John 6:41-51, 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time
“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, whoever believes in me will never thirst!” The Gospel episode continues John’s series of “I am” discourses. “I am” as you know is the phrase that God used to name Godself before Moses. In a sense it was both a positive affirmation of eternal presence of God at the same time that it is a kind of refusal by God to give Moses or whoever dominion over God. Remember that naming creatures was one way Adam exercised dominion and stewardship over creation. In this part of the Gospel, Jesus reveals God’s presence among us in the form of bread, of some ordinary daily food which are quite familiar to people, quite commonplace. When Jesus does this he emphasizes to us that we do not need extraordinary signs or mind-boggling, hard-to-explain experiences to encounter the Divine. The most ordinary human experience of eating and eating a common food like bread can have the power to become a sacrament, a sign that signifies and embodies God, a thing that can communicate to us the very presence of God. As we break the bread of the Eucharist, let us break this Word about eating bread as a sacrament.
First, the very act of eating can be sacramental. That God has made Godself food means that God wants us to take him in, to chew on him, swallow him, digest him so that his dreams and desires become a part of our own dreams and desires and all of us who take him in will become one in pursuing Jesus’ dream for God’s reign. That’s why we all receive Jesus’ body and blood, consume them and make them a part of ourselves so that we all become one body and one Spirit in Christ. Eating as sacrament points to the reality that God in his largesse, has made Godself so small that he can now come into our interiority, into our depth and fill us with his dreams, desires, loves and longings, and from within God will stretch us so that our minds can contain his very dreams and our hearts can love his very loves.
Second, that God chooses to be present in the sign of bread indicates that God does not want want to be some special treat reserved for special occasions. God wants to be a staple, something we take in everyday as part of our notion of survival. Something we consider as part of daily living, and thus some essential element without which we cannot live, and live well. We know when God has ceased to be essential in our lives when we begin looking at things, ideas, plans, relationships and commitments and read EGO everywhere, instead of what Ignatius describes as “finding God in all things.” But where we are able to honor God in the most ordinary things of the day-to-day, God in turn sets us apart, and consecrates us, shaping and purifying us so he may also present us to others to feed them and nourish them as well. Many spiritual writers have seen in the movement of the priestly prayer of consecrating bread at mass as the same action that God takes when he calls a person to mission. The priest takes an ordinary piece of bread. God calls this or that ordinary person for some mission, perhaps for no reason at all except that he loves us and trusts us enough to mission us. Then the priest blesses the bread much like God consecrates us and forms us to give the graces proper to the missions he gives. And then the priest breaks the bread, and so too, God breaks us, purifies us, stretches us so the human can contain the Divine. This phase of breaking is not very easy to take for it involvews pain and suffering. But all Christian love involves this purifying moment. Fourth, the priest gives, he distribute the bread blessed and broken, much like God gives us away to become food for others, to become carriers of the God others will take in and make part of themselves too.
Finally, that God chose to become food for us signals that God wants to be shared and celebrated in community. That is why our bread is a communion, a commmunion that is both sacrifice and thanksgiving. It is quite difficult to share a meal with someone with whom we feel estranged or conflicted. This is why perhaps Jesus advises us to leave our offering on the altar and reconcile with an enemy before completing our celebration. For a genuine sacrament ought not only to signify something, it also ought to communicate it, to make the bigger thing real, genuine, palpable. If the bread we partake contains profound community in the Trinity’s presence, then that communion ought to show itself in our lives and in the life of our communities. We pray that the depth of meaning that the Eucharist communicates becomes ultimately embodied meaning for us, that really, we become bread, blessed, broken, shared so that Jesus becomes really eternally present, the I am, who comes to nourish God’s people day by day. God bless.
*from A word with the Word