D: Last week we talked about how much time and energy we spent feeding our children, all the time spent thinking about food, thinking about what the children liked to eat and balancing that with what was good for them. Planning the menus. Shopping. Cooking. It was a full-time job keeping a family fed.
P: Did you notice in that statement how much you really took charge of that aspect of our life?
D: I've noticed. I'm glad you did.
P: Well, not to change the subject or anything, maybe that's why we call money bread, because bread has so much to do with our daily life.
D: More to the point, maybe that is why bread is such a powerful symbol for what God is giving us in Christ. Without food we die. Without Christ we cannot have abundant life, life that lasts for eternity.
P: When we think of all the emotions that go with food-most of them good-that warm feeling we have from a full tummy, the warmth we feel from sharing a meal with people we love, the memories we cherish from meals at holidays-yes, indeed, bread means comfort, warmth. Bread means abundant life.
D: When Jesus says I am the bread of life-whoever eats of this bread will live forever-he is not just talking about pie in the sky by and by. He is talking about our present life. When he says whoever believes has eternal life, the verb is in the present tense. That means eating the bread of life -- participating in Jesus through belief in him -- gives us an abundant life that begins now and lasts for eternity.
P: Food for the journey.
D: Food for the journey, and the journey began in our baptism.
P: You know, that 1st Kings reading for today speaks of food for the journey. Elijah is all spent and having defeated the prophets of Bael on Mt. Horeb, he's been running for his life after the evil queen Jezebel ordered him to be killed. You'd think he would be on top of the world after such after such a convincing victory, but he's all done in. No more strength for the journey.
D: And God sends an angel to feed him-bread baked on a stone and a jar of water.
P: Mmmm. Nothing like fresh baked bread with a little butter on it melted from the bread.
D: You and your stomach-can't you keep your mind off your belly for 20 minutes?
P: But it's growling again.
D: Maybe we need to find you some of this food Elijah ate. It lasted him 40 days and 40 nights.
P: 40 days and 40 nights. That reminds me of some of the vacation trips we would take with the kids back to Minnesota from Atlanta. It wasn't quite forty days and forty nights, but it was forty hours in the car there and back. Sure seemed like 40 days and 40 nights.
D: It did indeed. That is why I would pack food for us to eat. Food for the journey, so we didn't have to waste time and stop for food. We could eat on the go. I tried to pack good food too: hearty sandwiches -- carrots, and celery for snacks. Apple and orange slices. Food that would stick to our ribs and last.
P: Yes, and then when we stopped for gas, I would go into the store and buy a two-pound bag of peanut M&M's.
D: All my hard work for nothing. You know what the children would end up eating.
P: Well, not just the children as I remember-you didn't seem to mind those M&M's.
D: Stop telling my secret. But this idea of food for the journey-it is a powerful one. It combines two fundamental ways we think about life. Life as a feast and life as a journey.
P: Yes, on our way to heaven, we have to eat.
D: But the eating is not just for pleasure - it is for strength to get us there.
P: But the eating is not just for strength. It also makes the journey enjoyable. Jesus did say that he came so that his joy may be made complete in us. Didn't he?
D: So? You want some M&M's along the way to eternal life?
P: Yes, and I prefer peanut M&M's, thank you. But all kidding aside, isn't that what it means that through believing in Jesus we have eternal life in the present tense, that we have complete joy, that we participate in the heavenly feast even now that lasts for eternity.
D: But there are those whose experience of the journey is more like Elijah's. Sitting under the broom tree, plum worn out from walking a difficult path. Their journey is more like Elijah's than this picture you paint-happily popping M&M's while cruising down the freeway. What do you say to those for whom the journey is hard? What do you say to those who do not have the strength to make it to tomorrow, much less to eternal life?
P: Well, I think God has two things to say to them in today's text. First, God is quite aware that the journey is arduous. That is why he sent an angel to feed Elijah. God strengthens us in many ways, not least of which is through his Word, through prayer and the prayer of others, through worship, through taking the sacraments, literally, the living bread from heaven. As Jesus said, "I am the Living Bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. And the bread I give for the life of the world is my flesh." So through the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, we are fed this bread just like Elijah ate the bread from the angel. And like Elijah, it will strengthen us for the journey. But unlike Elijah, this bread sustains us not just for forty days and nights, but for eternity.
D: So we eat the bread of life-the flesh of Jesus in the Lord's Supper, but it still seems like I have to make the effort to put one foot in front of the other. It still seems like I have to will myself to continue. What if I don't have the will? What about those who are so injured they can't continue to go on? Even if they have eaten the living bread, even if they do believe in the life-giving food of Jesus?
P: Well, that's the second thing Jesus has to say. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father. What a word of grace this is. I don't have to do it with my strength. God's strength draws me to God. I have this image in my head when I hear these words of Jesus, of those muscle-bound men competing in those strong-man competitions, who pull huge semi-tractor trailer rigs down the road with ropes and harnesses tied to them, to see who can pull the truck the fastest. God is the muscle man, pulling us toward him even as the weight of sin and suffering drags us down.
D: I rather picture God as a gentler, calmer image. I picture God gathering up a child after the child has fallen and been hurt and pulling that child close, ever so close, holding the child tightly in those arms of God.
P: Either way, God's pull is irresistible.
D: Stronger than death.
P: Stronger than death.
D: Amen. Let us pray.
O Lord our God, you have the words of eternal life. Fill us and strengthen us with your Word. Open our eyes and our hearts to the suffering around us that we may be your strengthening hand in this world. In Jesus' name we pray these things. Amen.