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Imitating and Eating

John 6 : 51-58 and Thomas a Kempis


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Monday morning began with bread baking, and the house is smelling lovely right now. Some bread-baking families fall into a routine. I have one clergy friend who bakes every Friday. It gives his day-off a nice liturgical rhythm. But around here, baking day is a bit scatter shot. So much depends on how much toast we eat and when. Blue is great at breakfast, but it’s a bit more work for Beangirl. She’s never been a big morning eater. Snack, oh yeah. But breakfast not so much. Right now, she’s watching the clock for snack time. I had hoped to get the bread baked and cooled (a bit) in time for this morning’s snack, but I think that might entail a bit too much waiting. As I said last week, there’s work to be done.

This week’s lectionary work keeps pace with the words of John’s Gospel, walking slowly through chapter six from the feeding of the five thousand and through to the passages about the bread from heaven. Bread and more bread. In verse 60, just the other side of this week’s reading, the disciples say “this teaching is difficult,” but I’m finding it might be a bit too familiar. We’ve read these words so often. Which doesn’t make it any easier to understand. Just easier to read over.

“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.”

There’s poetic cosmology there with Christ coming down like manna. Gifts from God. And there’s also talk of eternal life – which is both immensely comforting and raises a lot of unanswerable questions. And then there is the difficult talk of offering or sacrifice in the form of flesh. Plenty of things to chew over here, and more abiding language, too, reminding us that God is near.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”

Core ideas of faith here, and words that it might be easy to turn into rules rather than promises. You could use these words to draw lines that exclude, so it’s good to read these words slowly, and in the company of others. This week, Thomas à Kempis is helping me. His voice is old-fashioned, maybe, but it is a strong and humble voice. He wonders about the hardness of human hearts, that we place less value on things we experience regularly. That is something I wonder about, too. How can I be blind to the wonder and the gift of all this busy life around me? How can I be worn down by family noise when it is in the rush of my family that I so often glimpse grace itself? And yes, even peace?

Thomas also reminds me that we are fortunate to have God near, present everywhere to the faithful in daily bread. Bread is so regular that it is the constant reminder – Christ at every table. I remember sitting with friends in an Italian restaurant in Montreal, waiting for our meals to arrive. There was, of course, a bottle of wine on the table and the waiter brought us a basket of bread. As we sipped and nibbled, we relaxed and someone wondered if “as oft as you eat and drink” included this table, too. I like to think so. I do think that there is a line between the sacrament of communion and the restaurant table, but the line does not exclude Christ. Christ’s own tables weren’t confined to holy places. Or to holy people. Christ abides with us in many places.

Thomas à Kempis’ book is called the Imitation of Christ. An impossible, wonderful invitation. Be like Christ. Walk as he walked. We’ve been tackling imitation around here lately. Last week especially. We were on holiday and away from home, so everyone was a little off their usual patterns. Blue fixed on the idea that the best way to do things was exactly as his sister did them. Maddening and beautiful. One morning, after watching him demolish an abundant bowl of fruit for breakfast, I asked Blue what his favourite piece of fruit was. He told me that it was the same as his sister’s.

Oh yes? And what was that?

I don’t know. I haven’t asked her yet.

That’s blind faith, even if it is doting. In Christ, we are called to more. The difficult teaching is that Christ asks us to internalize the gospel. To a people raised on shared, nation-building rules and worrying about living up to the righteousness God demands, it must have been hard to hear that eternal life comes from being fed. No brownie points, but instead a feast set before you.

I’m glad that bread is so daily, such a natural image for understanding this. I know about bread. It’s good stuff and I know how crabby I feel when I haven’t eaten enough for breakfast. It’s wonderful to have this daily image and reminder and mystery at the centre of our faith. And because it’s bread, it’s daily. We are reminded to make a habit of being filled with Christ. Eat this bread. Put Christ inside you. Be nourished by God’s love. Let it be inside you and give you energy and life. Let Christ’s own love fill you just as Christ was filled with the Father. Eat and live.

About the author

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Edinburgh, Scotland, with her studying husband and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practical theology of parenting, the practice of reading lectionary and the perfection of birthday cakes. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table
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2 Comments

  1. avatar
    Westcoast Oma says:

    Wonderful, thank you.

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  2. avatar

    Thank you for your post. I enjoy the words of Thomas à Kempis too. I’ve studied his “Imitation of Christ” for a couple of years, and always find his book to be comforting, and a source of inspiration.

    I’m not sure if this is the exact passage you had in mind, but in chapter 8 of book 2 of The Imitation of Christ, Kempis wrote, “WHEN Jesus is near, all is well and nothing seems difficult. When He is absent, all is hard.”

    Words to live by.

    T Alan Truex,
    author of Imitate Christ: A Study Guide and Daily Devotional Based on Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ

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