Back when Beth and I lived in Altadena, California, just down the street from us was a bakery called "Patticakes." It was one of those amazing places where everything looks as good as it tastes and virtually every breakfast item included chocolate. But make no mistake, nothing there was cheap. Everything was delicious, beautiful and frightfully expensive.
I remember sitting there one morning eating a chocolate muffin and drinking a latte while a young couple came into to get a quote for a wedding cake. The owner pulled out a book that featured articles from Bon Appetit praising her wedding cakes, showed them spectacular professional photographs of cakes she had made in the past, and then finally the price sheet.
I watched this all and smiled. The bride was looking at the groom pleadingly. Her face saying, “Honey, wouldn’t this be beautiful? This is exactly the kind of wedding cake I have always wanted.” He looked like he was choking. Being a guy, I know what he was thinking as he looked at that price sheet, “A cake? How about a killer big screen TV? It’s about the same amount of money.” But he was a smart boy; he kept his mouth shut, even as he tried to calculate how many months salary would be gobbled down by people in less than 15 minutes.
And right at the very moment when the unspoken tension was the highest, the bakery owner appeared with a tray of assorted pieces of wedding cake that they could sample.
Two bites later, eyes rolled back in his head in chocolate induced ecstasy, the cheapskate groom was ordering this cake for everyone he had ever met.
You see the difference was in the tasting. Once we taste what we really want, the cost is not the issue. Once we learn that we don’t have to settle for the life given to us by thieves and bandits who only want to sell something to us, use us, manipulate us, market to us, or make us live out their vision of life, we are able to really listen to the one who offers us entryway to the life we really want.
For the life that God intended us to have. For the life we were made to have. For the life that Jesus came to bring us, and died to secure for us. For the life of security, freedom, and well-being. For the life that is both eternal and abundant.
My friends, church is for getting a foretaste of the kingdom. It is community that whets our appetite for new creation. It is where we get a small sliver of the wedding cake of the feast of the lamb that will be for all of us who enter eternal life through him. And the communion of the church is the taste that should linger on our lips as we live for Christ each day.
For the last of my alphabetical list of qualities that make a church a church I want to skip to the letter K and the most nebulous, perhaps the most important and at the same time, most humbling characteristic: K is for Kingdom Witness.
In the Presbyterian Church Book of Order, we affirm that the church is “the provisional demonstration of God’s new humanity.” In other words, the church is to be the gathering that is a foretaste of what God intends for all the world.
For the church to be the true church it must faithfully point beyond itself in both its faithfulness and its weakness. it must be a true "foretaste" of the reign and rule of God and at the same time acknowledge that the wedding has not come.
Just like Jesus himself both proclaimed that the Kingdom of heaven had come near with his appearance, each church proclaims by its life together that a new day has dawned and the new creation is upon us. But, in the same way, that Jesus work is both “accomplished” but not consummated until his triumphal return, the church is the unconsummated and incomplete foretaste of the reign of God to come. Each specific church and the one universal Church exists to witness to the “now, but not yet” reality of the Kingdom of heaven that has been inaugurated in Jesus Christ but will not be consummated until Christ’s return. The church is the taste of the wedding cake from the eternal feast.
It is the “now but not yet” quality to the life of the church that reminds us that the church is both intended to be something more than just an ordinary human gathering, but will never rise above the frail humanity that requires saving in the first place. It is not a gathering of all the “most committed” or “most like me” or “most helpful to my Christian walk” people. It is wheat and weeds growing in one field but still revealing the abundant feast of the bread of life that will come from it.
The church that is the true church knows that it is an incomplete church. It is a witness to a reality that is not yet fulfilled. It points beyond itself to the reign and rule of God. In the new creation, we won’t need churches because all of creation will be church. But a true church knows that its job is to give a taste that will make all of creation hunger for the feast and settle for nothing less.