These Bodies

These Bodies

Crucifixes used to creep me out. I admit it. Probably because I grew up in a faith tradition that put a lot of emphasis on “He’s not on the cross anymore!” as a way of deliberately frowning upon any cross that had a representation of Christ on it. That’s wrong was very clear in the teaching.

So when we started attending a Catholic church, the crucifixes…yeah, let’s say I just averted my eyes. For a while. Until I began to understand why it was so important to remember that Christ suffered. So that it was always before us in our suffering. So that we didn’t have to say, “No, I’m fine. No, I’m not grieving. No, I’m not hurting. Of course I believe! The cross is empty!” and instead we can say, “Lord, unite my suffering to your own. Give it meaning, as yours had. Take it, redeem it, and in turn give it your redemptive power.”

When you enter into a Catholic church before Mass, there’s no babble of voices or laughter or gossip. There are people sitting or kneeling quietly, with their eyes affixed to the cross (there are plenty of “empty” ones too). To the crucifix (there’s always one in the front). “Contemplate the crucifix” was instruction my husband received for what to do in those silent minutes.

It was a challenge for me. But one that made some pretty profound truths settle in my soul. Truths that I’m now clinging to as my own body goes through its own journey of suffering. Cancer may not be the same cross Jesus suffered. But it’s a cross. And it’s suffering. And as I gaze upon that reminder of what He already went through for me, it’s how I know He’ll use this for His glory too.

Just think for a moment about these frail human bodies we occupy. We may tell ourselves that the real us, our souls, are not our bodies, and that’s how we live forever–spiritually, our souls in heaven. And that’s true…in part. But it’s not the whole truth, is it? We are each given a unique body, and it is not only ours, it is us, in a very real way. A very material way. We are not just spirit–we are spirit and body. We are a creation that God made to have both spirit and body.

When He sent Christ among us, it wasn’t just as spirit. This was actually one of the great heresies in the early church, with people claiming He wasn’t really flesh. He didn’t cast a shadow. He didn’t leave footprints. Because flesh, they said, was all evil. Spirit is all good. So a perfect Savior couldn’t have a physical body like we do.

But oh, how wrong that was. We know that Jesus went out of His way to let people touch Him. Feel Him.

God became man. He took on flesh, just like ours. Flesh that grew in His mother’s womb, cell by cell. Flesh that came forth from her body with the same fluids as any other baby. Flesh that grew, learned how to suckle, how to speak, how to crawl and walk and laugh and play. Flesh that needed food and drink. Flesh that bled when cut.

Flesh that He told us would be offered to us in bread. In wine. Flesh that became bread. Became wine, so that we could share in it through the ages.

Flesh that He let be bruised, beaten, battered for us. Flesh that was torn by a whip. Flesh that had nails put through it. Flesh that suffocated on the cross. Flesh that collapsed in agony.

He felt that. Every strike of the whip. Every poke of the thorn. Every hammer of the nail. He felt it. He chose to feel it. He refused the drugged wine that would have dulled his senses. That bodily part mattered. It was through His precious body that mankind was freed from our sin. He didn’t make a symbolic, spiritual sacrifice. He made a complete one–body, soul, mind, spirit.

Just think about it. Jesus chose to fully feel that pain for you, in every cell of His body. In the same body He offered in the bread hours before.

The same body that grew in His mother. The same body that reached out and healed blind men with a touch, gave voice to the mute, restored a paralytic. The same body that walked across water, that spoke the words to calm a storm or return life to a dead man.

That’s the body He gave to us in Holy Communion. The one that hung on the cross. The one that died. The one that was buried in a tomb. The one that lay there, dead, over the Sabbath.

Do you want to know how much Jesus valued that body? Enough that He came back for it. Enough that He raised that same body up again–still with the holes in His hands, His feet, His side. Still able to be touched, to be fed, to be clung to. (Ever wonder where all He went between the resurrection and ascension? He only appeared a handful of times to the disciples. What else was He doing in His resurrected body? Where did He go? Who did He talk to?) That body meant so much to Him that He took it with Him into heaven.

So much that He shares it with us still, even today. Every time we partake of His Flesh, of His Blood. He’s still there in heaven, in His body, and that resurrected body is still present with us on earth every time we share in Holy Communion.

That means that His powerful, death-defying, resurrected body is in me. Just a little bit, when I take that wafer. 

You know what that means? That my body matters too. This is the one God gave to me, with all its quirks. For whatever reason, He created us to have minds that think, hearts that feel, souls that chase after Him, and bodies in which He can live. Paul doesn’t tell us we are temples just as encouragement to eat healthy food and exercise. He tells us we are temples because God lives inside us when we open the door for Him, when we share in that blessed sacrament, when we unite ourselves to Him.

But not just to His glory. To His suffering too. We can’t forget that. It’s as crucial a part of the faith as the resurrection. He had to suffer. He had to die. He had to rise again. It all matters.

In my time of suffering, I can look at His and know it matters. I can look at His and know it’s already been redeemed. I can look at His and be reminded that that same body is both in heaven and poured out for me. For my healing. For my strength. But also just to hold my hand through the bad parts. I don’t have to deny them. I don’t have to be stoic. I don’t have to pretend everything’s okay.

