From the Book of Judges:
Gideon went into his house and prepared a kid, and unleavened cakes from an ephah of flour; the meat he put in a basket, and the broth he put in a pot, and brought them to him under the oak and presented them. The angel of God said to him, “Take the meat and the unleavened cakes, and put them on this rock, and pour out the broth.” And he did so. Then the angel of the Lord reached out the tip of the staff that was in his hand, and touched the meat and the unleavened cakes; and fire sprang up from the rock and consumed the meat and the unleavened cakes; and the angel of the Lord vanished from his sight. Then Gideon perceived that it was the angel of the Lord; and Gideon said, “Help me, Lord God! For I have seen the angel of the Lord face to face.” But the Lord said to him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die.” Then Gideon built an altar there to the Lord, and called it, The Lord is peace. To this day it still stands at Ophrah, which belongs to the Abiezrites.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Judges 6:19-24 – August 5, 2012)
It is intriguing how often in stories of Holy Scripture food plays a role. From the “apple” in the Garden, to Abraham offering a meal of cakes and meat to the three men (who turn out to God) at the Oaks of Mamre, to this story of Gideon, to David and his men eating the Bread of the Presence, to all the food items listed as items of sacrifice in Leviticus, the Old Testament (indeed, the whole Bible) is food focused. The People of God define themselves through the annual reenactment of a ritual meal celebrating the Passover; the new People of God define themselves (in my tradition and others) by the weekly reenactment of a ritual meal celebrating the death and Resurrection of Christ and anticipating his return. It’s intriguing but not surprising. The Jewish and Christian faiths are not, in the long run, about following rules of ritual or moral conduct; they are about being in an intimate relationship with that which is the source of being, that which we call “God” and address as “Father” or brother or redeemer. And, other than sex, there is probably no more intimate activity two or more people can share than eating together.
Today the gospel lesson for the Eucharist is from John’s lengthy “treatise on bread” section in which Jesus describes himself as the “bread of life,” an image which continues this focus on food. (John 6:24-35) My son Patrick was our guest preacher this morning; he extemporized a sermon around bread as a carbohydrate food. He called to mind the practice of long-distance competitive runners, the folks who run marathons and compete in triathlons, to “carb load”, involves greatly increasing the amount of carbohydrates you eat several days before a high-intensity endurance athletic event. The purpose is to increase the level of glycogen stored in one’s muscles. Usually, only enough glycogen to sustain 60-90 minutes of physical activity is stored, but through carbohydrate loading an athlete, particularly male athletes, can often double the glycogen in their systems.
Noting that the church is in a dynamic period of change, figuring out how it will minister in a new century in a radically different social context, Patrick suggested the period ahead of us is going to be like running a marathon. In the past, the church has been like a sprinter, dashing along quickly with this new program and then dashing again with another new program. But now, the long, hard sustained work of reimagining and restructuring for a new ministry paradigm requires that we “carb load” on the bread of life, Jesus our Lord. Only he can provide the life energy the church needs at this time in its existence.
As I listened to him preach, I thought of this Daily Office lesson and how Gideon’s altar is said to stand “to this day.” I firmly believe that the church will stand, in one way or another, through the years to come. It may not be very much like the church of my youth, or the church in which I currently minister. The era of the parish church, of the congregation with a dedicated single-purpose building, of the local church with a full-time paid priest may be coming to an end, but in some form or another the church will stand. It will endure. It will “run the race that set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith,” (Heb. 12:1-1) the bread of life which sustains us.
Father Funston in the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.