There comes a time, every week, when the world rests upon our tongues.The throne of the Almighty and the wheat fields of Texas are there. The manger of Bethlehem and the warming rays of the sun are, too. So is the flesh of the Passover lamb, raindrops from heaven, a John Deere tractor, and the God who says I Am Who I Am.
This past fall, Willie Nelson’s hair braids were sold at auction for $37,000. A tissue into which Scarlett Johansson blew her nose on the Tonight Show fetched $5,300 on eBay. And X-rays of Marilyn Monroe’s chest—just the X-rays, mind you—once brought in a whopping $45,000. If you’re lucky enough to be the proud owner of any item once worn or used by a celebrity—and the more intimate the better—then you’re sitting on a mountain of cash. People crave this stuff; and they’re certainly willing to open wide their wallets to add it to their collection. I don’t know about you, but I like to think that I’m above all that celebrity worship nonsense. But I like to deceive myself about a whole host of other things, too. My home is right outside San Antonio, TX, not far from the stomping grounds of George Strait. I guarantee you that if I ran into George and he invited me over for a BBQ at his place, then I’d be a name-dropping, Facebook-boasting, Twitter-bragging fool for the next three months. Everybody I know—and probably total strangers—would get to hear all about how George and I drank a cold Shiner Bock together late one evening on his back porch in the Texas Hill Country.
What is that magnetism that pulls us toward celebrities? Why do people stand in mile-long lines, worm their way into throngs of people, or pay big money simply for the chance to rub shoulders with the famous? No doubt the motivations vary from individual to individual, but I would suggest that at the core of these motivations is the desire for intimacy with one we deem greater than ourselves. Such closeness, such confidentiality, one might even say such communion with a person exalted by fame or fortune makes us feel better about ourselves. It’s like we share a little in what they have. While we’re with them, we’re more “them” than “us.” Our identity, however briefly, migrates into the sphere of their identity. I am no longer just Chad; I am a guest, one might even say, a friend at George Strait’s table.
The Good Picture Behind the Warped Image
Many of the basic human desires that God formed within us have, like bent arrows, gone in directions the Creator never intended them to go. Hunger becomes gluttony, thirst becomes drunkenness, love becomes lust, worship becomes idolatry. Nevertheless, if we look behind the warped image that man has revised we find the good that God has devised. And that good is indicative of the gifts God gives, the people He has made us to be, and the image in us He wants to restore.
In the case of celebrity worship, behind the almost idolatrous fascination that some fans have with a person of fame, we discover a desire that, in and of itself, is not sinful. It is the desire to connect with one who is greater than we are. We feel small but they make us feel big; we feel unimportant, but our connection with them makes us feel like we matter, we have purpose. To be singled out by them, to take a seat at their table, invests our lives with a sense of worth and transcendence.
That hunger to connect with one who is greater than we are will be satisfied only in the one who created that hunger within us in the first place. We may look for it in people of power or fame or fortune, but they will all fail us because, in truth, they are pilgrims traveling the same road we are. The stars of Hollywood and Nashville are searching for the same goal. Like we are, they too are restless until they rest in the one who finally and perfectly completes them.
The reason we so easily miss the God who is greater than we are is because that great God comes in such an unexpectedly tiny, humdrum package. We are staring up at the stars while the star is pointing down to the no-account town of Bethlehem, to a baby that looks like every other baby. We are looking up for a big and awesome God while the little and humble God is looking up as well—only He looking up at us from down below, wanting us to turn our eyes downward. None of us are really near-sighted or far-sighted, we are all up-sighted. Our eyes scan the heavens for the great one while we’re blind to the great one humbly hiding within arms reach.
But I’m not just talking about Christmas and how easy it is to miss God since He comes into our world as a baby. He remains in our world, He remains active in our lives, as a down-below-divinity. You won’t find Him in heaven’s version of Hollywood glitz and glamour. You won’t find Him riding in limos and hounded by paparazzi. If you’re searching for a God with razzle-dazzle, who’ll knock your socks off with His cool awesomeness, then you’re in for a lifetime of deceptive disappointments. In this world, God is hidden in His opposite. He is cloaked in the simple, the down-to-earth, the seemingly boring and unawesome stuff of this world.
The Old Rugged Table
One place we find not only God, but intimacy with this one greater than ourselves, is at a table. The thing is, the table is kind of like that manger in Bethlehem or the old rugged cross. To the eye, there’s nothing attractive or awe-inspiring about it. In fact, on the surface it’s downright disappointing. A little bread, a sip of wine. Why, even when you invite your friends over, you might have bread on the table and wine in glasses, but along with them you serve ribeyes and baked potatoes and steamed vegetables with pecan pie for dessert. Not God. The great and powerful king of all creation puts bread and wine on His table. That’s all you get.
