by Bill Carroll
I’d like to start by borrowing a story from the Rev. Ed Bacon that some of you may have heard before:
Once upon a time in the Deep South, a hungry man was having breakfast at a diner. A waitress took his order, and he asked for bacon and eggs with coffee. She brought the coffee right away, and then, a while later, came back with a heaping plate of food. He looked down, and–to his surprise–next to the bacon and eggs he’d ordered he also noticed a strange lump of runny, white porridge. “What’s this?” he thought. When he spoke up to complain, the waitress shook her head and got a funny look on her face. “Honey,” she said, “those is grits. You don’t order grits. Grits just comes.”
Now to hear Ed tell the story, grits and grace are a lot alike. Grace is God’s gift, freely given and undeserved. You can pray for grace and seek it out, but whether you ask for it or not, whether you deserve it or not, grace “just comes.” We are born, brothers and sisters, into a living ocean of grace. We are drenched in grace before we can ever think to ask for it. First and foremost, grace is the love of the Holy Spirit, flooding our hearts. But grace “comes” in countless ways in daily life.
In one form or another, we have all experienced grace. We have all been given a gift that “just comes.” Existence is one such gift; life is another. But the gifts don’t stop there. Grace begins before we are born, when we are surrounded and protected by our mother’s womb. And it continues throughout our lives, as we are first surrendered into the care of our families and then pushed out into wider and wider communities. Some of these are less supportive than others. Most of them wound us in one way or another. But without the stimulation and challenge they provide, we don’t grow and flourish as human beings.
We don’t survive long without other people to nurture and challenge us. Our families are imperfect, but they do help make us human. In most cases (there are tragic exceptions), they also provide our basic sense of love, security, and home.
Most of us have also been welcomed when we were strangers in a new place. Maybe it was a new town, school, or job. Perhaps a church. Maybe this happened for us at a party where we didn’t know the other guests. Someone approached us, smiled, and made us feel at home. They introduced us to people or revealed a connection we didn’t know we had. They made a seat for us at the table.
And then there are the gifts of friendship and love. In these, not all of us have been as lucky as others. Love and friendship open us up to being wounded. Love is not always requited, and neither friends nor lovers are always faithful. And yet what a gift it is to have someone want us and value us for who we are—and to offer his or her whole self in return. We have a deep-seated need to share our lives with others.
Jesus said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We dare not underestimate what he is giving. When Jesus offers his life for us, he offers a fully human life, with all its joys and struggles—with all its memories, wounds, and loves. He is offering to be our friend—the one friend who will never let us down.
When Christians think about salvation, too often we forget what kind of the life Jesus lived, in order to focus on his death. If the dying and rising of Jesus have any value in bringing people to God, they must be seen in the context of his entire life for others. Jesus gives his flesh, his very humanity, for the life of the world.
We need to consider his death for others as the climax and fulfillment of his life. Throughout his ministry, Jesus proclaims the mercy and nearness of God. He forgives sins, touches those deemed untouchable, and eats with those others call unclean.
And it is this life—this precious, precious life for others—that Jesus offers up for the life of the world. He marches into Jerusalem, knowing the likely outcome and willing to face it. At the hands of Herod and Pilate, as well as the religious authorities and the crowd. At the hands indeed of his own disciples, Jesus suffers betrayal, violence, and death. He does this, so his identification with us might be complete and sin’s tight hold on us be broken. He refuses to allow his faithfulness to be overcome by our betrayals and failures at love. He creates a community in which ALL are welcome. And he transforms his own dying into a gift for the life of the world.
This awesome Gift is the supreme example of the grace that haunts our every step. It is rooted in the very Love that makes the world and everyone in it. As Fr. Karl Rahner, SJ, has emphasized, the self-giving of Jesus is the climax of his own story—the tipping point of God’s long love story with creation. In him, grace, forgiveness, and mercy win the final victory. Jesus is God’s great “Yes” to the world.
How then should we live? We should let the mercy of Jesus be our vision, our goal, and our reason for living. What if, dwelling ever more deeply in Jesus, our vision was fixed more and more on his grace and its implications for our lives? What if we lived from and toward the divine Gift that “just comes”?
In a word, we would be filled with gratitude. And the things that distract us from our own humanity would wither away. They would become less and less important in our lives. If we lived from and toward grace, our hearts would overflow in wonder, love, and praise. In the power of the Spirit, we would worship, singing spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts, and giving thanks to God at all times and in all places in the name of Jesus.
A grateful heart does not mean we retreat into denial or cover up our real sadness, heartbreak, and sin. Nor does it mean we give up in our struggle against violence and injustice and all the ways in which we fail to share God’s gifts with our neighbors. But it does mean we pay attention to grace—as we turn to God, day by day, to give thanks for the Gift at the heart of the world.
It also means that, even though grace just comes—so we don’t have to earn it or deserve it first—we want to share God’s gifts with others. We want to participate in the generous giving by which Jesus gives life to the world. In his name, among other things, we welcome the stranger, forgive our enemies, feed the hungry, and bind up the brokenhearted. We become what Fr. Austin Farrer called “walking sacraments”—books of the Gospel written in human flesh.
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
And so we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus.”
image: breakfast with grits by Paul Joseph via Flickr