I can say, “Even when it isn’t. Even when it hurts. Even when things go wrong. Even when our bodies fail. Even when we’re sick. Even then…even then, He is God. Even then, He knows. Even then, He holds our hand with His own, nail-pierced one. Even then, He is with us. Even then, He says, ‘It matters. I know. And together, we are going to do great things. Even now, when you are so weak. I AM strong.”

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The Passover Seder

The Passover Seder

Today I’m talking about what the Jewish Passover Seder was in the time of Christ, and how it had evolved out of the instruction given to Israel at the first Passover…and more, how that was the perfect backdrop to the ultimate work of salvation—Jesus’s institution of Holy Communion, which started at the Last Supper but was not completed until His death on the cross. This is part of a series I’ve been doing based on Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre*. First I talked about the Daily Bread, then about why the Passover was the perfect backdrop for Jesus’s New Covenant…which is to say, we looked at that original covenant, and last week I paused to examine the relationship of Jesus and Traditions, so that we can understand that He did not dismiss all manmade traditions—there are many He kept and fulfilled.

Including what we are talking about today: the Passover Seder.

In Exodus, we get the original instructions for the original Passover, as well as a command to keep this forever as a holy day, which I talked about in post 2, linked above, Why the Passover. But by the time Jesus walked the earth, those traditions had evolved, as traditions always do. As we go through what it became, keep in mind that Jesus kept this Feast all His life, and He did so with reverence, which is a heavenly blessing upon it.

Jerusalem was the only place where sacrifices could be made in the time of Christ, so anyone who wished to participate in any of the feasts and festivals that require sacrifice had to travel to Jerusalem. Passover was the one that drew the most people, and in this era, hundreds of thousands of lambs would be sacrificed during the feast.

Think about that for a second. Hundreds of thousands. There were so many that they couldn’t all be sacrificed on one day anymore, so they spread it out. Those who were Israel-dwelling Jews would have their lambs sacrificed on Thursday; those who had settled abroad or who were converted to Judaism from the gentile world would have their sacrificed on Friday.

Ever wonder why the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all specify that it was during the Passover meal—for which their own lamb would have been sacrificed that day—was when Jesus instituted the Last Supper, yet John specifies that Christ was killed when the lambs were being sacrificed? That’s why. And it’s really cool, if you think about it. Jesus offered himself not just for the Jews, but for the whole world, and it was at the very hour of that sacrifice-for-the-world that He gave up His own life. I mean, wow, right?

Anyway. Back to the Seder. When the lambs were sacrificed in the Temple, it had become such a big to-do that they had an assembly line, more or less. So much blood ran out of the temple and into the river that the river ran red. The lambs had to be roasted whole, but blood was of course strictly forbidden for consumption by the Law, so they would hang the sacrificed lambs much like butchers still do today to let the blood drain out…only, they would position the lambs on a cross. They even referred to them in this state as crucified.

Lambs, sacrificed and crucified, for the salvation of the people.

The meal was no longer just some slap-dash unleavened bread and the lamb though. Ceremony had evolved to remind the people about the entire exodus story. Every seder meal included a dish of salt water—the tears of the enslaved people; bitter herbs—to remind of the bitterness of those days; the unleavened bread, of which a piece would be hidden for the children to find; charoset—a “clay” of apples, nuts, wine, and cinnamon that is reminiscent of mortar or bricks, as a reminder of the labor done in Egypt; a roasted egg—symbol of new life; a bone from the sacrificed lamb that would be eaten; and “four cups” of wine.

That’s important. The wine was to be drunk at key points in the meal, each one significant—so much so that there was a Law at this point in time guaranteeing everyone, no matter how poor, enough wine for all four cups of the feast.

At the start of the meal, a child would ask a ritual series of “why?” questions, asking why they eat a meal like this, and the patriarch of the family would answer…speaking in first person. “It is because of what the Lord our God did for me when He led me out of Egypt.”

Side note here. While I was studying the book about this, I was also reading in the Gospels, and I read the part where Jesus promises freedom, and some of the religious leaders reply (Roseanna paraphrase here), “Freedom? We are children of Abraham! We were never slaves, so we don’t need to be freed.”

Reading that at the same time when I was reading the chapter about how the very words of the Seder had been written so that every generation was called to remember that God had freed them from the bonds of slavery in Egypt, I had a new understanding of why the claim grieved Jesus so. Every year, they repeated these words. But clearly they hadn’t taken them to heart. The hadn’t remembered who they really were, and what it really meant to be a child of Abraham.

Okay, back to the wine. 😉 First is the Cup of Sanctification or Thanksgiving, remembering God’s promise to deliver His people. Next was the Cup of Judgment, remembering the plagues, during which one would dip one’s finger into the cup ten times, reciting the plagues as the wine dripped onto a napkin.

After the second cup, the meal is eaten. The final part of the meal involved lifting up the unleavened bread, breaking it, and passing it around. That was when Jesus “broke the bread, blessed it, and said, ‘This is my body, broken for you…’” Immediately after that comes the third cup, the Cup of Blessing. This is the one Jesus lifted and said, “This is my blood.”

