Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – “Food for the Journey”
Proper 14, Year B – August 8, 2021
Christ the King-Epiphany, Wilbraham
Deacon Patricia M. O’Connell
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Today’s readings resonate with the central theme we have been hearing over the last few weeks: God provides for us out of his abundance, with both manna from heaven and through his beloved son, Jesus, the bread of life.
First, we have a very clear picture of God sending his angels to provide manna for Elijah in the desert. Elijah is all in a dither; he is fleeing for his life and has headed into the desert.
In the desert, an angel awakens Elijah under a broom tree. The broom tree is actually more of a shrub, but as trees go in the desert, to the weary traveler, it is an oasis.
Unlike our elm or oak trees, it is small and its shade branches can only accommodate one person. Biblically speaking, the broom tree symbolizes renewal and refreshment; and in this reading, the angel beckons Elijah to eat, not once, but twice, so that he might be ready for the journey ahead.
While it is not likely that any of us are going to physically go off to the desert to seek God’s counsel or to pray over that which distresses us, we do find ways to turn over to God those particular difficult situations that come up in our lives. We do what we can do, and then ask God to show us the way. Perhaps we fall off to sleep as Elijah did and awaken refreshed and feeling nourished by the Holy Spirit. We awake with a new perspective on what is troubling us. We find ourselves better prepared to face that which seems so overwhelming in the moment. We recognize that God has heard our prayer and feeds us through his grace.
In Psalm 34, the psalmist sings joyfully having sought the Lord and received from God’s abundance. He encourages us to “taste and see that the Lord is good”, while reminding us: “Happy are they who trust in him”.
These words are made more profound in the gospel reading from John, in which Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Understanding that Jesus is the bread of life and remembering Jesus in the form of bread and wine is a basic tradition for those of us who follow Jesus. Eucharist, Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion, Blessed Sacrament, Reserved Sacrament—these are all terms used to speak of both: the basic belief held within our Episcopal and Lutheran denominations, and the celebratory services which we utilize to express those beliefs. Eucharist is central to our worship together.
Eucharist feeds and sustains both the contemplative and communal aspects of our faith lives. The contemplative aspect is the grace of God which we receive in the partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ. The communal dimension is the strengthening of our union with Christ and one another as we receive and deepen our oneness as the body of Christ.
Holy Communion is our fellowship with one another. Holy Communion represents the commonality of our belief about Jesus. It is the way for us to be nurtured by the grace of God. Attending church and participating in the sacrament of Holy Eucharist enables us to be one with God and those assembled.
Isn’t that what made the closure of our church buildings so emotionally devastating during 2020? Our understanding of communion and community were jeopardized. We experienced a hunger, a hunger for our traditions, for fellowship, for the signs and symbols that give us assurance when we are facing trials in our lives. And yes, it was, and at times, it still is a hunger for Jesus, in the form of consecrated bread and wine.
Fellow congregants, it is our hunger for Jesus that draws us together. Jesus says that he is the bread of life and that they who come to Him will be taught by God. The partaking of Jesus in the sacramental bread and wine is not a passive action for those of us who profess to believe in Jesus Christ. It is an active assent to being one with Jesus, one with God, one with the Holy Spirit, and yes, one with one another. It is an inward and outward affirmation of our willingness to follow Jesus where he leads us.
Jesus assures those who follow him that they will have their fill, and the psalmist proclaims, “Taste and see that the Lord is good”.
Believing that God will feed us through his grace, the responsibility is on us to be open to the means that God is using to feed and sustain us. In order to partake fully in the bread of life, in order to partake in Jesus, in order to be taught by God, we must first follow him where he leads us. Following Jesus is the journey of our lives.
When obstacles block us from worshipping in our expected and normal ways, we need to seek out the symbols of renewal and refreshment that God is providing for us in that moment of time. We do what we can do, and then ask God to show us the way.
The contemplative aspect of Eucharist is the receptive listening which we do in our hearts, tasting how good the Lord is, allowing God to feed us with His grace. The communal aspect of Eucharist is our response to the word of God, becoming one with God and with one another on the way, on the journey that is Christ, his life, death, and resurrection.
When life’s circumstances take away the familiar, our norms and traditions, we always have the love of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) in our minds, hearts, and souls. The taste of the Lord lingers long with us.
When we truly believe what we profess, that God provides for us out of his abundance,
then we, like the psalmist, will find our happiness putting our trust in God.
Looking back at the interchange between Elijah and the angel, the angel urged Elijah to eat, not once, but twice, to be ready for the journey.
I don’t know about you, to me, that suggests, that it might be a while before Elijah gets to enjoy his next meal. In these uncertain times, it is a story worth our pondering.
Eucharist is not just food for the soul. It is food for the journey.