Bread and Wine
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I brought a particular sin with me to church on Sunday, like a little delicacy tucked into my cute straw bag. It was one that had been enticing me with its aroma for a few days, one that I always think I have beaten until the next time it shows up and reminds me how delicious it is. But even as I sample it, I feel disgust at the same time as the pleasure, and that’s when I begin this bulimic ritual of eating, pushing away, and crying out to God to help me just lose the taste for it altogether. But He never answers right away, and it’s maddening.
I listened to the sermon, sang the worship songs, said the corporate prayers– and sometimes my heart was into it. But sometimes I’d just have to take a little taste, and it pulled my attention away; it pulled my heart away. And I hated it, every horribly delicious bite. So I pleaded with God to please, please just remove it. I believe that God loves me and hates sin, and it just frustrates the hell out of me that even so, He doesn’t free me from it when I ask. This seems cruel, or worse, indifferent.
It was a communion Sunday, and one of the prayers provided for use in preparation was one for people struggling with sin. The first line read, “Lord Jesus, grant that I may see in You the fulfillment of all my need and may turn from every false satisfaction to feed on You, the true and living bread.” And I began to think that maybe God really would rescue me after all, that maybe He wasn’t a total sadist.
In the days before, whenever I felt repulsed by the plate before me, I struggled to understand how, if Jesus had bought forgiveness for my sins, I was still so stuck with them. What I saw in that first line was what I had been missing: I’d accepted His forgiveness, and then I’d turned my back and went on with my business. I wasn’t looking to be fulfilled by Him, just rescued and released; and here He was, all along, wanting me to stay.
My pastor began to remind us of the night when Jesus had had His last meal with His friends, how He told them that from then on He would be their bread and their wine. My bread and my wine. My sustenance and my delight. Not a one-time favor; a daily provision.
I confessed before that my Bible had been packed up from our move months ago; I’ve got to confess now that it wasn’t until this sin reappeared to gnaw at me, until I was really desperate, that I finally dug it out. When I did, I came to Matthew 10:38-39, which basically says that as long as you’re focused on yourself, you’re doomed, but the moment you focus on Jesus, you not only have hope, you get yourself back too.
And then I got an email forward telling the story of a silversmith’s work– how he had to hold the silver in the hottest part of the fire to burn off the impurities, how he had to keep watch the whole time to be sure it wasn’t left in a moment too long and destroyed, how he knew it was finally refined when he could see his own image in it. And I swear, I’m not as smart as I look, because it took me that long to finally begin to get it: God will let me feel the pain of my sin as long and as often as He needs to, not because He doesn’t care but because He cares more than I can even imagine.
I read a post the other day by a blogger I really respect as a writer and as a person. He wrote about having read a Buddhist book that talked about “Feeding the Ghosts,” a practice in which you set out cakes to symbolically invite in those parts of you that are troublesome. In other words, you welcome your sin. And as I read the description of this practice I thought, to use the vernacular, This shit is whack. For the love of God, the last thing I want is to make my sin welcome. I’m certainly not going to bake it a damn cake.
In a Bible study several years ago, we listened to a recording of pastor and author Tim Keller where he said, “The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one.” And I think that this is the key. The only way I can lose my taste for this particular sin, or for any sin, is to keep going back again, and again, and again to eat that holy bread and drink that holy wine.