Notice His wording. He did not say of the bread and wine, “These are symbols to remind you of my body and blood, which I’m about to give up for you.” He said This is.

He is the Word. The very Word of creation. When the Word of Creation says “This is…” He means it. There are plenty of times when He made it clear that things were symbolic. When He said, “The Kingdom of God is like…” But that’s not what He did here. He did something more. Something miraculous. He pointed to bread and wine—two ordinary things, yet rich in meaning in this context—and made them something miraculous.

Then comes something very important as well. The Fourth Cup, which is the Cup of Praise or Consummation. They lift the cup and sing a psalm—which we know Jesus did.

But He didn’t drink it. They left. They went out to the garden to pray at that point, with Jesus claiming He would not drink of the fruit of the vine again until He’d done so in His kingdom.

What is the significance of that?

The Feast never ended. He stretched it out, kept it moving with Him through the next day. When He was being crucified at the start, they offered Him wine, which He refused—that wine would have mixed with herbs that drugged the senses and lessened the pain of crucifixion, which was considered a humane thing to do for convicts.

He refused. He refused to lessen His suffering for us. He refused that wine, because His kingdom had not yet come. The Passover celebration, His sacrifice, was not yet complete.

But John makes it very clear that the very last act He did as He hung on the cross was drink wine, offered to him on a branch of hyssop—the very branch God commanded they use to smear the blood of the original Passover lambs onto their doorposts. He drank. He finished that Fourth Cup, the Cup of consummation—the cup of the new covenant. He said, “It is finished,” signaling that He was now fulfilling all the Passover ever meant to foreshadow, that He was making this new covenant in His own blood, consummating it as eternal praise, and that this was the coming of His kingdom.

And then He died. The Passover Seder was completed, not in the Upper Room, but on the cross. For the salvation not just of Israel but of the world. He had fulfilled and redeemed that original covenant and then offered us a new one.

But do you remember what I talked about in part 2? The covenant wasn’t created just by the sacrifice. It wasn’t enough to kill the lamb. You had to eat. You had to drink. This was a key part of making a covenant, and it’s one the early Jews understood.

Do we? Do we really understand how important this is? John wanted to make sure we did, which is why his Gospel spends so much time focusing on the bread, the manna, and Jesus’s insistence that we know what we’re doing when we partake. Christ makes it clear in John 6 that the only way to share eternity with Him is to eat His flesh and drink His blood—which are food and drink indeed.

He didn’t just change His mind and give them bread and wine instead because it was easy, and a good reminder. He changed the bread and wine into the heavenly manna that we need. The manna many Jews believed was stored from eternity in heaven and poured out for the Israelites in the wilderness—the manna that is now offered daily to us as believers, Jesus Himself, poured out for us. He transforms those common elements into divine elements. Every time. Every day.

That’s the miracle of it. The daily miracle.

(I’d intended this series to go longer, but given my recent cancer diagnosis, I’m going to mostly leave it at this for now. But I do highly recommend you get the book referenced in the start, and I also highly recommend The Fourth Cup by Scott Hahn* for an incredibly detailed look at that portion of things!)

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Jesus and Traditions

Jesus and Traditions

We’ve been talking about the really cool lessons I’ve learned through the reading of a book called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre.* First I talked about the Daily Bread, and then last week about why the Passover was the perfect backdrop for Jesus’s New Covenant…which is to say, we looked at that original covenant.

Now I want to pause and address the idea of traditions. The ones instituted by God, yes, and also the ones that men “added to” Scripture.

As Christians today, we’re quite familiar with the ones Jesus called out, right? For instance, the practice of corban—when you would dedicate your wealth to God and therefore have an excuse not to use it to care for those to whom you were obligated, like your parents. Or when the Pharisees chide the disciples for plucking grains of wheat as they walked through a field and eating them on the Sabbath (not outlawed by the Law, but by added traditions) and Jesus argues with them.

But did you know that there are many manmade, added-on traditions that Jesus not only didn’t argue with, but which He kept, respected, and even fulfilled?

I think one of the first ones of these I learned about was one that surrounded His birth. There were very strict regulations—manmade ones, mind you—about where flocks could be kept in relation to cities and towns. The sheep and their waste had to be well outside the cities. Like, miles.

Bethlehem, however, was only five miles from Jerusalem. That put it well within range of “no livestock allowed.” Yet there were flocks with shepherds to whom the angels appeared. Who? How?

They were the temple flocks—because that was the one exception to the rule. Temple flocks were kept in the pastures between Jerusalem and Bethlehem at the time of Christ, and they were not tended by just any shepherds. They were tended by Levites—because none but priestly hands were ever to touch the lambs that would be offered for Passover (another manmade, added tradition, recorded in ancient Levitical texts in the years between the testaments).

These Levitical shepherds took their job very seriously. So seriously that they not only had sheepfolds, they built watch towers so that they could see the entire pastureland. These towers, as it happens, also then gave them the best view of the road leading to Jerusalem. Because of this, in those texts written by the priests, we see that they’d written poems and songs with their own prophecies, one of which was that they, from their watchtower, would be the first to see the Messiah when he came.

