In my grandmother’s home, were two angels inside a china cabinet. Let me explain, during World War II, my grandfather served in Patton’s 3rd Army. He found statues of two angels inside a bombed out church. He wrote that among a destroyed church were these two angels, they gave him hope. He died before I was born, and they were placed in a China cabinet. I was fascinated by the 2 angels, but not allowed to touch them.
For me, they represented my connection to my Grandfather. I would climb on a chair and peer through the glass. My relationship with my grandfather was through the glass. At times, my aunt would pull the angels out and explain to visitors their history, their importance, their value.
My family had a tendency to create objects. One had a room with white carpet and beautiful couches. However, the couches had plastic covers and we could not enter the room. An Uncle would purchase a car, but would not drive it – he did want to put miles on it. One would buy expensive liquor and keep it on the top shelf. All were objects to be seen, not experienced or shared. The emphasis was on value rather than meaning, objects placed behind the glass without being touched.
I sense those following Jesus around Galilee did not understand the love of God. The crowds track Jesus down across a lake and pester him with demands. He had just fed 5000 people – they should rejoice. But, as is the case with many who encounter Christ, it is not good enough - they want more, they want proof, they want something spectacular. Jesus "what have you done for us lately?"
Like the fancy car, white couch or the angels behind the glass, they make God an object, to be displayed. Required to perform on demand or taken out in times of need. God is placed behind the glass of the China cabinet. We glance in but never touch. We peer through the glass at this wondrous man, expecting beautiful miracles, yet never fully experiencing his love.
In the Gospel, Jesus refuses to accede to the crowds demands. He says that we try to fill ourselves with temporal satisfaction, and objects that fail to nourish us. We fill our emptiness with possessions and quick, simple solutions to complex problems. He tells them to look for a different type of bread. Hungry? Only I will satisfy your hunger. Jesus is the bread of life.
They did not understand that their old ways were being shattered. They were encountering something new. Like that day when I was 10, I wanted to know the number of times a ball could bounce between the walls of my grandmother’s room. I launched the ball off one wall, it sped toward the other, 3 bounces, 4, and then, instantaneously, I determined the trajectory. Everything became slow motion. My mouth started saying “oh followed by a four letter oldie but goodie. Impact, broken glass, destroyed cabinet, headless angel. Someone wore out their hand on me.
I picked up the pieces and for once, I actually held the angel. For the first time, my grandfather became real, I touched part of him. Our relationship with the Lord is also meant to be held, touched, and consumed. We were not created to be separated from our creator. When Jesus tells us that “he” is the bread of life – he means it, he wants to be with us.
I had not intention in breaking the glass, but God, on that cold night in Bethlehem intentionally shattered the distance between the divine and human; God refused to be an object. God is saying “here I am.” We often are willing to hear the words of Jesus as long as he makes sense. “I am bread?” These words seem usable instructions for practical living in a difficult world.
Yet the meaning is quite simple. The Bible tell us a story, the true story of God who seeing his creation suffer, decided that he would rather die, shatter the old, than allow it to fall into the abyss. God does not want to be hidden, displayed when convenient, or admired from afar. The love of God made real, through Jesus Christ. No longer are we on the outside looking in.
But we forget. We become complacent, comfortable and turn to the world. We put spirituality, friendships, and love on that cabinet – they become objects. We are left with the fingerprints of life on that glass. And we do not realize this until, it is broken one again. And then we do not understand, like those following Jesus – we want immediate answers and threaten to walk.
When we experience the sickness or death of a loved one, the natural tendency is to scream “why Lord?” Your picture of family is perfect and then it is broken by alcoholism, drug abuse or mental illness. The one you love has cheated on you, faith and love are shattered. You know you will bleed when you break the glass of discrimination and fear by telling your parents you are Gay.
Life sometimes pushes us to our knees, to where we do not know how to relate to God anymore. We ask, does faith do any good? But it is there where we have to surrender, quit pretending and face this brokenness. We face that we cannot fix it on our own. It is said that faith is moving from our emptiness to the fullness of Christ.
And it is there a friend’s outstretched hand becomes genuine. It there where the God who we worship only once a week, the God we stick in the China cabinet of our lives, suddenly becomes meaningful.
In the bread of life we discover the strength to continue after a tragedy, or realize that the problems in our home cause us reassess our priorities, who we love or how we love. In Christ there that hope is born for a new healthy relationship with our parents after they accept us for who we are, or we feel the gratitude of a loving relationship after one filled with infidelity or abuse. The broken pieces are held intimately in God’s hand, and that love is real.
Today focus on the Eucharist. Notice that is not a ritual; it represents our broken lives, and the filling love of Christ. The body of Christ is offered, blessed, broken, and then consumed. And then each one of us, with our personal joys, brokenness, hopes and sorrows come forth as a community to become whole. The Gifts of God for the people of God.
A broken angel from a broken Church allowed me to touch my grandfather, crushed wheat becomes communion bread, broken grapes become sacramental wine, a divine broken body, brings the love of God to each one of us.
The film Places in the Heart offers a moving message on how brokenness, creates something new. How hunger is filled with the bread of life. The story is set in rural Texas during the depression. A young sheriff, while saying prayers before Sunday dinner, is called away from his family on an emergency: a young African American boy is inebriated and shooting a gun.
As the boy is handing over the weapon to the sheriff, it accidentally fires. The Sheriff is hit and dies immediately. He leaves behind a wife, two young children, a farm and a large mortgage. The men of the town lynch the youth and drag his body to the widow’s farm. Seeing the boy, her heart is filled with grief, not hate.
We meet a white blind man and an African American farmer working on the widow’s farm and they become family. The film speaks of tragedy, betrayal, severe poverty, and racism. Yet it also speaks of second-chances, determination, hope and forgiveness. This community is broken by tragedy, the entire glass is shattered, but through all the pain, we find wholeness.
The closing scene takes place in a church. Communion is being passed, in the sharing of the bread of life, we see unexpected members feeding one another. We see the young and the old. We see life and the woman who died in the tornado. We see the betrayers and the betrayed; they are all together as one. As they pass the elements to one another, each repeats “the peace of God”
In the final frame, the sheriff's widow shares communion with her husband, and he, in turn, passes the bread and cup to the youth who had killed him. The broken bread becomes Christ, manna from heaven. The broken community is one. They need nothing more. Christ is with them. The hymn named the Garden is playing and you hear the words: “I come to the garden alone. While the dew is still on the roses. And the voice I hear, falling on my ear; The Son of God discloses. And He walks with me, And He talks with me, And He tells me I am His own, And the joy we share as we tarry there; None other has ever known.
In his brokenness find wholeness, in the bread you find eternal life. Break the glass in your lives, walk with him, fill up on him, come to his table and receive.