Gospel: John 6:35, 41-51
35Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
This story about Elijah, makes me think about the Snickers commercials. You’re not you when you’re hungry. A funny, but out of place celebrity, shows up at in a situation. Betty White on the football field in a pick-up football game. Joe Pesci at a sorority party with some girls. Rosanne Barr being whiny and sarcastic working at a lumber mill. Aretha Franklin being a diva in a backseat of a dudes roadtrip. You get a little whiny when you’re hungry, a little angry when you’re hungry. Somebody pulls out a snickers bar to hand to the celeb, and instantly the celeb is transformed back to the normal person with a sign of relief. Phew. You’re not you when you’re hungry. When we don’t get nourished and fed – we get hangry. Trust me. I know. My family knows. My youngest sister carries snacks in her purse for everyone if we leave the house together for more than an hour.
In her meditation on Jesus as bread, theologian and Episcopal priest, Lauren Winner writes: “In calling himself ‘the bread of life,’ — and not, say, crème caramel or caviar — Jesus is identifying with basic food, with sustenance, with the food that, for centuries afterward, would figure in the protest efforts of poor and marginalized people. No one holds caviar riots; people riot for bread. So to speak of God as bread is to speak of God’s most elemental provision for us.”
The problem is, we so often go for junk food instead of the food that nourishes. We look for convenience rather than wholeness, and we try to fill our deepest hungers, both physical and spiritual, with just about anything else around us, rather than trusting what God says about who we are and what we need.
Elijah’s journey has been difficult, and he ends up under the broom tree hungry and exhausted. The backdrop of this vignette is the fiery showdown between Elijah and the prophets of Baal. Queen Jezebel is none too happy when she hears of it, and vows to have Elijah killed ASAP.
Elijah is overwhelmed, terrified, and starving. He sees no way out, and pleads with God to just end it all. He’s not thinking straight, and he’s desperate.
And God provides. God doesn’t rescue him from this situation, but God shows up in the form of a holy messenger, with a simple meal, that somehow sustains him for the rest of his journey. And not only provides the meal, but encourages him, not once, but twice, to drink, eat, and rest.
I have never been hungrier than when I was pregnant and breastfeeding. I still remember that desperation, that craving for certain things, and just sheer exhaustion, dehydration, and low blood sugar. Breastfeeding burns a crazy amount of calories, add that up with not getting much sleep, new parent fears and frustrations, and you have a recipe for disaster. God bless all those people who showed up with food. Lasagnas and cookies, and casseroles, and salads – and God bless my husband, who though I was cranky, continued to just put food in front of me, encouraging me to eat and to rest, strengthening me for the journey. For many new mothers, this hormonal and challenging time leads to postpartum depression, requiring another level of support and provision. But its not complicated – its food, rest, comfort, support, encouragement, and yeah, sometime meds and therapy.
People of God have moments of fear, doubt, loneliness and despair, and they’re not a sign of lack of faith. As a matter of fact sometimes it is living the life of the disciple that can be scary and lonely. Like many of the lament psalms, Elijah reminds us of God’s faithfulness when we lose sight of him, and reminds us that sometimes we just need to sit down and eat something. God’s provision comes despite us. This isn’t about the “God will never give us anything we can’t handle” Hallmark stuff. There’s a more radical message of sustenance and call here. We could never handle any of it on our own, that’s the first message. Secondly, we are given both challenges and relief, we don’t just find our way through God’s obstacle course on our own and bring relief on ourselves – God provides…
What is given, then, is sufficient and strengthening. The gospel lectionary for today identifies Jesus as the living bread that came down from heaven (John 6:51). Certainly, the bread of Jesus gives us strength for the journeys in our lives, however difficult or overwhelming they may be.
Maybe you know someone who is in need of some rest and encouragement. Maybe you know people that are so overwhelmed with life that they do not care for themselves or their bodies. Maybe you know people who have sunk into the depths of depression and cannot see a way out. Maybe your journey today is simply leaving you feeling empty and tired.
The angel comes to Elijah with a simple message of self-care and preparation. Rest and something to fill us up – two things we are hungry for. If we do not take a seat, if we do not consume that which will sustain us – the journey may be too much for us. As unexpected as a heavenly visitor with cake, Jesus tells the crowd that his very flesh will sustain them. The sacrament of Holy Communion is one of the mysteries of the faith, but God’s intentions are no mystery in this celebration. We partake in Christ’s body and blood and are strengthened for our journeys. We are filled, and the cliched words ring true – we become the body of christ.
We become able to feed and care for others, we become as Martin Luther suggested, “little Christs.” Literally, from the Latin, the word Christian means little Christ. We are unexpectedly fed by one another, we strengthen each other daily for service. We show up for each other with food when the unthinkable happens, and when we need to celebrate something together. If we are called to look to Jesus as an example, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith – then we will feed people who are hungry. The poor, the desperate, the overwhelmed, and even the breastfeeding. When we are in the depths of despair, the depths of exhaustion, the depths of illness or frustration – God provides for us in unexpected ways – through angels, through friends and family, through an experience of grace around a table with ordinary food made extraordinary by God’s Word and the power of the Spirit – invited by Christ to eat and drink that which has the power to sustain us eternally – strengthened for our journey. Amen