They were probably thinking he’d come by that road. A king.

I find it really, really cool to realize that they were the first to hear the good news of Christ’s birth—while they were watching their flocks by night.

God honored that extra, manmade, added-on tradition, held in the hearts of His priests. Those shepherds—the ones who tended the Passover lambs—were the first to hear that THE Lamb of God had been born.

Ever wonder how we know what songs the angels sang to them in the field that night? Because some of those priests, those shepherds, those Levites were among the first followers of Christ. They were part of the earliest Church. They preserved and shared that song of praise, and it has been sung in Christian liturgy ever since. I get to sing it every week—it’s called “The Gloria.” (Does that give you shivers?? That totally gives me shivers!!)

Another “extra” tradition is what we know today as Hanukkah. This festival commemorates the miraculous preservation of oil in the Temple during the days of the Maccabees, which kept a lamp—the sacred lamp kept in the Holy of Holies—burning during some of the darkest days of Israel. You won’t find this story in what we call Scripture. But it is Jewish history preserved in many other places and still celebrated today.

Jesus kept that festival—you’ll find that recorded in the Gospels using one of its other names, either the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication (depending on your translation). He celebrated it. He didn’t call it out. Yet many Christians today feel they have “permission,” so to speak, to doubt that this miracle ever happened, because it’s not in “scripture.”

I say if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for me. 😉

And there are so, so many traditions that sprang up surrounding the Passover, which Jesus not only didn’t correct, but which He fulfilled. That’s why I want to talk about it in this context, as part of my series.

First, let’s look at some beautiful and gob-smacking traditions surrounding the manna.

In the years between the original Exodus and the time of Christ, the Jews had mused a lot about this miraculous bread and what it really was. We have their thoughts preserved for us in writings like the Talmud and the Targum, as well as in Exodus, Joshua, the Psalms, and the Catholic Wisdom of Solomon (not part of the Protestant Bible).

In the Psalms, the manna was referred to as “the bread of the angels,” which led the Jews to believe that this bread existed in Heaven, and some mused that if was truly the supernatural bread that fed the angels, then it must have pre-dated the Fall.

Consider the implications of that for a moment. If you believe that theory, then it means that the strange bread that fell like dew was stored up in heaven, where it had been created in the first days of the universe, before Man had damaged the world with sin. It was food not affected by the fall—which couldn’t be said of anything we grow on earth, that we have to toil for, that is subject to blight and disease. Yes, the manna would rot after 24 hours…but only by the word of God, evidenced by the fact that it didn’t one day of week, when it would remain fresh for the Sabbath.

So if manna pre-existed the fall and (obviously) the Exodus, that meant that it was stored in heaven. And if the angels ate it then, they were still eating it now, which meant it still exists in heaven. By that theory, it is something kept in a heavenly storehouse—in a heavenly Tabernacle that our earthly ones were meant to imitate—which the angels ground like wheat, and which God literally poured out for His people during the forty years of the Exodus “like rain,” but which has not “run out.” It stopped because they didn’t need it anymore, not because God didn’t have enough to keep giving it.

Which led to another of these traditions, these expectations. Those looking for the new Moses, the new Messiah, who would lead them to a permanent Promised Land (heaven), expected that this new Moses would behave in some key ways like the original Moses. First and foremost: he would reintroduce manna.

Jesus was well acquainted with these expectations—all first century Jews knew of it, though whether they believed it or not was a big part of what determined which sect they belonged to. The Sadducees, who did not believe in a bodily resurrection or a physical heaven, had no reason to believe in an angelic bread on which those bodies could feast, nor to expect it to make a reappearance, because they didn’t expect any other messiah to ever come. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did.

And again, Jesus did not correct this expectation, this tradition—He fulfilled it. He in fact instructed His followers to pray for that “daily bread,” that miraculous manna, to be given to them every day. And then He instituted a tradition of His own that gave us what? Bread. Which is offered every day.

Jesus, my friends, gave us a new manna…just like these extra, man made, added-on traditions had said the Messiah would do.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that the Bread of Life sermon in John 6 is bookended with references to the manna (if you haven’t read that recently, take some time to do so!). Have you ever wondered why? This is why. Because these people to whom he was speaking in the synagogue at Capernaum, were looking for a new manna. And He was basically saying, “You want new manna? Well, I am that new manna. I am the bread of life. To partake of that heavenly life, you have to eat my flesh and drink my blood.” Their response? They left him. It was too hard. It was taboo. It was gross. And Jesus didn’t pull back. He pushed harder. He told them it was the only way to partake of eternal life. He mentioned that He—in the flesh, in the very flesh He would offer to them, in the very flesh that would become that new manna, that bread, that Passover lamb—would ascend back to heaven, where that manna was stored.

It’s a hard teaching. It was hard for the first-century Jews, and it’s proven a stumbling block for plenty of Christians throughout the ages too, who’d rather soften it, pull back, and call it nothing but a symbol.

