Aug 1, 2015

18th Sunday - Food for the Journey

Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15
Eph 4: 17, 20-24
Jn 6 24-35

If we thought for just one moment about the place of food in our lives and how our lives revolve around it, we might be stunned.  Most of us are concerned about eating too much or eating the wrong things.  In this country, abundance is the name of the game.  Count the number of restaurants and fast food establishments anywhere near your home.  Or the plenty that is available each time we walk into our local supermarkets.  We have come to expect that this abundance will always be there.  If we’re hungry, no matter what time of day or night, we will always find a place to eat.

That experience is unknown to so many others, millions actually, in other parts of the world where food is sparse.  There is no doubt that the distribution of food in the world is uneven and deeply unjust. While many consider overeating a problem so many others just barely get by.  It is a problem because eating and drinking are so fundamental to human existence.

This Sunday is the third Gospel in a series from the Gospel according to John.  It offers us reflections, treasured by the earliest of Christians, on the significance of the Holy Eucharist, that “bread from heaven” and “bread of life” that Jesus so beautifully speaks of today. 

Our first reading from Exodus is a key event in the journey of the early Hebrew people through the desert under the guidance of Moses.  Their journey was not an easy one and now they find themselves desperate and starving in the wasteland.  They grumble against Moses who some may have felt have deceived them; all that after the parting of the Red Sea? Their statement is somewhat startling when they note that it was better in Egypt even as slaves where they at least had food to eat.

Moses pleads to God on their behalf and God provides meat (quail) and manna, a natural hardened honey substance that can be sweet and substantial.  Moses says to them, God now provides this “bread from heaven.”  It was essentiall strength and a promise for them to keep going and complete the journey; that God would walk with them always and dwell with them when they arrived at their final destination.

Today, our Gospel challenges us as it did the crowds to see in Jesus that same bread from heaven. Yet, the crowds who were fed by our Lord with bread and fish still don’t get it.  Jesus says to those who caught up with him: “Amen, amen, I say to you, you are looking for me not because you saw signs but because you ate the loaves . . . do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life.” Then he goes on to explain that he is the Father’s “bread of life.” 

When we gather at the Eucharist, we see the ancient yet ever new constant connection between the food which nourished the Hebrews, this Gospel moment of encounter between Jesus and those fed, and our celebration of the Eucharist – this bread given to us from heaven which is our food for the journey through life. It is primarily a gift from God to those who are hungry for eternal life. Because it is a gift, born of Jesus’ own suffering and death, how we receive that gift is our return to God. 

How do we see this as gift in our liturgy? Note, that the congregation doesn’t just all come to the altar and grab what’s on it.  Like going to a buffet where people try to wiggle around each other, reaching over arms and backs looking for the next salad or cut of beef.

This food is gift that is given.  So we come to receive from the one who offers it to us.  Eucharistic ministers, for example, gather around to receive from the priest.  They don’t just grab the hosts or chalices on the altar, they wait to receive them then with the priests and deacon if there is one, they go down to the general people to give this bread of life. 

We extend our hands or open our mouth to receive.  We don’t grab it from the priest or minister, we receive it after a reverent bow to the presence of Christ – his body and blood which is our food for the journey. 

So, the key is how we receive that gift which is not a “thing” but a person – the risen Lord of our life.  What are we thinking as we come forward to receive?  What do we say and what do we mean when we proclaim “Amen?”  When we return to the pew, not out to our car, do we give thanks for this mysterious and life giving presence?  How grateful are we for the food, the person we receive?  Is it for us just routine or a living encounter with Christ Jesus? 

Like all the sacraments, this is not magic.  The difference it makes in our life will depend on how disposed we are and how much faith we muster. 

As we journey through this life let us do more “thank you” than grumbling. For the God who came to save us has offered us not only an example but the gift of his mercy.  WE are not alone for he is with us here and always. 

Bread of life; Food for the journey is Christ himself.

Draw near to your servants, O Lord,
and answer their prayers with unceasing kindness,
that, for those who glory in you as their Creator and guide,
you may restore what you have created
and keep safe what you have restored.
(Collect of Mass)