Exodus 16, 2-4, 12-15 + Psalm 78 + Ephesians 4, 17, 20-24 + John 6, 24-35
St Joseph Old Cathedral, Oklahoma City
Recently I was listening to talk during which the speaker expressed his wonder about how God treated Moses after Moses disobeyed God’s instructions about striking a rock. Just because Moses struck the rock twice instead of once as God instructed, he did not get to cross into the Promised Land. Like the speaker, I have always that this was extraordinarily harsh treatment for a man who had accomplished so much as God’s servant. The speaker went to on propose something I had never thought of. The “Promised Land” was not really a geographical location, a parcel of land; but rather it was a personal relationship with God. What probably happened that day Moses parted company from the Israelites was that Moses waved good bye and then danced jig in the presence of the Lord singing: “Free at Last, Thank God, I’m free at last”. Meanwhile the Israelites who grumbled their way reluctantly forward day after day had never gotten the point of their journey, and they went on to that piece of land still a long way from having experienced a real living relationship with God.
That idea stayed in my mind as I listened once again to these all too familiar words of John’s Gospel about Jesus being the “Bread of Life.” For way too many people, the Holy Eucharist is something, an object that while Holy and most Sacred is still an object. It’s like the Israelites always thinking of the “Promised Land” in terms of a parcel of land.
When Jesus announces that he is the Bread of Life, that his Body and Blood are the gift he gives us, he is not speaking about some THING. He is speaking of himself. He is the gift. He is the bread. He is the blood. He is the gift he gives. What he leaves with us is so much more than an object that once we begin to understand it, what the gift looks like is unimportant. If it’s brown or white, thick or thin, round or square means nothing. In fact, noticing these things is a good sign that we have not gone far enough into the mystery. What we must come to experience in the Eucharist is Communion: first of all Communion through, with, and in the living Christ. Then because of it, and even within it, we come into communion with one another in a new way and in such a way that we see and believe the very life of God in each other.
We do not come here to get something. We come here to become something, friends and disciples of Jesus Christ and brothers and sisters to each other. So to approach the Eucharist as we all shall in a just a few moments is not to simply touch something, even something as precious as the body and blood of Jesus. It is rather to encounter someone. To come face to face with the one who has called us here, revealed to us love and mercy, and instructed us about what to do in his name.
What is being said and revealed in this Gospel is very simple yet very profound. To approach Christ in the Eucharist, is to really be ready to enter into communion, a holy communion of friendship, love, and discipleship with the very person of our Lord Jesus Christ. If you’re not ready for that and all it will ask of you, think twice about walking this aisle, and perhaps back up a bit to the first encounter with Christ that can prepare you for this great mystery. For the first encounter with Christ’s body and blood is really the Sacred Scripture, God’s teaching. The great saint of the Sacred Scriptures, Saint Jerome probably speaking from his own experience with translating the Scriptures said this: “When we approach the Eucharistic Mystery, if a crumb falls to the ground we are troubled. Yet when we are listening to the word of God, and God’s Word and Christ’s flesh and blood are being poured into our ears, and we pay no heed, what great peril should we not feel?”
The bread that Jesus speaks of is meant to open us to a living relationship of trust not in the bread itself but in the person giving that bread. At the same time, what is given is not ultimately bread, but the word of his teaching, his preaching of the kingdom way, and his revelation of the Father. When we say that the Word was made flesh, we announce to ourselves and others that we believe that this bread and the giver of bread and the teaching word are not simply interrelated but are one in Jesus who waits to welcome us in an intimate, personal, and life giving relationship of love.