The Second Easiest Thing

The second easiest thing to do is to be angry. To hold on to hurt, disapointment, victimhood, and anger. The second easiest thing is to fight back, hard. To cause the pain that was caused to you.

The easiest thing, of course, is to love somebody back they way that they love you. The easiest thing is when it all works out the way you both want it to.

Before I took communion this morning, I had this terrible realization. I was holding on to hurt because it was a way to hold on to them. I was grabbing on to my anger with them because I could not have the person themself. And somewhere, deep inside, it seemed like the next best thing. The closest I could have to what I really wanted.

If I could be assured that the person will always loom large in my life, if I new in my heart that there would be… something… I think I could let go of needing to have it on my terms. But the real fear is that if I let go of what there was, and if I let go of the anger, too, then there would be nothing, utterly nothing between us.

The irony is that I was really having a relationship with my own fear, and anger, and disapointment. These precluded in actual, living relationship with the real person, in the now: a relationship rooted in the reality of what is, not the world I want it to be.

I ate the wafer and drink the juice this morning. But only when I knew I was at least taking those first steps toward something fuller, deeper, and more pure than what I had been doing.

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Cleansings

Jesus turned the water into wine.  And that is a mystery.

I think that contemplating some things about that mystery deepen our appreciation for it.

For example Jesus had them fill the containers that would have been used for ritualistic cleansing.  It was a party!  And they’d emptied whatever the other wine came in.  It seems like there should have been an alternative to using those containers.

Imagine today if somebody busted out the communion cups at a church potluck because they ran out of paper ones.  People would have an entire dairy farm worth of cows about this.

Jesus use of these vessels suggest several things at the same time:  On the one hand,  it suggests that he is somehow above the old laws and expectations that God expected: otherwise he wouldn’t have felt free to use them.  But at the same time, it asserts the fact that Jesus was doing God’s work.  He feels free to use God’s instruments.

Equally paradoxical is the idea that on one level, they were just relaxing and having a party.  But Jesus chose to use items that suggest  there is some element of purification and cleansing involved in what Jesus is up to, when he turns the water of our lives into the wine of our lives.

The other thing that’s interesting to me is that this passage immediately precedes Jesus’ clearing of the money changers outside the temple.  Jesus at his warmest and fuzziest comes right before Jesus at his most righteously angered.

Having our lives turned to wine isn’t all fluff and light.  There’s a burden connected to it, a demand.  I’ll explore that next time.

Water, boredom, and mystery

I know how much we need it.  I know that we live in a chronically dehydrated society.  I know that there are people dying because they don’t have access to it.  I know that someday soon wars may be fought over it, in the same way we fight over oil today.

But none of this changes a very simple fact:

Water is boring.

It’s boring, I suppose because I’m spoiled.  It’s boring because I’m short sighted.  It’s boring because I don’t have the maturity to appreciate what a blessing it is.   But none of this changes the fact either:

Water is boring.

As we wonder through the wider context of communion, that’s a place I’d like to begin.  Water is boring.

And part of water’s boringness is not a function of where, when, and how I live.  Part of water’s boringness is universal.    It is colorless and tasteless.  It is the most basic building block of everything we drink.  In some ways, in ancient times, water might have been even more boring than it is today.  Thousands of years ago, there were no vending machines, fruit punch mixes, sport drinks, coffee shops, juice blends…

There have been times in my life that have been much like water.  Tasteless, odorless, flavorless.  Through these times I have had blessings that others only dream of, and yet, these blessings have seemed like a lot of nothing.  Just as the ubiquity of water is so very easy to overlook, just as the blessing of having access to enough drinking water to stay healthy is a luxury, so too the health I have had, the freedoms I have had, the friendships I have had… Sometimes these have not felt like enough.

I am not on a “We should do a better job of thinking about the third world and feel grateful for what we’ve got rant.”  I’m just setting up an exploration of a mystery: water can be boring.

And life… Life can be boring, too.

The problem runs deeper than boring.  That word trivializes the whole affair.

Life can seem empty.  It can seem pointless.  It can seem tastless colorless and stale.

In my own life, there have been times when I had all this freedom and enjoyment.  It felt like all I could ever need.

But suddenly? It wasn’t enough anymore.  I needed something more.  All these things that I was doing, they had their price.   Once they had been vibrant, ecstatic even.  But eventually… eventually they were like water.  Odorless, colorless, joyless.

We all know that when the old thrills stop be thrilling we have two choices.  The first is to step things up a notch.  Intensify our greed, lust, and desire.  Seek out more of our old poison in order to feel the same old effects.  The second is to shrug our shoulders, give up…. And just go through the motions.

We can live off water.  But who would want to?  Sometimes, in life, it’s like our whole diet, our whole world is boring, room-temperature water.

The Flip Side of the Fast

The mystery-filled flip side to the fast is communion.

Jesus speaks of us abstaining from food.  And he also speaks of us eating a supper in remembrance of him.  One of the things about mystery is that it calls us to consider wider contexts and connections, even if we can’t quite express these connections in words.

There is mystery in Jesus words and actions about blood, water, and wine.

