Good News for C&E Christians

Christmas 2019, Grace UMC, Manassas, VA

Did you notice that in this week’s reading from John chapter six Mary and Joseph make an appearance? So does the Easter promise of eternal life. It’s kind of like we get Christmas and Easter together in one passage. 

It makes me a little nostalgic for those big church holidays: pews packed for pageants and passion plays, the biannual visits from C&E Christians (people who only come to church on Christmas and Easter). I have a sweet spot in my heart for them, and it’s been a while since I’ve been able to see them.

Our inner church lady might be tempted to murmur against them, but in this day and age every trip to church is an act of faith, and the twice a year pilgrimage made by C&E Christians is made against the cultural cross-currents of murmuring doubts and questions. I find that honorable. 

Sure some of them shower and show up to make their mother in law happy, but I have to assume that many are showing up because, despite the other 50 weeks of the year, on these two occasions they just can’t shake the thought that this story of God With Us is something they need to hear. 

So they duck in late, sit in the back, and look for God with a mustard seed of maybe in their hearts. 

Mt. Horeb, Sinai

In the desert the Hebrews murmured against God. They complained even after God had freed them from Pharoah. They knew God, knew what he had done, and where to look for him, but they were hungry, so they sent Moses to run their murmurs up the mountain. God had already heard them, of course, and promised to send them bread from heaven. 

Sure enough in the morning there it was on the ground, bread from heaven. Kindof. It wasn’t bread like you’d expect. Closer to Catholic wafers than Methodist King’s Hawaiian Bread.  

They called it manna which basically means “what is it?” It wasn’t the bread they expected or asked for, but it was bread nonetheless. 

When Jesus pulls the same stunt centuries later he bakes himself into the story. They’re celebrating the Passover story when he feeds the 5000 with bread from heaven and then tells them “I am the Bread of life, the Bread that comes down from my Father in heaven is me.”

Right on cue, these first century Hebrew children bring the cross-current of doubts and questions, murmuring to one another “Come on, now. Isn’t this little Jesus? Mary and Joseph’s boy? How can he say he came from his father in heaven when we all know full well he just came from Nazareth?” They didn’t expect to look for let alone find God in this lowly state of human flesh.

Jane Marczewski, AKA Nightbirde

Jane Marczewski goes by the name Nightbirde when she sings. She’s a recent golden buzzer winner on America’s Got Talent, but it wasn’t her singer/songwriter success that caught my attention. Back in March she wrote on her blog about spending three months “rolled up on the tile floor” of her bathroom after a third cancer diagnosis before age 30 and a sudden divorce. Just this week she withdrew from America’s Got Talent. She’s received a new cancer diagnosis. 

She’s a believer, and you can tell she knows her Bible from how she writes.

As I pray, I remind myself that I’m praying to the God who let the Hebrews stay lost for decades. I look for the mercy-bread that He promised to bake fresh for me each morning. The Hebrews called it manna, which means “what is it?” 

That’s the same question I’m asking—again, and again. There’s mercy here somewhere—but what is it? What is it? ”

This is where her writing shifts from murmur to Magnificat. 

I see mercy.

I see mercy in the dusty sunlight that outlines the trees, in my mother’s crooked hands, in the blanket my friend left for me, in the harmony of the wind chimes. It’s not the mercy that I asked for, but it is mercy nonetheless. 

You could still call me bitter if you want to—that’s fair. But count me also among the friends of God. For I have seen Him in rare form. I have felt His exhale, laid in His shadow, squinted to read the message He wrote for me in the grout. In the end, I am one whose belly is filled with loaves of mercy that were hidden for me.

I have heard it said that some people can’t see God because they won’t look low enough, and it’s true. If you can’t see him, look lower. God is on the bathroom floor.

Against cultural cross currents, and in the face of things like cancer, it’s a radical thing to proclaim the story of God With Us, that the Lord God of the universe is on the bathroom floor.

It’s a radical thing for Nightbirde or the church to proclaim that God has departed eternity and entered time, entered flesh, baked himself into the story, and given himself over to sin and death in order to write a whispered message of mercy in the grout of bathroom floors, and the blood of a cross. But the truth is something this radical is exactly what has happened because it is exactly what we need. 

Christians understand human flesh to be corruptible, chaotic, unwieldy, and weak. “All flesh is like grass that withers and fades,” the scriptures say. We are dust, subject to sin and cancer, doubt and death. The only hope for human flesh, therefore, is for our corruptible flesh to be changed, redeemed, fed by something (Someone) incorruptible. 

If our redemption, if God’s mercy, does not reach the depths and dust of our flesh, then we are left alone on the back pew and the bathroom floor. But if this is actually what has happened in Christ, well, then that is Good News for C&E people, and Nightbirde, and all the rest of us along with them. 

It’s the kind of good news that’s worth drawing a crowd to proclaim.

That’s why Christians throw their biggest parties on Christmas and Easter (and have from very early on). We draw a crowd and tell them, if you want to see God, look lower. Look at Christmas, when Mercy makes its bed in a manger. Look at Easter at how Grace raises us up from the grave. Look lower for God. Look even to Mary and Joseph’s boy, and remember that the Bread that comes down from heaven ends up with us on the ground.

That’s why on those two holidays and all year long, whenever we serve one another the passover bread, we don’t only call it the bread of heaven, we call it the Body of Christ, his flesh given and planted in our flesh, like a mustard seed planted in the grout. In doing so we remember and proclaim together the promise of the One who said “I am the Bread of Life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; because the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Thanks be to God.

One comment

  1. I love this message. It really speaks to me. Jesus never wanted to be exalted. He wanted to stay low, with his feet planted on the ground. He wanted to be, and his true mission was to be, among us. I love the song, “What If God Was One Of Us?” I believe that He exists in each one of us and we are put on this Earth to find and put that part of us to work. Thank you for this message.


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