But the manna wasn’t a symbol. That first manna, it didn’t represent bread. It was bread. It had nutritional value. It kept them alive for forty years. And when God said “put some in the Ark, in the Tabernacle, to be preserved forever as a testament,” it didn’t rot. It stayed fresh and able to be viewed for thousands of years.

We can’t mean to say that Jesus’s offering, His manna, was less than that, can we? That it is less of a miracle? Less “real”?

Jesus knew the expectations of the people around Him. He knew the traditions. Yes, He challenged some of them. He fulfilled others. Some He observed quietly, without any commentary that we still have. Others He called out. Many He clearly approved of, because He made a point of incorporating them into His great sacrifice. (Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that He inspired that unfolding understanding through the years because He already knew what He would do.)

I understand the pitfalls of traditions—that sometimes we can make the wrong ones. Sometimes they let us fall into a routine that doesn’t mean anything to us anymore. Sometimes we can use them as a crutch. But there’s a very real reason that God created traditions. And it’s also just part of humanity to build on the work of those who came before us, so that we reach a deeper understanding of things over time.

It’s true in science. It’s true in medicine. It’s true in literature. And it’s true in faith. We are standing on the shoulders of the theologians and believers and saints who have come before us, and that is a beautiful thing.

But if we dismiss everything “added,” we honestly don’t understand how we ended up where we are. A prime example of that is the Last Supper. Jesus was following during that meal, not just the tradition that God handed out word-for-word to Moses, but the tradition that had developed over the intervening centuries: the Passover Seder.

And that’s what we’re going to talk about next time.

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Why the Passover?

Why the Passover?

Last week I talked about how communion is our “daily bread,” and how “daily bread”—a phrase Jesus gives us in the Lord’s Prayer—is in fact a callback to the manna God provided in the Old Testament. If you haven’t read that one yet, you can find it here.

But of course, if we’re going to be talking about Jesus’s sacrifice and the institution of the Last Supper and truly understand all it means, we have to look at the Feast during which He gave us this meal: Passover.

If you’re anything like me, you’ve read the story of the original Passover enough times that you could recite the gist of it without any trouble. Even so, there are things that I’d never paused to consider, and many of those things were expounded upon and then referenced by the Jews and Jesus. So having a good grasp of them is crucial to understanding the context in which Jesus acted and spoke.

First, something that really stood out to me when I was studying it this time was that when God instituted the Passover, He didn’t do it even then as a one-time thing. He created it as a tradition. Isn’t that just remarkable? How often in life do we really know when something is going to be such a big deal, so earth-shattering, so amazing that it will become an annual holiday we observe?

I didn’t know when I woke up on October 23, 2005, that I was going to have my first baby that day. I didn’t know when I woke up on September 26, 2020 that my son was about to be diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. My husband certainly didn’t realize on that warm January afternoon last year that he was going to slip, sprain his ankle, and it would impact his health for the next fifteen months.

But God obviously knew what He was doing (yeah, go ahead and laugh at the absurdity of that statement. I did.). And He did it on purpose. Which is to say, He did it with purpose, and He made it clear from the first word to Moses that this purpose was not just for NOW but for FOREVER. He didn’t just give him instructions to carry out, he gave him instructions for how to turn what was about to happen into a memorial to be remembered for all time.

Few things in history have such gravity. Few things were handed down with such direct orders. Not just do this but you will always do this. On this day of this month. Obey these traditions. Why?

Because it matters. Because it was so, so important that God’s people never forget what He was about to do.

Because it was the foreshadow, the foundation of what He would do later.

So God instituted the Passover tradition, and it was to be planned out well. On the tenth day of the month, each family was to select a lamb. (I wrote about that part already, here.) On the fourteenth day of the month, they were to slaughter the lamb. Some of its blood was to be smeared on the doorposts and lintels of their houses. They were to roast it whole, innards still in there. They were to eat it with unleavened bread, sandals on, travel clothes in place. Ready to leave.

Let’s pause for  just a moment and talk about the unleavened bread. Why? Because I love to bake, and this fascinates me, LOL.

So—yes, this is a total side note—I just learned about einkorn flour. Einkorn is the original wheat, what they would have eaten in the days of the Old Testament. It’s a kinda finicky grain, and it doesn’t have a high yield, so it didn’t take long for mankind to start breeding better-yielding varieties like spelt. Einkorn has been preserved only as an heirloom, hobbyist strain. Because of that, it has never been altered, neither by natural cross-breeding of strains nor by genetic alteration.

Today when we make a nice sandwich loaf, we use yeast. But yeast, as something you can buy on its own, is relatively new. It’s always been there, but not as a separate product. Back before you could just purchase a packet of jar of the stuff, you were relegated to the yeast that occurs naturally in your grain, and in order to have a fluffy loaf, you had to give those natural, “wild” yeasts time to do their work. And that could take a while.

We’re not talking an hour or two. We’re talking overnight. We’re talking a starter of fermented dough and water that is continually added to, sourdough style, used until it’s nearly gone, then fed again. That leaven, that yeast can go for years or decades or even centuries if you pay attention to it, add more, and use a little bit—it only takes a couple spoonfuls!—to start your new bread to rising. (“A little leaven leavens a whole loaf,” you know.)

