It must have been an amazing sight, thousands gathered, listening, learning, all of a sudden hungry. It must have been an amazing sight, disciples asked to "care for those gathered," and all that they could come up with was a little boy with five loaves and two fish. It must have been an amazing sight as Jesus takes, gives thanks, and begins to feed those who were gathered there . . . it must have been an amazing sight when people in their fill wanted to make Jesus their king.
No wonder they were looking for him . . . Jesus had provided for them beyond belief.
But as it happens in the Gospel of John, not everything is what it seems . . . what are these people really hungry for, what are they looking for?
It turns out that the "word made flesh" is more than some kind of miracle worker, or Jesus the "son of Joseph," but is one that shows us the father, one that connects us and makes us participants of the divine life.
It is not uncommon for us to confuse the thing with the person, the symptom for the problem, the want for the need. Those that were fed that day now come looking for more; Jesus then faces them with the reality of his identity, with the opportunity for a different life, if they "choose" to participate in it.
Those of us who claim Christ as our Lord find ourselves being fed by Christ's own presence, and it is in that feeding that we are participants in the divine life.
God reaching out to us, providing a way for grace, opening the doors for the holy to live among us: again and again and again.
You can't get much closer to something than when you eat of it. Taste, smell, and sight remind us, tell us, about who God is, teaches us something about the "father."
It has been like this from the beginning . . . I can imagine the rich earth that produces fruit as described in those early chapters of Genesis. I can hear the stories of people gathering around food and the promise of a land "full of milk and honey."
I can also hear the prophetic call for us not to forget about those who hunger . . . after all God has never forgotten, has always provided. And so should we . . . .
In our eating and our drinking we too participate in this long story of a God who "feeds" and a people who serve. In a God who gives of God's self and a people who follow in the way. No wonder those of us who participate in the eating of the bread of life are participating in something more!
So those of us who eat this bread, eat at our own peril:
We cannot eat of this bread and forget.
We cannot eat of this bread and walk away.
We cannot eat of this bread and go on with life as usual.
In fact, when we eat and when we drink, when we become part of the central activity and posture of our life together, the central reason for our gathering--we too are saying that God's will for all of us . . . all of us . . . and all the world is to be restored, saved, healed, made whole!
No "devotional" practice here, or a pious "memorial" of some far, distant, reality, NO!!
Instead we come to the "bread of life" again and again with the promise that God will come, that the spirit we are calling will show up, that the claim that we make will be made present, that you and I will find ourselves part of a new reality, transformed into God's own, pushed, propelled, into the reality of God's kingdom in the world.
When we eat and drink together, we recognize that Jesus, the "bread of life," is showing us the way to one that is available and yet mysterious, showing us that we too have access to the divine life, that we too can come into God's presence.
Just last month our suburban congregation opened a food pantry. It came out of the vision of one of our members to "feed Christ's sheep." During our time of discernment I found myself time and time again asking, "What would it look like for us to be a church that fed people? How would we feed them? What about our offerings provides for eternal life for living now in God's never ending presence?"
In our eating and in our drinking, in our sharing of our resources, we have an opportunity to make sure that those resources that we offer, the table that we spread, the door that we open becomes part and parcel of God's activity in the world.
People, everyday people, hungry people, needy people, people in desperate need of relationship, in desperate need of one another can begin to experience the "wonder-full" healing and restorative power of Jesus.
Maybe if we spent more time and attention in becoming a "feeding people," if we put our attention in becoming a community of the "bread of life," if we took more seriously the reality of God's own presence in our meal, we would spend less time and attention in things that separate us, that exclude others, that close our doors, and that questions God's image in others.
Eating assumes that we are hungry, that we are in need of sustenance. Part of the challenge of the Christian life is the recognition of our dependence & our interdependence.
See, in eating we are recognizing our own dependence on God, no longer relying on signs and wonders, instead recognizing our own need. Recognizing that in this eating and in this drinking, in this gathering, we are able to experience God's self, we in need of sustenance, we in need of something more, we truly seeing God.
That God has called us to care for one another . . . if God could leave glory in order to reach us, then we too can leave the comforts of life, we too can leave our cushy pews, our comfortable places of worship, we too can walk out of the doors of our gatherings ready to align ourselves with the cruciform life that is life eternal.
So do we gather week after week like those that day who came looking for another sign, who missed it entirely? Do we gather week after week around the Lord's Table looking for the "magic," for that spiritual "fix," ignoring the subversive and life transforming power of Jesus' own presence in this bread that is God's body in the world?
Do we gather week after week and pew sit and say "yes" and eat of the meal and go on with life as usual or ignore it all together as something that has nothing to do with us, as something that we might think about later at another time, ignoring the plight of those around us, continuing to push people out of the community?
Part of the challenge is our recognition that there are many around us that go each day, every day, without the sustenance needed. That as we gather for feasting day after day, week after week, there are many that have no such sustenance. That as we go about our political posturing and ideologies, there are many that go without. As we fight about who has worked enough, who has had enough initiative, as we argue with one another about what it takes to be "successful," as we battle as congregations across America, wanting to draw the line as to who's in and who is out, we miss the point, we miss the invitation. We, like those who came back on that day, are still unsure of whom it is that we have encountered . . . .
"I am the living bread!" says Jesus . . . Open your eyes! See the light!
Maybe now we can recognize that we too, we too, you and I, have been beneficiaries of an amazing life. We have found our sustenance and instead of using it to propel us into the neediness and hunger of the world, instead of finding that sustenance and having that energize us into speaking on behalf of those that have no voice, instead of having that sustenance call us to task again and again into the ways that our own life is part of the problem, we have continued eating our fill, acting as if we've earned it, ignoring the plight of those who need this sustenance the most.
The community called the church is at its core a community of people who hunger. A community of people called together around table, whose own identity is rooted in what it means to be sustained by the presence of Christ's self each and every time we gather together.
From the very beginning of the story of faith, God has been giving us of God's self and inviting us to take this sustenance and use it as a source of being the light of the world on behalf of God's kingdom. So part of our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving is our recognition that when we leave our doors and leave our gatherings of prayer and praise, we are to walk out of the doors and work tirelessly for the sustenance and feeding of a hungry, hungry world.
Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador who died a martyr tells us that the "[t]he eucharist makes us look back to Calvary twenty centuries ago ... [b]ut it also looks ahead to the future, to the eternal, eschatological and definitive horizon that presents itself as a demanding ideal to all political systems, to all social struggles, to all those concerned for the earth."
May our congregations, may our gatherings, may our conversations, become the center--the active center--of creating this future, of creating eschatological reality. May we together begin to make a way to the father, in our eating. May we become a people that begin to extend life eternal, a people who live out the meaning of sharing in the life of Jesus to a hungry world.
There are many who are looking, many who are hungry; there are many who are searching. May we become the body that feeds them; may we become the body that proclaims the identity of the bread of life to this broken and hungry world.
All of us together, sharing in the life of Jesus!