This is the fourth passage from John 6 that the Church invites us to meditate on at this time of the year, and the third in which Jesus gives the people a teaching based on their experience of the miraculous feeding.
Some themes are repeated in all these passages, and yet each passage has its own dominant theme running through it. In the two previous passages Jesus presented himself to the people as “bread come down from heaven”. In this one, he pushes the metaphor further: he gives them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.
You may find the metaphor strange, but you should try to enter into it, so that it becomes part of your prayer. Remember that in Bible meditation it is not sufficient to get the meaning of a passage; you must get into the words themselves and grow to love them so that you feel moved to repeat them many times.
The metaphor has its origins in “flesh and blood”, the biblical expression that means the reality of a human being, with a special stress on his or her weakness or limitations. For example, when in Matthew 16 Peter made his act of faith, it did not come from “flesh and blood”, but as a gift from God. So, too, St Paul warned the Ephesians that their struggle was not merely against “flesh and blood”, but against heavenly forces.
When Jesus says that he gives his flesh to eat and his blood to drink, he is saying three things. The first is that he gives himself totally to others; every part of his being is at their service. It is the same as saying “This is my body given for you.”
Secondly, he is inviting people to deep union with himself, to “have his spirit coursing through their souls so that they can know the passion of his love for every one”, as we sing in the hymn “To be the Body of the Lord.”
Thirdly, he wants them to unite their weakness and their sufferings with his so that they can experience his strength and his courage. As he would say to them at the Last Supper, “In the world you will have trouble, but be brave, I have conquered the world.” When we eat his flesh and drink his blood, our own flesh and blood are ennobled. St Paul says it in 2 Corinthians: ‘We carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus too may always be seen in our body.”
The passage is therefore a meditation on Jesus as teacher, leader and guide. In all three roles he does not stand outside of people, he wants to share their lives and to have them share his.
Now this tells us something about God. Whereas we tend to imagine God in heaven looking down on us but not getting involved in the movement of our history, Jesus shows God entering into flesh and blood with us.
But the passage also tells us about human relationships. In your meditation remember with gratitude people who have been Jesus for you – a parent, a spiritual guide, a friend, a national leader. Naturally you will feel the passage calling you to grow in your own relationships.
Finally, a good meditation on this passage will help you to appreciate the Eucharist. It will show you why Jesus chose to be present in the Church under the form of bread and wine.
It is not possible to meditate on a passage such as this one all together: take one section at a time and enter into it, letting it speak to your experience. I suggest dividing the passage as follows:
– Verses 51 and 52: the people are questioning the very possibility of someone giving himself totally, as Jesus claims to do. Their response is cynical, but is it not typical of the way many would respond today?
– Verse 52 invites us to think of people who have no life in them, and to go to the root cause – they have never experienced, or perhaps have never let themselves experience, the kind of selfless love that Jesus gives.
– Verse 54 introduces the theme we have met several times in the chapter; deep relationship with God in Jesus lifts us up beyond the limitations of time and history.
– In verse 55 we remember that there is false food and drink and to recognise them we can look at what relationship with Jesus does to us.
– Verse 56 teaches us the effect of love, the love of Jesus, as well as of all those who love selflessly.
– In verse 57 we see another effect of selfless love. Here, as frequently in St John’s gospel, Jesus’ relationship with his followers is similar to his relationship with his Father – “as the Father has sent me so I am sending you”; “as the Father loves me so I have loved you.”
– In verse 58 we see again the theme of the newness of Jesus’ teaching.
Lord, we remember with gratitude the day when we realized for the first time that following Jesus meant eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Up to then it was a matter of believing abstract truths –
that Jesus was truly God and truly man,
that there are three persons in God and seven sacraments.
That kind of faith was not a source of life for us.
Then one day we knew that we had to lay down our lives
– caring for a wayward child,
– working for reconciliation in the workplace and being attacked
by both workers and employers;
– forgiving someone who had hurt us deeply.
At that moment we knew that Jesus on the cross was present within us,
and the strange thing was that we felt an inner strength and freedom,
and we were certain that no matter how low we fell he would raise us up.
Lord, self-centredness has become like a first principle of living today.
People will argue with one another that it is not even possible
for us to give our flesh to be eaten,
and yet there can be no life in the world without selfless giving,
not in nature, not in families, not in any society.
Lord, we pray for those who are mourning for a loved one.