No, that seems like it’s all you get, but it’s not. Like in that rough and simple manger lay God hidden as a common newborn; like on that bloody and gruesome cross hung God hidden as a common criminal; so in this inconspicuous and everyday meal is God hidden in common food. In that bread He has placed His Son, Jesus, so that when you eat that bread you take the body of Jesus into you. When you sip the wine, you take His blood into you. The Lord almighty is swaddled in bread and wine, the old rugged cross becomes a table. And here, while eating and drinking, you receive intimacy with God above and beyond anything imaginable. He and you merge as one. You take Him into you even as He takes you into Himself.
The Meal That Tells Me Who I Am
This is a closeness, a confidentiality, a communion that does infinitely more than a friendship with George Strait could do for me. It does more than make me feel better about myself. This meal of God, with God, consuming God, establishes my identity. Much as the act of marriage means that a man and woman are now one flesh, so this meal means that I am now one flesh with God. I am bone of His bone, flesh of His flesh. My identity as Chad has been subsumed into His identity so that I can no longer understand myself except in connection with Him. I am a son of our Father. I am the brother of Jesus. I am part of the bride of Christ. And all these are not mere figures of speech but statements of reality. This is who I am, this is who you are, in God through Jesus Christ.
There’s no need to stand in mile-long lines, worm your way into throngs of people, or pay big money to achieve intimacy with one greater than you. Simply take and eat the body of Christ; take and drink the blood of Jesus. Here is the costliest treasure on earth given to you free of charge. It cost Jesus His life, but that life He gives to you gratis. And with that life, comes all that God is and all that you need.
Looking down at Jesus’ humble table, at His humdrum food, I see that as His guest I will be more than an admirer, closer than a friend. Since I will consume Him, it will be no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me. And that life in and of Christ gives me infinitely more than worth and transcendence; it gives me peace and wholeness and joy of such enduring quality that it spills over from this life into the life to come.
“What would you like to eat for your last meal?” That question, at some point, is posed to the criminal awaiting execution. Oklahoma City bomber, Timothy McVeigh, chose two pints of mint chocolate chip ice cream. John Wayne Gacy, a serial murderer and rapist, selected shrimp, a bucket of KFC chicken, fries, and strawberries. The ticking clock may have run out of ticks before these men digested all they consumed, but the food was served anyway. All the condemned get to choose their omega meal. What would you want? Not just if you were on death row, but if somehow you knew that tomorrow would be the final day of your earthly journey, what would you like on your plate? A sweet dessert? A thick, juicy steak? Some variety of comfort food?
Given such a choice, and given the finality of this feast, I’m afraid my imagination might just go into the what-if overdrive.
What if my lips, which have tasted the kiss of one I was forbidden to kiss, could taste food that consumed those sins until not a tiny morsel of immorality remained?
What if my tongue, which has spit out words in hate, feasted on rumor, and lapped up a million lies, could banquet on food and drink that cleanses my palate of even the deepest verbal stain?
What if my teeth, which have chewed up reputations, bitten into the backs of friends and foes, masticated plans of revenge, could chomp down on a divine delicacy that makes my blood-stained teeth as pure and white as light from above?
What if my throat, down which I have gulped words I should have spoken to defend others, could swallow a meal that swallows death and hell itself?
What if my stomach, indeed my whole body, could digest and be permeated with a feast so rich in celestial love, that rather than me transforming the food into my body, that food transformed me into the body of God himself?
What if. But there is no what if. There is the real meal, the real deal, the feast of feasts. There is a supper that belongs to the Lord. And to that supper he invites all who hunger and thirst for him.
I am lord of all I eat. I lord it over meat, potatoes, pecan pie. I make those foods serve my body, transforming them into me. But it is not so with the meal of Jesus. It is not my supper but the Lord’s supper. Of this meal he is Lord. He feeds me his body. He gives me his blood to drink. When I do, what I eat is Lord of me. His body transforms my body into his body. I am a member of the body of Christ. His blood transforms my blood into his blood. I pulse through the veins of the body of Christ. The Lord I eat, the Lord I drink, devours in me all this is opposed to life, to holiness, to immortality. I am made to be as he is, even as he has become as I am.
What’s more, if this meal is my last meal, it will not be my last meal. For if I am in Christ, even though I die, yet shall I live. The day my body dies I will be with Jesus in paradise. There I will dine at the feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which has no end.
So, I ask you again: what would you want for your last meal?