This ancient grain, though, doesn’t have the same gluten that newer grains possess, and the rising process took way longer than our all-purpose flour does today. Rising times are typically double. (Flavor is, too. Just sayin’.) So the fact that the Israelites weren’t to give their bread time to rise meant a whole lot more. I admit that I’ve read that part before and thought, “Sheesh, it doesn’t take that long. What was the big deal?” But it was. Because it didn’t take a couple hours, it took half a day or more. My first sourdough loaves with this ancient grain took fifteen hours. Fifteen!! And these weren’t all inactive hours, either. It requires a lot of tending, turning, kneading, rising, moving, dusting…not a simple, hands-off experience.

It all started to make sense, then, LOL. That was the bread-baking God was telling them to forego. He said to simply mix the flour and water and bake the bread like that, then and there. What you ended up with was a flat cake of bread, usually baked in a circle. Make a note of that—it’s going to come up again in a couple weeks. 😉

Anyway, back to Passover. The meal was to be eaten in haste, together as a family. Note that this is part of the instructions, as clearly as killing the lamb and smearing its blood. The sacrifice alone was not enough. The blood being shed was not enough. They had to eat the lamb.


This goes back to the very nature of a covenant, which is something that moderns don’t really do much anymore. But in the ancient world, covenants were the things by which families were made. They weren’t a legal contract that said “you do this, I do that.” They were an oath that said, “I am yours and you are mine.” Marriage was not a contract, it was a covenant. When God made Abraham His child, it was a covenant. When He took Israel as His people—something He likens over and over again to marriage—it was a covenant.

Covenants are always, always sealed with a meal. I’ve looked before at the meaning of the word companion, which literally means “one you break bread with.” Why do we have a reception after a wedding? After a baptism? After pretty much all our big-deal life events? Because sharing a meal with someone means, “We’re opening our family to you.” It means, “We are no longer strangers, we are bound together.” Which is also why it feels weird to have a meal with a stranger, in a way it doesn’t feel weird to sit beside them on a bus or in a classroom. Meals invite conversation. Opening of hearts. Who do you eat most with in life? Your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings. Meals, in a very important way, give us life. Sharing that has historically been one of the most sacred things two humans can do, and it’s why hospitality has such deep roots in ancient cultures.

The Passover meal is the part that God told Moses was to be repeated every year, forever. Obviously the Angel of Death was not going to make an appearance again, year after year. Firstborn sons were not going to be killed on that night, forever. But He instituted a tradition with that meal, and through it, He gave a way for His people not only to remember the history, but to remember the covenant.

The people demonstrated their acceptance of this covenant by participating in the meal. Again, not just obeying the command to kill a lamb and use its blood, but to eat it.

Later, after the Law was given by Moses, each tribe appointed elders to represent them. And Moses took those elders up onto the mountain to basically make this new covenant official, and have you ever noticed what they did? There, up on the mountain? They beheld God, and they ate and drank. (Exodus 24:9-11)

I had never noticed that before! Had you?

Those elders saw God. Not, presumably, His face, but Him in a key sense. And the natural response to this was to eat and drink. Because this created that covenant with Him. This sealed them in relationship with Him.

We see, then, why it came as no surprise to His disciples when Jesus instituted a new covenant through…a meal. That same meal, in a way. He did it during the Passover celebration. And yet, in some key ways, He made BIG changes. We’ll talk more about those later.

For now, just dwell on that. The old covenant—both the original given to Abraham and the one made between God and all of Israel—was sealed with a meal. With the eating and drinking of flesh and wine. With a slain lamb and its blood.

A lamb that not only had to be killed, sacrificed, but consumed. And that meal was remembered every year through the Passover tradition. It was being relived that night in the Upper Room. The Twelve were thinking, then, about how God had delivered them out of Egypt.

And that was the stage on which Jesus made it clear a new deliverance was coming.

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Our Daily Bread

Our Daily Bread

Have I ever done a blog series? I don’t know that I have. But I’ve recently finished reading an amazing book called Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist* by Brant Pitre, and it has forever changed the way I view communion. Far more, it gave me such a deep understanding of what Christ was really doing when He came to earth to save us. The expectations He was meeting and fulfilling. The way He’d written history to perfectly foreshadow what He knew He was going to do for us.

It’s beautiful. So, so beautiful. And so, naturally, I want to share it with you. As I always do, I’m going to take the lessons I learned not just from the book above, but also from everything else I was reading and doing during the 8-week study I did of the book, which means some of it will be Pitre’s research, some of it will be my own, and all of it, I hope, will make you go “Wow!” just as it did me.

So for the next several weeks, I’m going to look at the different ideas that all work together to give us this beautiful, complex, deep picture. And I’m going to start with the idea of our “daily bread.” (For the record, this isn’t where the book begins. But it’s the thing that has stuck with me the most and where I want to start, LOL.)

Have you ever pondered the repetition of that line of the Lord’s Prayer? Give us this day our daily bread.

