It would be so much easier if we could all come to unity on what the Bible says. Except that the Bible has never been able to unite Christians. For 400 years, there was no “Bible.” Then for 1100 years, the church in Rome told its faithful members what the Bible said. Few people were able to disagree because it was written in languages that most people couldn’t read – if they could read.
Those who were able to read it and were brave enough to disagree with what the church taught about the Scriptures were not treated kindly by the church. In the 15th & 16th centuries, several courageous people translated the Bible into languages the people could read and the rest is history. Men and women trying to be true to the Bible have divided over and over again into 30,000 + tiny pieces.
Why is this? Why are there so many denominations and splits,? Why can’t we agree on what the Bible says or means? Why is the Bible an effective divider of people? It’s even used in politics today to separate us. Are we supposed to be true to words in the Bible or to the One it reveals?
When you combine the translation subtleties of translating Greek and Hebrew to English, add in the cultural differences, and the way Jesus spoke in metaphors and images that purposefully hid their meanings: eat my flesh and drink my blood? it’s downright hard to understand what the Bible means. Listen to what Walter Brueggemann, one of the foremost authorities on the Old Testament today, says about translating Hebrew into English:
Hebrew, even for those who know it much better than I do, is endlessly imprecise and unclear. It lacks the connecting words; it [symbolizes] rather than [declares]; it points and opens and suggests, but it does not conclude or define. That means it is a wondrous vehicle for what is suggested but hidden, … a vehicle for [disagreement], [exaggeration], [strangeness], [and debate]. Now the reason this may be important is that in a society of technological control and precision, we are seduced into thinking that if we know the codes, we can pin all meaning down, get all mysteries right and have our own way, without surprise, without deception, without amazement, without gift, without miracle, without [dealing with]… anything that signals mystery or risk…. Walter Brueggemann, The Word Militant: Preaching a Decentering Word (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007) 149-150.
The Bible is not a book you can read and “know the truth” just because you see the words printed in your own language. Isaiah in the Old Testament said, “They will all be taught by God,” a point that Jesus repeated in John 6:45, indicating he agreed. No one believed this meant that if it’s written in a book you’ve been taught by God. Only the Holy Spirit can reveal the truth hidden within the words and stories we have converted from Hebrew and Aramaic and Greek into English.
Remember the story Jesus told about a man who went into a field looking for treasure, and when he found it, he sold everything he had so he could possess the treasure? This book we call the Bible is like a field. If you want its treasure, you won’t find the treasure just sitting on top of the pages in black and red ink. Those words have shown themselves to be dividing words, not uniting words. They are mud and rocks that people throw at each other and cause deep wounds.
To find the treasure in the Bible, you’ve got to dig into it. The treasure is hidden under the words and letters, between the lines. The treasure is hearing the One who speaks to you through those words to teach you how it mirrors your own life today. The treasure is found when you set aside the time meditate on the Scriptures and let them dig into you.
Jesus meant more when he said “You must eat my flesh and drink my blood” than to encourage us to go to Holy Communion to perform a meaningful religious ritual. He meant more than if you eat some bread and drink some wine, you will have eternal life. Like many of you, I find peace in receiving the assurance of God’s forgiveness through this blessed sacrament. It fills me and makes me feel whole and connected to Jesus Christ. But if that’s all you get out of this, you’ve not yet found the treasure.
In biblical times, to sit down to a meal together is to say, “I want to get to know you.” It was to say, “I want to grow in my understanding of you and what makes you tick, and I want you to know me as well.”
Many imagine this happens automatically when we eat and drink together at Holy Communion. But how do you get to know someone when you can’t look them in the eyes or speak to them? The ritual is a surface level application of eating Christ’s body and blood. It’s been one of the dividing arguments between denominations. “Who should be able to serve it? Who can receive it? Are they old enough to eat it? How many times can we eat it? Who can say the words that give us permission to remember Jesus?”
One might argue that we grow in our relationship with God by eating the wafer and drinking the wine/grape juice. How can you grow in a relationship with God when you have thirty seconds to interact? There are many people who’ve practiced this ritual every week for seventy plus years and haven’t found the treasure or built a relationship yet. Many still think God’s nature is one capable of inflicting billions of years of pain on sheep that can’t stay in line.
Another level of eating and drinking Jesus’ flesh and blood occurs when we take the time to break bread (or open casserole dishes) after worship – or on Friday night. “How was your week? How did your doctor appointment go? How are you doing after sending your last child to college? What’s going on at work?”
Another level is when we get together to feast on the stories of the Bible in small groups, to talk about them, to try to understand them, to try to find the treasure within.
Finally, we go deeper when we let God teach us, one on one, in meditation and prayer. That’s when we really come to understand the God with and within us.
Jesus is the Word made flesh. He is the true image of the Logos (God). He alone reveals the way, the truth, and the life about the Divine Unity and the fulfillment of the kingdom. He is the key to drawing us all together as one, more than any surface reading of words and letters from the past. Only when we feast our eyes on Jesus, eating and drinking his life and work, will our souls be nourished and our love for each other increased.
One thing that will never be lost in translation is Jesus giving Himself for the sake of the world. There’s no other way to interpret this action of dying on the cross than as the ultimate act of love for you and me. His desire was our unity. So eat the Word who was made flesh. Feast on Him in groups, and especially one on one. Learn to live as He lived His life: for the sake of the world.