“I am God’s Bread”
Our Lenten Observance
So we have begun our Lenten observance. It is 40 days from today until Maundy Thursday and the beginning of the Paschal Triduum, the “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the evening of Holy Saturday when we gather to build the fire and process into the dark church to celebrate the first service of Easter.
It’s forty days because Jesus – as we just read – fasted forty days in the wilderness to prepare himself for his ministry. Forty is a deeply significant number in the scriptures, not least because Israel was in the wilderness forty years preparing to enter the Promised Land.
Lent, as I have often mentioned, has three dimensions. It was, first of all, a time of spiritual renewal to prepare for the celebration of the central mystery of Christian faith and life: the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was a time of public penitence when people who had committed public sins and had come under the discipline of the church were prepared to be reconciled. And Lent was a time in the ancient church when people prepared to receive baptism at the Easter Vigil.
So these are the three central elements of this season: spiritual renewal, an intentional deepening of the life of faith (which includes things like prayer and fasting and worship and care of the poor); repentance and reconciliation; and catechesis, or instruction in the basics of Christian faith and life.
Our Theme: The Apostles’ Creed
So our catechetical theme this year is the Apostles’ Creed. In your bulletin each Sunday you will find a portion of the text from both Luther’s Small Catechism and the Large Catechism relating to the portion of the Creed we are examining that day for you to take and ponder through the week.
We have five Sundays in Lent (plus Palm Sunday, but that day is taken up with the reading of the Passion), and trying to cover the creed in only five weeks is a daunting task. It is not enough time to consider all the richness that is here.
The Creed is divided into three parts we refer to as articles. The First Article is about God the Father and concerns creation. The Second Article is about God the Son, and concerns the work of Jesus and our redemption. The Third Article is about God the Holy Spirit and concerns the work of the Holy Spirit.
Consider all that is involved in these three articles. In the First Article we ought to talk about what it means that God is creator; what it means that we are creatures, created beings, yet bearing God’s image; what it says about God’s relationship to the material world; what it means that we are embodied creatures; and what is our responsibility to care for one another and to care for the earth.
The Second Article concerns Jesus and the incarnation, the two natures of Christ, the theories of atonement, the meaning of resurrection, the ascension and the judgment.
And the Third Article (which were are going to spread over three Sundays) concerns the Holy Spirit, the work of the Holy Spirit, the nature of the church, the catholicity of the church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the notion of bodily resurrection, and the meaning of everlasting life.
We can’t do this justice in fifteen minutes. So I invite you to take advantage of this Lenten season, the conversations after worship, the devotions on line, the material in your bulletin and whatever else you can find to ponder the great richness of what is in the creed.
The Central Thing
But this is the most important thing to understand about the creed: although we use it as a doctrinal statement, it is not, at its core, a doctrinal statement. It is not about ideas; it is about a relationship.
The Apostles’ Creed has its origins in the rite of Baptism. As far as we can tell it goes back to at least the 2nd century. It was the confession that the baptized person made prior to their baptism. The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin ‘credo’ which means “I believe,” but the word ‘believe’ in Scripture doesn’t fundamentally mean, “I hold these ideas to be true.” It means to show allegiance.
Being a Christian isn’t about thinking the right set of ideas about God. Lutherans have been bad about this. Martin Luther was a university professor. The Lutheran Movement was born in the university. It got involved in a fight with the Roman hierarchy that started out as a fight about parish practice – about the care of souls – but became a fight about doctrine. And, over time, we developed this notion that right faith was about right thinking.
Right thinking matters. Anyone who knows me knows I care a great deal about right thinking in the church at large. But faith is about our allegiance not to a set of ideas, but our allegiance to a person (as it were), our allegiance to God.
The proper metaphor for the creed is wedding vows: the public proclamation of the tie that joins you together with another.
“He has created me”
This is what is so brilliant in Luther’s Catechism. He took a form of instruction that had been very doctrinal – Who is God? What is the Trinity? What are the two natures of Christ? – and turned it back into a very personal confession:
I believe that God has created me and all that exists.
He has given me and still preserves my body and soul with all their powers.
He provides me with food and clothing, home and family, daily work,
and all I need from day to day.
God also protects me in time of danger and guards me from every evil.
All this he does out of fatherly and divine goodness and mercy,
though I do not deserve it.
Therefore I surely ought to thank and praise, serve and obey him.
This is most certainly true.
I get so weary of the arguments about creation and evolution because they entirely miss the point. The witness of the Biblical texts, the confession of Christian faith, is that God has made me. I didn’t make myself. I am not a random collection of particles. I am not the chance accumulation of genetic material. I am made.
If I am made, then there is a maker. And if there is a maker, then there is a bond between the maker and the thing made. Every painting is an expression of the artist’s soul. Every building designed by an architect is an expression of his vision. Every sculpture is an expression of the artist’s hope, every song an expression of the singer’s passion and desire.
“I am bread”
I like to make bread. And when I make bread I like to give it away. And when I give it away I am giving a piece of myself. The recipe I usually use was given to me by my mother and was given to her by her mother. I remember this bread from every family gathering at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I remember this bread from every visit to Grammy’s house because she and Grampa used to dunk dried slices of this bread in their coffee. I could go to the grocery store and buy you a loaf of bread, but that’s just bread. This is bread that I have made, that I have labored over, that I have given time and energy to. This is bread that means something to me. This is bread that is part of my story, my identity. It matters to me.
You are God’s bread. God has labored over you and formed you and invested himself in you. You are something of value to God. He gives you to the world – and in giving you to the world God gives the world a piece of himself.
When you say the creed you are saying “I am God’s bread.” You are not saying, “God is a baker,” you are saying “I am God’s bread!”
“He made me.” “He fashioned me.” “He made this whole earth.” “He loves this world.” “He loves my neighbor.” “He loves me.” We are his handiwork. We bear his image. You and I and the tree outside – we bear his image. He is present to the world in us. We tell his story. We proclaim his praise. I am not saying, “I am bread.” I am saying, “I am God’s bread.”
It’s why we say the creed in our worship service each week. After we have heard the word proclaimed and after we have responded with praise and song, then we say, “I am God’s bread!”
The reason we observe Lent, the reason we have soup suppers and Lenten devotions, the reason we fast and gather food for the hungry, the reason we come to worship is to remember that we are God’s bread. To remember that the world around us is God’s bread. To remember that the person sitting next to us is God’s bread.