It’s no big secret that Jesus first public miracle was the turning of water into wine.  But It’s worth contemplating this in terms of what happens later.   For example, there is the Lord’s Supper: Wine is no longer just wine, but it is Jesus’ blood.  And there is Jesus telling us that he is the living water, and if we drink from him we will never be thirsty.

I don’t think this is precisely a cycle.  It’s a little more like an apparent duality, except it’s with 3… A triality?

Jesus coming into the world is his turning the water into the wine.  And his death is the turning of the wine into his blood.  And his blood is the living water, from which we can drink and never grow thirsty.

I think that there are many aspects to this mystery.  I think it’s worth noticing that our boring, natural lives, outside of rebirth and Jesus are water.   But there is something in the process of going from grape to wine that is emblamitic of Jesus’ sacrifice and our own rebirth.   In the age before wine was made thousands of miles away and purchased at a store, they would have been much more in touch with this.  The grape is smashed, killed, destroyed.  That which lay dormant within the grape is released through this death… and it combines with something else, in the process of fermentation, to create a substance which, when imbided, brings us outside (a little bit) of our mundane reality.

Communion

Somewhere along the way, the importance of food in myths and legends was pointed out to me.  More specifically, the traveler’s advice “Don’t drink the water” is incredibly true to figures on magical journeys.

In Greek myth, Persephone eats just a few seeds and as a result Hel ends up with claims on her soul.  In the amazing animated film “Spirited Away” the protagonist’s parents begin eating the food in the magical world and are turned into pigs as a result.

To eat the food in a place– whether it is in our “real” lives or in myth– is to start to become a citizen of that place.   To begin the process of becoming a citizen of a place is to submit to the laws and other claims a place makes on you.

On a biological level, there is of course equally important things going on.  We are taking in the substance of this new place.  It will be digested by our body and become a part of us.

Perhaps this is the real importance of the Kosher laws in the Hebrew tradition.   If the ancient Jews had fully immersed themselves in the food of the countries they were in, they would be sacrificing some of the ways in which God set them apart.

One of the things I love about God is that he so often uses these mythic elements, but he intensifies them, turns them upside down, imparts this whole new meaning to them.

So it is with communion.

Instead of this being a thing to avoid about the new world we are standing on the threshhold to, it becomes a thing to go after.  we are invited to step through the door and into this new world.

More strikingly, instead of the food being a cultural artifact of the new world we enter, the food is identical with that new world itself, and that new world itself is identical to the figure who will lead us into it.

But more than this, the new world is built not only on the overall person of Christ, but also on his act on the cross.  If his body had not been beaten and broken, we could not have the bread.  If his body was not made to bleed, we could not drink the wine.

But if Christ’s death was the last word then this would be a meaningless act of cannibalism.  It is not just the crucifixtion, but also the resseruction, which are evoked in communion.   If he had not died we couldn’t take the substances in.  Yet if he had not lived there would be no reason to do so.

Persephone ate seeds and digested them, and so that world became a part of her.  How much more true is it of me: I drink his blood and eat his flesh (as ghastly as that sounds) and in doing this, I am reminded that he lives in me… And most specifically, his death and reseruction live in me.

In other words: Unlike the more general mythological idea, we don’t enter into only a new world, we enter into a new identity.  And we don’t enter into just an identity, but we also enter into two of the great acts of this identity.

From Passover to Easter through Communion

While reading scripture before taking communion last week, this passage jumped out at me:

When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.

I found myself reflecting on what I might have said in these circumstances.  It probably would have gone something like this:

When the hour came, Jeff was whimpering at the table like a sad little girly man.  And he said to them ‘I have allowed my fear in what is to come to utterly overshadow the joy I might otherwise have experienced here and now, in sharing this Passover with you.’

I don’t mean the above as flippant.  My point is that Jesus knew what was coming.  And it was horrible on every level imaginable.  Somehow, though, he found joy.

Perhaps part of it was that he was not only celebrating Passover– he was in fact rebooting it: not doing away with it but in fact deepening it unimaginably, bringing a whole new dismention to it.   In his later instruction to repeat that evening in remembrance to him, Jesus was setting into motion a commemoration that would stretch across the milenia.  There is some profound sense in which he was not only breaking bread with the 12… In some way that table stretched across space and time.  In some way all of us who do that in remembrance of him were known to Jesus, in some strange way they (we) were present at that table.

And the whole act would have been as ghastly as it appears if he had not been destined for reseruction.   This is probably an incredibly macarbe way to put it… But it is Jesus living flesh, not his dead flesh, that we take into our bodies.  He is alive in us…

And so, he had reason for joy at the occasion.

(This is not to say that I’d have been able to find the joy, if I’d been in his shoes.)

Drinking blood

When Jesus toldhis followers to drink of his blood, I wonder if they thought about Leviticus 7: 26-27.  It says, “And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal.  If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people.’ ”

I wonder if there was some sense that they were choosing to be cut off from others, that they were choosing be to cut off together.  A sentiment not altogether different from when Jesus’ biological family came for him and Jesus said “The people who follow me are my real family.”

It’s also not too distinct from the idea that to be Holy is to be set apart from God.  And it’s so perfect, so consistent with the way that Jesus progresses in such a counter-intuitive, backwards-appearing way: It’s a way to say “You’ll be set apart by God because the rest of society won’t want you.”