In 1736, the Wesley brothers, John (33) and Charles (29), came as Christian missionaries from England to America. Their fellow passengers were some gospel besotted Moravians. Although John Wesley had been dealing with the outside of “Christian” things since he was a child, the Moravians showed Jesus to him in ways that he had not seen Jesus before.
Two years later, John attended a meeting where the speaker, like the Moravians, was describing the change which God works in our hearts through faith in Christ. John wrote: I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me, that He had taken away my sins, even mine (Power from on High). Somehow, Jesus showed himself to John.
It is good for our hearts to be warmed.
Another such warming took place long before John and Charles. Two travelers were returning home to their village from the big city. It was a seven-mile trek. Along the way, another traveler joined them and engaged them in conversation – one that centered on the ancient Scriptures. As they neared their destination, the solitary traveler was about to go on, but the two urged this unpretentious fellow to join them for a meal. He did.
During the trek and the meal, the teller of the story, Luke, writes: ‘They had been kept from recognizing him’ (Luke 24:16). Then, somehow, the guest became the host. He took bread, gave thanks, and broke it. At the moment when he began to give it to them, their eyes were opened, the two suddenly recognized the risen Christ (Luke 24:30, 31).
Why would Jesus choose to reveal himself at that moment?
Let’s interrupt the story to focus on a word that can open doors of understanding for us. The word “companion” is literally, “one who breaks bread with us” from Latin – com– “with” + panis – “bread.” Inviting Jesus to be our companion can open our eyes to who he is. Come, Lord Jesus, be my guest – be our guest.
When Jesus left, they asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32). When the Word opened the Word to those who had ears to hear, his words unleashed such keen illumination that they were fervent – on fire – strangely warmed.
A Severe Mercy, an intense book by Sheldon Vanauken, had a similar impact on me. As a twenty–something, the fire it unleashed in me was a sense of distance between the life I lived and the lives of the main characters. They had long discussions about significance; they faced life and death issues. Compared with them, much of my life was occupied with the mundane – doing dishes, mowing the yard, fixing things. What a gulf. Often, we are experts at sensing distance between ourselves and others.
We can sense that Christianity is divided from ordinary life too. Many Christians go to a special place for worship; they read an ancient book and sometimes sing ancient songs. Instead of being intimidated by that distance, eventually, we may realize that, with these Christians, we need sanctuary, authority and community across the ages.
But, as we extend our reach, Christ also calls us home to what’s present. The point of Christianity is to believe that the extraordinary Jesus is with us in our ordinary routines – and that he, the Lord of the universe, is very humble about it. The holy Jesus feeds us unpretentiously. And as he feeds us, we grow past the superficialities that have bound us to find him in creation, in the way he unfolds our lives and particularly in the remarkable good news of his life, death, and resurrection. Day-to-day, Jesus is with us feeding us through the very things we previously took for granted. Jesus, give us today our daily bread – and, all the while, feed our souls.
Our word “pastor” comes from the Latin pastorem – “shepherd,” from pascere “to lead to pasture, graze.” In our corporate culture we can miss this pastoral emphasis on feeding our hearts and souls and minds. The risen Jesus, after he had fixed breakfast for his disciples, repeatedly told Peter: “Feed my sheep” (John 21). Pastors, spiritual heirs of Peter, are a significant means of providing soul food.
Paul wrote: As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children (1 Thessalonians 2:6-7). Paul extends the metaphor of a shepherding pastor to a nursing mother – again, not exactly our image of the corporate leader. “Nurse” comes from French nurrice – “wet nurse, foster-mother to a young child” (source of the masculine name Norris). And behind that is the Latin nutricia“ – nurse, governess” – “one who suckles, nourishes.” See Sanskrit nauti – “she drips, gives milk” – or Greek nao “I flow.” The Greek word Paul uses for “cherish/care” is literally, “warmth.” Paul, as one who received warmth and nourishment from Christ, passed it on.
In his novel, Weighed and Wanting, George MacDonald describes a self-righteous woman. Mistakenly projecting her pride on God, she believed that God thought a great deal of himself. “She had not begun to see that God is the one great servant of all, and that the only way to serve him is to be a fellow-servant with him – to be, say, a nurse in his nursery, and tend this or that lonely ‘lamb,’ this or that rickety child of his.”
After I had preached at one church for nearly two decades, a friend told me that he remembered a few sermons as being spectacular. But, most were not. Then he made the analogy between his history of eating and his history of hearing sermons. He commented: “I recall very few outstanding meals. But, I’ve had good nutrition for all these years – and here I am – healthy for life. In the same way, your sermons have been nourishing food for my soul.”
Let’s ask Jesus to warm our hearts by being our Pastor and Nurse. Let’s ask the Word made flesh to feed us – to give us a “repast” – Latin re– “repeatedly” + pascere “to graze.” Let’s ask the Chief Shepherd to send pastors and nurses who will help feed us.
Our act of eating means a lot to God. It is a demonstration of My Life for Yours. Believe the Psalmist when he says: “Taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8) – especially in the ultimate companionship/sharing of bread – communion.
Sucking out (some of) the marrow-nourishment from the bone-words with you,