Each week, I try to make certain that I do not inadvertently more-or-less repeat a sermon that I had made three years earlier, the number “3” arising because three years is the cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, which I use almost invariably to determine the Scriptures we use each week, and because the Scriptures essentially dictate to me — that is, one or more of them will, I hope, always suggest to me, inspire within me — an idea on which to preach, it is quite possible, even probable, that I will repeat an idea that I have presented three or six years ago.
I do not believe that has happened this week, but I have to admit some astonishment when I found that almost exactly four years ago, when we had different Scripture lessons than today, I had presented the video clip, or at least had edited it on my home computer, of the celebrated “Parrot Skit” from “Monty Python’s Flying Circus,” the British reality-TV series.
And by the way, I mentioned two weeks ago about receiving daily news from “The Times” of London, and the most important headline this past week was that some previously unknown skits for “Monty Python” had been discovered. I sent the related article to several of my fellow “Python” followers with the email title, “There really is a Santa Claus.”
What suggested the use of the “Parrot Skit” was both the parable that the prophet Nathan — the first character in the Bible whom we encounter as using a parable — the parable that the prophet Nathan told to David, and indeed, parables in general, and the several metaphors used to describe what are represented by the elements we use in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. Neither the meaning of a parable nor the metaphors of these elements are quite “what they look like,” just as a dead parrot does not look quite like a live parrot, even if the dead parrot is a “Norwegian Blue.”
But while most Monty Python skits are intended mainly to entertain, even when they are in fact parodies, which are somewhat related to parables, these skits are not meant to teach anything, while parables most certainly are used by Nathan and certainly later by Jesus, to teach. Parables are not what they appear to be; they are mostly not about what both English grammar teachers and lawyers would refer to as “third persons,” but about first persons, about us — and often about God, — but they are told in a way that we do not realize that they are about us until the parable has been told. In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, Nathan tells a parable of a rich man with many sheep taking from a poor man his ewe lamb — note the gender is included in the description, e-w-e “ewe” — taking his ewe lamb, the only lamb the poor man owned. Nathan’s parable does not use the words king nor wife nor anything similar, and at first David understands only the horror of the meanness of the rich man in the parable — that is, David got the gist of the parable — and only then did the prophet Nathan effectively say, “it’s not the way it appears to you — y-o-u; you are the rich man.”
The parable teaches the person to whom it is told, in this instance, David.
As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, I cannot help but to maintain my essential Calvinism, or, if you prefer, Presbyterianism. The elements, the bread and the beverage — we are skipping the choice between juice and wine during these summer months — the bread and the beverage in the cup are parables of a sort; we use them metaphorically to represent some things very different from what these elements physically appear to be.
This not exactly what they appear to be is true for celebration of the Sacrament by all Christians, but it appears to me as though both our Roman Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters, and, though, in a way I do not wholly comprehend, which is my fault and not Martin Luther’s, our Lutheran brothers and sisters might be limiting the the parabolic nature, the metaphorical meaning, of the elements, limiting their meaning to, and “limiting” might sound paradoxical, limiting their metaphorical meaning to the bread’s being the “body of Christ” and the cup’s bearing the “blood of Christ.”
While some might argue that Calvinists such as I downplay the elements by saying they are just “symbols,” I like to think that we indeed make them even more comprehensible and more filled with meaning to ourselves through this idea: The bread of life, the cup of salvation. While I have no objection to anyone’s wanting to use the terms, “body” and “blood of Christ” — for many, if not most, of us, that is the way we have been raised, — and while taking the elements most certainly is supposed to and does remind us of Jesus’ death until, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “He comes again,” I personally prefer to emphasize — and with biblical support — the parable, or rather, the metaphors, of “bread of life and cup of salvation.” These can, I hope, help us to understand not just — though it is no small thing — not “just” that Jesus died 2000 years ago and will come again in the future, but that here and now what is represented by the elements in this metaphor can change and sustain our lives. The implicit meaning of “cup of salvation” reminds us of our own assured resurrection, which, I hope, calms and reassures us, and “bread of life” represents what sustains us through all the ups and downs that will occur until the time of our resurrection. Calms and reassures us that Jesus is not present only when we celebrate the Sacrament, but at all times.
Indeed, as Jesus said in our Gospel reading,
"Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
In other words, while the metaphor of the bread and cup as Jesus’ physical sacrifice is well and good, the elements can represent for us even more than those metaphors appear to be; as “the bread of life and the cup of salvation” they represent all we need for our spiritual health and well-being: the promise of salvation and the presence of Jesus, the true bread of life, here, and now.
They provide life, not, perhaps, to dead parrots, even to Norwegian Blues, but they provide what we need to sustain and assure us of what God gives us here and now through the one who, on the night before he died