August 16, 2015
Proverbs 9, 1-6 + Psalm 34 + Ephesians 5, 15-20 + John 6, 51-58
This is now the fourth of five Sundays spent with the “Bread of Life” discourse brought together for us by St John. We have been coaxed and prodded by John to look beyond the bread – to see more than a substance of wheat and water, to grow deeper into the wonder and mystery of this gift to see that we are called into communion, into a relationship with the Father and with each other through, with, and in Christ. It is a relationship that gives life, hope, and joy. We have been teased by these verses to explore the Word of God, the Word Made Flesh, as food just like the bread; and to realize then that to enter into Communion through the Bread of Life we enter as well into the Word making the word spoken and the deeds done by Jesus Christ our own. Now with these seven verses today comes the invitation to enter into the very life of God, for what Jesus has he offers us: an eternal relationship of love with the living Father. This relationship is what feeding on Jesus is all about. To truly feed on Christ means to dwell deeply with him in a relationship that savors friendship and communion.
As most of you know, I take great pleasure and enjoy any amount of time spent in France, particularly in Paris where I have developed some very dear friendships always celebrated and enjoyed around a table. In a book called: “The Greater Journey” David McCullough describes the lives of many American artists, writers, doctors, inventors and politicians who set off across the Atlantic to live and learn in Paris during the course of the 19th century. In describing the adventures of these outstanding people, McCullough offers a wonderful glimpse into Parisian culture. Early in the book he describes the French love for eating. He reports what I have experienced time and time again. They take nearly every meal in public, even breakfast. and while eating they show no hurry or impatience. Service is slow, but gracious. It is as if they had nothing else to do but sit and chat, talking and savoring what to many Americans seems like very small portions. James Fenimore Cooper once wrote about his experience there saying: “A dinner here in Paris does not oppress one. The wine neither intoxicates nor heats, and the frame of mind and body, in which one is left, is precisely that best suited to intellectual and social pleasures.”
A meal in that culture is not a refueling operation to be accomplished as quickly as possible in order to get on with something else. The hunger being fed is not for physical food but for the nourishment of the soul. Meals must reach us at a deeper level of human need, and this is what John is teasing us with in these verses today. Food and drink can become the place of encounter for family, for friends, lovers, and acquaintances. Think of it in terms of a grand meal. Multiple courses and an abundance of wine that is sipped slowly allowing the time and space to savor others in conversation, laughter, tears, and even sometimes sitting in silence. These unhurried dinners provide a chance to share one’s life and listen with respect to the daily events of another’s life.
Thinking along these lines has led me to begin to wonder if this is not how we Catholics arrived at the point of seeing the Eucharist as something more than a liturgical celebration and discovering and savoring the Eucharist in adoration. Somehow when the Liturgy of the Eucharist really draws us into the act of love in which Jesus offers himself to the Father there is a desire to do more than “eat and run”. There is a need and a deep desire to savor, to linger over, cherish and worship this presence in peaceful silence. I feel this so strongly that it leads me to wonder if people who do not share that desire have just been going through the motions of the liturgy simply “taking communion” rather than being drawn into the most intimate of relationships with Christ and the Father. This is what John 6 is revealing to us: the wonder of God with us.
“My flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” says Jesus. This adjective, “true” is not to be thought of in contrast to false food or false drink. It is an insistence that this flesh and this blood is authentic and dependable. It suggests that this food and drink is reliable in that it will satisfy hungers and thirsts.
So it is time to set the table again and then to approach Jesus Christ in the Bread of Life ready to consume the whole of Jesus, his teaching, his life, his passion and his death. This is to enter into a whole new way of living no longer with our own little private lives, but living in the life of Christ changing and transforming us into his very self. This is a startling and completely amazing idea, but it is exactly the idea formed in the mind of God at the moment of creation. Now all is restored. Here the first plan for our relationship with God begins again, and paradise is at hand, heaven is it’s best description which Jesus called: The Kingdom of God.