and valleys, surprises, joys, sorrows, laughter, tears, pains and comforts.  That’s a lot to handle.  And sometimes, we feel like Elijah, like we’re the only ones on the perilous journey.  We have those days where we’re wiped out and we just want to find our own solitary broom tree that we can curl up underneath.  Some days, we just want to pull the covers up over our heads.

And God gets that.  Rather than telling Elijah he has to carry on or that he’s failing at being a prophet since he’s overwhelmed, God lets Elijah rest.  Then the angel of God wakes him and gives him food that sustains him for forty days and forty nights.  This food he is given is enough to get him to Mount Horeb, the mountain of God.  The simple bread and water is enough to sustain him on the journey until he reaches the place where he will once again encounter God.

And just as God fed and sustained Elijah for his journey and calling, God feeds and sustains us so that the journey of life will not be too much for us.  As we hear from Jesus in the Gospel, “”I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  Jesus feeds us with himself, being fully present in the bread and wine we have every week.  Jesus presents himself to us, promising to be with us on our journeys through this meal – through plain food and drink shared with the promises of God.

Communion Bread and Wine

Holy Communion became really important to me while I was studying abroad in Germany – while I was on a journey of my own.  While there, a large part of my diet consisted of bread and cheese, both of which Europeans do fabulously!  However, it wasn’t this bread alone that kept me going.  It was the bread I received at a tiny Lutheran church on Sunday mornings.  Coming up to the altar rail, receiving that bread in my folded hands, and hearing “the body of Christ given for you” was so incredibly powerful.  You see, I had only received Communion like that once before, so to hear those words and to know that this was a meal and promise given for me – and for everyone – was incredible.

When I returned home after living in Germany, I did not attend church because I had previously had a painful experience with a church here in the States.  But as time went on and work became more frustrating and overwhelming, I realized how much I missed Holy Communion.  I realized just how much I needed that little piece of bread and that sip of wine.  I needed the promise of God and the mysterious food that would sustain me in my everyday life.  I wanted and needed to be fed by simple bread and wine.  I wanted and needed to be fed by the promises and the word of God.  I wanted and needed to be fed and nourished in my faith.  I wanted and needed that bread of life that nourishes us to have abundant life with Christ in the here and now.

So I found a church, risking another bad experience in order that I might hear the promise: “the body of Christ given for you” and “the blood of Christ shed for you.”  I went back so that I might be fed.  And I was.

And like Elijah, I was fed so that I might continue on my journey – a journey that has led me here, to this place, to share in Holy Communion with all of you.

“Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”  God feeds us.  God gives us what we need to sustain us on our journeys through life.  God gives us food for our souls so that we can, like Elijah, carry out what God is calling us to do in life.  When we are in that place of feeling overwhelmed, of being stressed out, of feeling worn out to the point of giving up, God welcomes us to the table.  God tells us to eat so that we are satisfied.  We are welcomed over and over again to the feast so that we can “taste and see that the LORD is good!”  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

© 2012. Annabelle Peake Markey. All rights reserved.

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