- The Rev. Arianne Rice
If you are searching, you must not stop until you find. When you find however, you will become troubled. Your confusion will give way to wonder. – Gospel of Thomas
A slightly more appetizing text then what we and the disciples hear from John's gospel this morning!
The disciples are confused. This is a hard teaching who can accept it? It might be pretty hard for us too, given that this is the 5th and final week of hearing Jesus berate the point that he is the bread of life. But listen to these words – “unless you eat me and drink my blood, you cannot abide in me.” Take that in for a minute! It isn’t easy, it sounds very literal and cannibalistic. Just imagine for a minute explaining to a person who has no familiarity with Christianity what this Eucharist is that we do every week? It really is a hard teaching.
But for some reason, Peter, speaking on behalf of the 12 remaining disciples recognizes a truth in Jesus’ words that is beyond the literalness of what he is saying. At this point that crew has heard a bunch of hard teachings (just read the first five chapters of John) and in his walk with Jesus he has found an internal resonance. It may not all may sense, he certainly doesn’t answer Jesus with some long-winded creedal statement of belief. He just states that in the time he has known Jesus – he has come to trust and know that Jesus connects with eternal truth, eternal love. It is a heart to heart recognition of the Holy in his life and probably within himself.
Last October a friend and I went to see a Renoir exhibit at The Phillips Collection in DC. It was a beautiful day in early fall – warm but with that cool undercurrent in the air and the trees and leaves were in that early stage of changing colors. As we parked our car on a side street, we say a young couple having their photo taken. It was a bride a groom with their altar party – posing for pictures, gazing into each other’s eyes, radiating love and expectation. As beautiful as the day. But, as we turned to walk to the museum I sighed and said with a hint of cynicism, “Ahhhh, the first day.”
Because indeed it is just the beginning. Society does a great job of training us to believe (especially us women, I think) that the wedding is the culminating event – we’re married! But, for any of us who have been in a long-term relationship, married or not, we know that isn’t the case. The wedding is just the beginning.
When we arrived at the museum it was packed. Getting onto the elevator I saw a sign that read “Alzheimer’s Association and Art Luncheon.” But it wasn’t just a fundraiser. There were people there who clearly were struggling with dementia, several in wheelchairs. And getting onto the elevator with my friend and me were one of the couples from the luncheon. The woman looked scared. In a way I’ve seen before. “Where are we going?” she asked frantically. And the man, I took to be her husband, reassured her consistently, “To see the exhibit, my love.” And as we slowly made our way up (the elevator stopped twice more, which triggered some panic attacks in the woman), the husband continued to calmly and lovingly reassure his wife that all would be well.
And I thought to myself, if only the young married couple could come and meet this married couple. If only they could understand that as beautiful and celebratory as the wedding day is, it is just the beginning of what will hopefully be a lifetime together. A lifetime that will include challenges and joys that they cannot begin to imagine. And it is only through that journey that they will come to know what their love for each other will be able to bear.
That is the thing about hard lessons. Most of them are thrust upon us in relationships and situations where we have taken a leap of faith. If most of us knew what was in store for us in getting married – having children – getting divorced – starting a job – moving to a new place – in all of the beginnings and endings that we initiate – the hard lessons continue to come. And sometimes we can accept them, we have a heart to heart resonance with knowing that something of what we are doing may be hard – but it connects us with an eternal truth. A deeper awareness of what gives life meaning.
This is why that Gospel of Thomas verse is good to hear alongside Jesus words this morning. We all know, “Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door shall be opened” from our canonical gospels. But Thomas reminds us that the seeking we are doing, the seeking for those eternal truths, answers to the “big” questions, the answers we find will probably upend our thinking, will shake us out of our comfort zones. Our hearts and minds will be troubled as we are stretched to grow and take-in life-changing truths.
The disciples have been seeking with Jesus. And even though Peter recognizes an eternal truth in this moment, we all know what happens when he is asked if he knows Jesus at the crucifixion. “Not me!” he emphatically declares. He denies what he has come to know when he is scared and unsure – we can all relate to that. But he repents. He returns. He comes back and God forgives and reminds him how he is loved.
The sacrament of the Eucharist is a practice to strengthen our sacramental living. To help us “put on the armor of light” not sot that we can protect ourselves, but so we can radiate the divine light within us, so we can connect and recognize the light in others. We open our hands and then take Jesus in, into our selves to remind ourselves of what is already there. The holy is a part of who we are and when we see it in ourselves – we can see it all around us. “To see with the eyes of your heart enlightened” as Paul writes in Ephesians.
The bread of life is the eternal food that encourages us to struggle through the hard lessons, knowing that we walk with Christ and Christ with us. For the God in whom we live and move and have our being surrounds us, eternally. Amen.