Um…this day, our daily…yeah. I’d never really stopped to consider how that was saying the same thing twice. Why doesn’t it just say “give us this day the bread we need”?

Because to the Jews Jesus was talking to, daily bread didn’t just mean “what we need today.” It covered that meaning, sure. But it isn’t all it meant. And in fact, the word used there in the Greek doesn’t have anything to do with the word for day. The Greek word is epiousia, and it actually means “above the natural” or perhaps “super-substantial.” This prayer is inviting us to pray for supernatural bread. And in Jewish history, what was their supernatural, God-delivered, daily bread?


So why is Jesus inviting us to beseech God daily for His provision of manna? Why does Jesus talk about the manna in His “bread of life” discourse in John 6?

Because the people of Jesus’s day who were looking for a Messiah had something very specific in mind. They weren’t waiting for just any Messiah. They were waiting for a new Moses. Someone to deliver them not just from oppression, but to true freedom, of spirit as well as politics or physical things. Moses himself prophesied that another would be raised up in his same spirit, and that was exactly what the people of God had been waiting for in the thousands of years between Moses and Jesus.


Because though they entered the earthly Promised Land, they never fully possessed it. They’d forfeited so much of what the covenant between God and Abraham was supposed to include through their disobedience and sin. They were supposed to be a nation of priests, with each father being the direct line between their families and God Himself.

But they’d instead worshipped the Golden Calf. They’d turned their hearts back to Egypt. Despite the miraculous escape from Egypt and the ways God had met them in the wilderness already, despite the words He had spoken aloud to them as a people, they’d forgotten. They’d sinned. They’d broken the terms of the covenant, and so they were given a new, abbreviated version–one with a lot of rules to follow. No longer would each man be able to go directly to God—only the Levites, who had remained true to the Promise, could do that. The priesthood was gifted only to them.

In another amazing book called A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn, the author goes into fascinating detail about all aspects of the covenant between God and man, and he pays especial attention to the giving of the Law to Moses. Did you know that every single animal God deemed “clean” had been reviled in Egypt? And that every animal that Egyptians included in their rituals of worship or used to represent the gods, God marked as “unclean”? I had never realized that! But it was a total and complete reversal of the ways of Egypt. We today tend to look at His prohibitions from a purely scientific point of view—you know the ones. “Pigs are filthy animals. Lobsters are bottom-feeders. They carry disease and make you unhealthy.” And all that may be true. But it misses a very vital part of the equation.

God wanted His people to completely forget the ways and worship of the Egyptians. He wanted them to be set apart. He didn’t want them to be constantly looking over their shoulders toward Egypt, like Lot’s wife at Sodom. He wanted them to embrace being a people set apart. A people belonging to the One True God and none other. He didn’t want to be a god in a pantheon. He wanted to be the sole ruler of His people’s hearts.

Part of this was taking care of His people during the journey from oppression to freedom, even when that journey took forty years instead of a few weeks thanks to their unfaithfulness and stubbornness and doubt.

Boy, that’s reassuring, isn’t it? Because let’s face it, friends. All of us have short memories. When it’s sweltering in the summer, we don’t remember how cold we were in the winter. When our land is parched and dying, we don’t really care that it was flooded last year. When we’re thirsty, it doesn’t matter if we had water enough to drink two days ago.

We are a people of now. A people of “what have you done for me lately?” A people so quick to forget God’s promises. And even when we remember them, knowing it doesn’t necessitate feeling it.

Yet still God meets us there, in our deserts. He meets us in our doubt. When we cry out, no matter how whiny we may sound, He provides.

When His people cried out for food, He sent them food every day. Bread from heaven in the morning. Quail in the evenings.

Pause for a moment to consider that—the daily miracle. The miracle that was so weird at the start that they named it “what is it?” and yet which they quickly grew so bored of that their complaints brought on a plague.

What daily miracles are we treating with such disdain? What daily bread are we turning our noses up at? What miracles are we not only refusing to believe anymore to be miracles, but do we come to despise?

It’s no coincidence that Jesus both begins and ends His “offensive” speech about the Bread of Life—a clear lesson on what we now call the Lord’s Supper, the Last Supper, Communion, or the Eucharist, depending on our faith background—with talk of manna.

Manna, the “daily bread” given to the people of Israel. Manna, which was “food for the journey.” Manna, which ceased when they entered the Promised Land. Manna, which was given every single morning (except for Sabbath, of course) for forty years. Manna, which tasted like wafers in honey—a foretaste of that Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.

Why did Christ draw the parallel between that daily bread and the bread that is His flesh? Why did He instruct us to pray for it to be given to us “each day”?

Because His flesh—that communion bread—is our sustenance for our journey in this life. Our journey before we reach our Promised Land, which is when we’ll dwell in His courts for eternity. Jesus is our manna. He is our daily bread. He is our supernatural bread. His flesh is food indeed and His blood is drink indeed, that’s what He tells us in John 6. And only those who partake of it—and who believe it—will have eternity with Him.

But there’s a whole lot more to how Jesus brought a new dimension to the Passover, and next week, we’re going to look at that Passover more fully.

