This morning I am working on my sermon for the second Sunday after Epiphany. The gospel text is the story of the Wedding at Cana, where Jesus turns the water into wine. I am reminded of an event in my own life.
I am quite content to be a parish pastor. But for most of my life it had been my dream to become a seminary professor. Twice I got very close. In 1991 I was one of the finalists for a position in teaching liturgy at the University of Toronto.
In the final interview with the search committee, one of the theologians asked me something like this, “I wonder if you could teach our students some new traditions and new kinds of sacraments. I am thinking of a kind of sacrament that is not violent. You know, Holy Communion uses violent symbols—the broken bread for a broken body and the poured out wine for bloodshed. What would you think about teaching a non-violent sacrament?"
I remember not answering right away as I tried to figure out what I would say.
Then the theologian added this: "What about teaching a sacrament where we all ate fruit together?”
At that point I knew I would not get this job. But I did control myself—I did not say, “You mean like in the Garden of Eden,” or “I wonder how the fruit feels.”
Inventing new traditions is not my gift (or my desire). And as for the violence (maybe they were testing me because I was American), the violence signified by broken bread and poured out wine, well, it’s not the violence itself, but that we find ourselves in the middle of violence and brokenness and grief, the reality is that our lives are constantly poured out.
The tradition of Holy Communion is so powerful because it allows us to accept the reality of our lives and our suffering, and to believe that God meets us there, and goes through it with us. It is the acknowledgment that we are violent, and that God comes through our violence to bring us peace, that God passes through our mournfulness to bring us joy, and that Jesus wept so that we might laugh.
Oh how we fantasize of getting back to the Garden. But there's an angel with a sword of fire in the way. "It is in dying that we are born to eternal life." And, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." You know what I mean?