What is it?
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
Last Sunday Jesus invited them to ‘come and eat.’ So naturally, the very next question becomes what is it? We’ve all been there. Could there be anything more universal than the dinner table and the interchange of excitement and apprehension between cooks and those they cook for?
Try it you’ll like it. It’s good for you. Isn’t that what our parents said? Sometimes it worked. Other times we flat out refused.
The Israelites asked Moses. What is it? They had been through so much together. God set them free from their lives as slaves. But how quickly they began to long for what they had back in Egypt. Pangs of hunger conjured memories of meat and bread. Wasn’t it better than wandering in the wilderness on some endless camping trip? So they grumbled. They complained.
Scripture says God heard the Israelite’s complaining and rained down bread from heaven. Manna. Scholars believe manna was the sweet substance secreted by insects on the leaves of the tamarisk shrub. It drops to the ground and becomes firm. Gathered early each morning, it can indeed be a tasty treat.
When the people saw the food God had provided, they asked what is it? The root of the word manna is man hu, what is this? Despite their obvious skepticism this manna was a hit. The people liked it. But with this strange food came a new spiritual challenge. Manna was perishable. It only lasts a day before it spoils. Try to gather more than you need for the day, it would rot. Give us our daily bread, we pray. But we want more. How easy it is to try to stockpile and hoard the gifts of God, the gifts of life.
It takes us a while to learn what’s best, what food satisfies and what leaves us empty. We confuse needs and wants. Our economy is market-driven. Give the people what they want! Whatever people will buy is good. But any cook knows that isn’t true. Anyone who has gotten sick eating too much cake and ice cream knows what we want isn’t the best gauge for what we need. We have more and more, but our hearts still go hungry.
We have 21 candidates for president (and counting) gorging themselves with record amounts of money from newly created Super-PACs. But democracy is undermined when according to news reports, “Fewer than four hundred families are responsible for almost half the money raised in the 2016 presidential campaign, a concentration of political donors that is unprecedented in the modern era.” (Small Pool of Rich Donors Dominates Election Giving, Nicholas Confessore, Sarah Cohen and Karen Yourish, The New York Times, 8/1/15)
Empty calories, foolish consumption, shallow politics, hungry hearts. Jesus fed the five thousand beside the sea, afterwards the clamoring crowd followed him. They wanted more of that miraculous wonder bread. But they missed the point. Jesus told them, Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. It wasn’t Moses who gave you the true bread from heaven, but my Father. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:27; 32; 35) For a month of Sundays, literally, this will be our message at worship. Jesus implores us to see that our spiritual hunger for the bread of heaven is satisfied only as we join with God in providing bread for the world.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus roamed the gentle hills of Galilee. He went among the cities of ancient Israel. He saw people were hungry—just like us. The people attempted to fill the God-shaped longing within them with whatever they could find—wealth, power, fame, alcohol, drugs, uncommitted sex—but nothing worked. Jurgenn Moltmann (via St. Augustine) wrote, ‘the God-shaped space in ourselves can only be properly filled by God. When we try to fill that God-space with something else we become ill.
Grace is to human life what yeast is to a good, fragrant loaf of bread. Yeast, a tiny one-celled organism that grows and metabolizes its own food with great speed –work the dough—slightly fermenting it and releasing gases so that the bread begins to rise. Jesus, the bread of life, is released and energized in each of us through the work of the divine yeast of the Holy Spirit at Eucharist.
For a month of Sundays (through August 23rd) our worship takes us into the kitchen with Jesus learning how to prepare and to eat food that builds our body. Each week, we share in the Eucharistic meal of bread and wine as a source of nourishment, sustenance and transformation.
What is it we’re eating? It is a diet rich in forgiveness and tender-heartedness, to quote Ephesians. It is a diet rich in gratitude, filling our lives and this community with thanksgiving for the blessings of life. It is a diet rich in stewardship, calling us to use well what God has given us. It is a diet rich in sharing, inviting us to share our bread with the hungry; our love, our resources, our hope with those in need. It is a diet rich in struggle for justice and peace as we become united in one body with the marginalized, the oppressed, the profiled, the unjustly prosecuted and persecuted, the demeaned and dehumanized, with both the victims and the perpetrators of violence. In solidarity and humility we feed one another this bread of life that makes us all stronger, wiser, less anxious and more balanced within ourselves.
The Sri Lankan evangelist and hymn writer D.T. Niles wrote, “Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread”. What is God trying to say to us today through this gospel, if only we had ears to listen? Where are we to find the true Bread of Life? We must help one another find Jesus.
“I am the bread of Life”, Jesus said. Let my life become yours. Do like I do. Feast on my gospel. Let God’s holy Word re-fashion and transform you deep within. As a baker kneads dough, so my words, my life shall re-work you. Give me what you are able. Give me your trust and your faith, and I will multiply it. See, I return your life to you with your heart filled to overflowing. Jesus satiates and satisfies us with the good things of God we crave body and soul.
We come together each Sunday for bread that gives us energy for the tasks ahead and hope for whatever is to come. We feast on Christ, our living bread, our daily bread. Christ lives among us, in us, through us, and for us. Come, eat and live!