In the meantime, I would love to know–what does Holy Communion mean to you? What role does it play in your church or your faith? I will admit that I had a very limited understanding of it for many years…and that it was studying it out that led me to change churches. Because I do believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the wafer and wine. I believe it is a miracle performed daily for us. And I needed a Church that teaches the same.

* Please note that this is an affiliate link. See disclaimer in the footer.

A World of Black and White

A World of Black and White

I believe in the True. I believe in the Good. I believe in the Beautiful.

I believe that God embodies all these things, and that we partake of them in bits and pieces that are often dim and incomplete, in our humanity.

But a few weeks ago, David and I were talking about the concept of “a black and white world, with no shades of gray,” and it…chafed. Grated.

Let’s be honest. We’ve all heard this argument, especially in faith communities, right? We see the world around us, the society that not only makes excuses for what we deem sin, but which embraces it; a culture that creates its own definitions of good that sometimes have nothing to do with God’s definition, and which often directly contradict it. We sense the wrongness of it in our spirits, and we want to name it for what it is.

Knowing our own consciences, knowing God’s definitions is CRUCIAL. Important. Something to be pursued.

But…as I pondered a black and white world, one with no shades of gray, I couldn’t help but look around me at the world through which we were walking as we talked–the world with fresh green buds on the trees, with the first daffodils poking their yellow yeads up through spring-green stalks. I couldn’t help but see the blue sky and the red cardinal winging by, the first tiny purple flowers nestled along the path, the way the clouds streaked orange and pink as the sun set lower.

And I sensed a deeper truth. God did not create a world of either black and white or shades of gray.

God created a world of rich, vibrant color.

What does this mean in terms of right and wrong? I think we might we be surprised. I think it means that He gave us laws and then makes exceptions–exceptions that are often touted as the most righteous.

God detests a lying tongue…but the midwives in Egypt were praised for lying to Pharaoh to protect the innocent lives he wanted to destroy.

God called lepers and bleeding women unclean, but Jesus not only touched and healed both, He praised their faith in stepping forward.

God set the Sabbath up as the very first thing to be observed, even before the Law was given to Moses, and Jesus shows us that doing good, doing the work of God on the Sabbath was never what the Lord meant for us to refuse to do on that holy day.

Jesus shows us a world of depth. Of nuance. Of color. Color that is lit entirely by love. When we see the world through His Light, we get the full spectrum–and know that there are parts of it still beyond our human eyes, right? In ranges we can’t quite conceive. We know that sometimes, when we use His love, His light with the right prism, it fractures into a rainbow of richness we’d never imagined was there.

Black and white as representations of right and wrong is an analogy that is simple and understandable…but it’s also misleading, I think. Because it looks at the rule instead of the person. It looks at the letter instead of the love. God set down a LOT of rules and laws, yes…but He also said the ones that should govern everything are to love Him above all, and to love our neighbors.

When you love your neighbors as yourself, there’s room for grace. There’s room for mercy. Take as an example the parable of the servant who was forgiven a huge debt by his master but then refused to show mercy to his fellow servant for a small debt. He was within his legal rights–his moral rights–to demand that repayment. In terms of black and white, that was clear. But Jesus invites us to see more than those stark shades, doesn’t He? He invites us to ask, “But how would I want to be treated?”

Even in questions of morality. Even in questions of right and wrong. There is a right and wrong, yes. Absolutely. But how we react to it doesn’t need to be so stark. How we react ought to be to draw out the prism of His love and see how the Light sheds new light upon it. To see the red of the bleeding heart before us. To see the blue of despair in the person desperate to find their place in the world. To see the bright yellow of a joy that shouldn’t just be snuffed out, to see the green of tender growth that needs to be nourished, not stomped on. To see the purple of penitent souls and the orange of the fire for justice blazing hot within them.

We need to see the people, not just their actions. We need to see the motivation and the need and the yearning, not just the political stance. We need to see the colors, my friends, not just the black and white image.

Because when we see the world only in black and white, it’s so easy to lose our focus. And worse, it’s so easy to be deceived. Did you know that in old black and white movies, they discovered that the best way to convey makeup and clothing colors were often to use the opposite? “Red” lips were made using a green lipstick. If you saw the shots in color, you’d be horrified! But in black and white, that nice deep green conveys red better than red did.

How ironic is that? And yet, how often do we fall prey to the same thing in life? How often does harshness seem to convey the love of God better than gentleness? How often does hating our enemies seem “purer” than trying to see their point of view? How often do we prefer to stay “apart from the things of this world” rather than try to redeem them?

But friends, we don’t serve a God of black and white. We do serve a God who separated the Light from the Darkness…but He did so by creating light that is NOT white. It’s color. It’s every color. It’s every shade. It’s ultra-colors that our human eyes cannot perceive. It’s red and orange and yellow and green, it’s blue and indigo and violet. It’s more than those.

So next time we ponder what’s right and what’s wrong, I hope that we can look at it not just through a lens, but through a prism. I hope we can see that, yes, there is a Truth and a Goodness and Beauty, but within that blinding White Truth, there is nuance. There is color.

There is always, always room for grace, and for mercy…and for Love.