Goldfish and Apple Juice
Shortly before my graduation from seminary, the two classes of seminarians behind me threw a party for my classmates and me. At this party, they surprised us with superlative awards.
So, for example, a classmate who's really into music and has started writing his own hymns was named Most Likely To Write The Next Hymnal. A classmate who's an amazing listener and peacemaker and who has studied abroad a lot was named Most Likely To Single-Handedly Reconcile The Anglican Communion. A classmate who is especially fiery and outspoken was named Most Likely To Start The Next Inquisition. A classmate who was heading for a church near her home on the Florida coast was named Most Likely To Start A Surfing Ministry (and she has). A classmate who's on social media constantly was named Most Likely To Live-Tweet His Ordination Vows.
The party was a ton of fun and I love a good joke that's done in love, but I'm here to talk about why it is that I'm still a little uneasy about the award I received.
Now, I have nothing but love and respect for all of my friends at Virginia Seminary. I miss them, and I understand why they gave me this award. I know they were playing on the fact that I have two small children, the younger of whom was born in the middle of seminary. So, they had seen me with an infant, and then pregnant, and with another infant, and then with toddlers, and I suppose if there was anyone in my class who was the picture of young parenthood, it was I. So, they named me Most Likely To Serve Goldfish Crackers And Apple Juice At Eucharist.
Again, I get it, and there really is a lot of Goldfish and apple juice in my life. But I'm here to talk about why it's actually not so likely that we'll see Goldfish and apple juice here on this altar.
See, it's bread, not Goldfish, that we hear a lot about throughout Scripture – both in God's first covenant with the children of Israel, and in God's next covenant with the whole world through Jesus Christ.
In our story from Exodus, the Israelites are walking through the desert from captivity in Egypt toward the Promised Land. It has only been about six weeks since God made a covenant with them, that they would be his people, and he would be their God. So it's still really early in their relationship. When we hear language in the reading like "God was testing them" or "they were testing God", it's because the Israelites were still figuring out what it means to be people of God. God has promised them freedom from captivity, which sounds great, but today here they are, traipsing through a desert with no food in sight. Why has God brought them there, they ask, poignantly. Only to let them die?
Then God, seeing that in fact there is no bread, does the impossible: God makes heaven rain down bread. Now when has that ever happened before? Certainly not until that point. But God does something new in this impossible situation, as if to say, "You are mine and I am yours. Sit down and have some bread."
Last week's Gospel portrayed another huge, traveling crowd that had gotten very hungry. And once again, there was nothing to eat. Well, not nothing: there were five loaves of bread and two fish. But, as the disciples said, "What is that among so many people?" It's another impossible situation, but again, God shows up. Somehow, Jesus makes the bread to feed all five thousand people.
In today's Gospel, people are still processing that. They guess that the miracle, the sign, points toward God's fantastic and almighty power. So they ask Jesus to perform more signs. They say, "You're all about the signs – What's next?" Jesus says, "No, no, all that bread is not to impress you. Neither was the manna in the desert. The bread is to remind you who you are. When you remember that you are God's and God is yours, you will be fully alive. I am that bread." There is a woman about my age named Jessica Fechtor. When she was twenty- eight, she suffered a brain aneurysm. With a lot – a LOT – of luck and good medical care, she survived. Now she, like me, happens to have two young children.
She's just published a memoir about her recovery from the aneurysm. It's called Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home. She writes about how when everything was or at least seemed impossible – walking, seeing, smelling, eating – it was food that reminded her who she was. It was food that healed her soul.
In one part she writes: I would wake up in the middle of the night too uncomfortable to sleep, feel my mind speeding off into the darkness, fear closing in, and I'd know what to do. I'd think about squash. About cornmeal cherry scones. [About my great-aunt's almond cake.] It seems whenever I'd enter the kitchen, I'd discover a story, one that would nudge me over to something more real and more permanent about my life than illness...The stories I remembered, the stories I made, let me know there was a life beyond the narrow world of recovery. At their heart were the protective powers of kneading, salting, sifting, stirring, because you can't be dead and do these things...To fry an egg is to operate with the perfect faith that you will sit down and eat it. To season it with salt and pepper is a statement that you will do so with pleasure, according to your taste. When you're sick and broken and sad and afraid, it feels good to think of a time when you weren't. (186-7)
She went on to start a food blog, which became popular, had two children along with her husband, and wrote this book.
I know that not all stories have such a happy ending. Our loved ones and we ourselves don't always recover. The healing we hope and pray for doesn't always happen. Any neighbor on Tuesday can tell you that there isn't always enough in their lives. That sometimes ends don't actually meet. That sometimes hope really is lost.
Yet many who gather here for Eucharist on Tuesdays at 4:00pm will be quick to tell you, as they tell me, that what matters most is their relationship with God. Praying, reading the Bible, getting together with other Christians: these are what feed them, these are what sustain them, they say, through thick and through thin.
What is it that is or seems impossible for you right now? For what do you hunger?
All of the various stories about bread – not Goldfish – in the Bible remind us that it is our God who takes heaven and makes it rain down bread, who takes bread and makes it body, who takes our bodies and makes them whole; who takes all of us wayward people, faltering friends, broken saints, and makes us – even us – the body of Christ.
At the meal we are about to share together, let us remember who we are, and become the body we receive.