You Are What You Eat

In The Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren speaks of the Church as a community of both Word and Sacrament, but she notes that evangelical Protestants usually pay far more attention to the Word—spoken, written, and proclaimed—than to the sacraments of baptism and holy communion. The central place of preaching among evangelicals celebrates the power of God’s Word, a Word that doesn’t merely express something but actually does something. Creation happens by an act of speech: God said, “Let there be…” (Genesis 1:3), and at his Word the world came into being (Hebrews 11:3).

We will never understand what it means to speak of God’s Word as long as we think of it only in terms of written or spoken language.

Human words, in contrast, are often empty and powerless. As the Bee Gees sang in 1977,“It’s only words, and words are all I have…” But God’s Word is not like that. God’s words are never “only words.” When God speaks, something happens! When God speaks, creation and redemption break out. “My words will not return to me without producing results” but “will accomplish what I want them to” (Isaiah 55:11).

Then what about the relation between word and sacrament? Does the unique place of the word mean that the sacraments are just adjuncts to Scripture and preaching?

We will never understand what it means to speak of God’s Word as long as we think of it only in terms of written or spoken language.

God’s Word comes to us in several ways: written in Scripture, proclaimed in preaching, and—above all—incarnate in Jesus. But what we can easily overlook is that the sacraments are also a form of God’s creative, redemptive Word. In addition to the written and spoken Word, the sacraments are the visible Word of God. Every sacrament is also a proclamation!

The best example is Holy Communion: For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are proclaiming the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). Similarly, every baptism is a proclamation of the death and resurrection of Jesus (Romans 6:4). The sacraments are not just a witness to the Word of God. The sacraments are the Word of God made visible. The sacraments are another way for God to speak the word of life to our hearts. And the Word that comes to us in the sacraments—just like the Word that is spoken or written or read—active and creative. It changes things…and the first thing it changes is ourselves.

When I ate breakfast this morning, my digestive system went to work changing that food into cells for my body. Whenever I eat a whole wheat bagel, that bread is incorporated into my body; it becomes what I am. But when I feed on the Bread of heaven, it changes me into what Jesus is.

Jesus says, “This is my Body” and “This is my blood” (Mark 14:22-24). Here the spoken word and the written word combine to speak the divine Word that makes an eternal difference.

Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life… For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink...Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me” (John 6:54-57).

In other words:

You are what you eat…

John Farthing is Norma's husband, Landon and Layton's Poppy, and Duke basketball's #1 Fan. He is also a retired Methodist pastor and Professor Emeritus of Religion, Greek, and Latin at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas.

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Grace Church of Northwest Arkansas is a nondenominational community of Christ-followers committed to loving others, living out the Gospel and serving in Jesus' name. We stand with the marginalized and welcome folks of all races, genders, and sexual orientations.


Services at 10:15 am

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Grace Church of NWA

1722 N College Ste C 286

Fayetteville, AR 72703

Phone: (479)966-9550

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