Remind them that Jesus gave them his flesh to eat and his blood to drink
and he will raise them up on the last day.
“I should like to set down here my own belief. In so far as I am willing to be made an instrument of God’s peace, in that far have I already entered into eternal life.” Alan Paton
Lord, we thank you for those who eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus
and therefore already have eternal life.
“We need the eyes of deep faith to see Christ in the broken bodies and dirty clothes under which the most beautiful one among the sons of men hides.” Mother Teresa
Lord,help us to receive Jesus
when he comes to us in flesh and blood.
Lord, you give us food and drink so that we might live more freely and creatively.
Yet we nourish ourselves with many things that are not life-giving at all,
but rather clutter up our lives and keep us in bondage.
We pray that your Christ may be Jesus today,
giving the world real food and drink.
Lord, we thank you for the people who have touched our lives;
when we read the story of Jesus we see them living in him,
and when we remember their stories, we see Jesus living in them.
Truly they have eaten his flesh and drunk his blood.
Lord, we talk too much when we pray. Teach us to remain silent,
so that we become conscious of Jesus present within us
and the life he draws from you may well up in us too.
Lord, we think today of those who see their spouses destroying themselves
with bitterness, envy or false pride.
With anguish in their hearts, they say to them, as Jesus said to his followers,
“Unless you allow yourself to receive selfless love,
you will not have life within you.”
Lord, we pray for the people of South Africa, Ireland, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Ethiopia.
For generations their ancestors ate the bread of suspicion, fear and hatred, and they are dead.
We thank you that you are raising up new leaders in those countries,
and they, like Jesus, are offering their people a different kind of nourishment,
based on reconciliation and sharing, bread come down from heaven,
so that they can eat it and live.
Introduction to the Celebration
‘Anyone who eats this bread will live forever.’ These words of Jesus from today’s gospel set the tone of our celebration today. We who share this meal share in the life of Jesus. And as he says: ‘As I draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.’
This is not some magic formula, rather it is the mystery that our sharing here is not simply joining us to one another in the way that every common meal unites those who participate in it, but that in our sharing here we are caught up into the life of God. We are caught up into the life of the Father, who has sent his Son among us as our source of life and wisdom, and who has sent his Spirit into our hearts.
1. When I wander around a supermarket I can buy any food I fancy, from anywhere in the world, at any time in the year. While it might be hard to buy a Christmas Cake in July, virtually anything else I fancy — and can afford — is available all the time. I can choose a menu every day based on what I want, what I like, or what the latest television cooking sensation decrees is what stylish people eat. It could be a wintry day in January, yet I might want a salad and can find all that I need to make it: seasons no longer count, and I might have exotic flavours — all fresh — from three continents. We are less than a generation from when we marvelled that one could get’new’ potatoes all year round, yet in this world of maximum consumer choice we simply cannot grasp the full significance of Jesus describing himself as the bread of life.
2. For most of human history — and history begins with the settled agricultural life of Mesopotamia — the key to life is a ready access to storable carbohydrates: grain which can be turned into bread weeks, months or even years after the harvest. The regularity of the grain harvest was at core of settled, urban life; and it was at the centre of religion in that temples were, inter alia, at the centre of urban life in that they were grain stores. So running right through the history of civilisation and / or religion is the issue of having enough grain and avoiding being without it. Grain meant bread, bread meant life; its absence meant famine and death. It is in this context we have to hear the old adage: ‘Bread is the staff of life.’
3. This dependence on bread was not some obscure item of economic knowledge: everyone understood it and felt it. The fear of having no bread caused riots, made kings look foolish, made clergy look ineffective, and obtaining grain stood behind a whole range of exertions. One has only to think of the riots over food at the time of the French Revolution or the fear of famine that stalked Irish memories after the famine of 1847. Food and survival are linked in a way we cannot, thankfully, understand.
We begin here, where we left off last week, with further misunderstanding of Jesus by the crowds. Clearly Jesus is not speaking of cannibalism and so he takes the image further by talking of his flesh and blood. Partaking in his flesh and blood means believing in him and in his life-giving death. Through their faith they are in communion with him and that communion is expressed through the Eucharist. The believer comes to live in him and draws life from him just as Jesus himself drew life from the Father. Everything here must be viewed from the perspective of Jesus’ death on the cross. Through the Eucharist we come to live by the same self sacrificing love that brought Jesus to Calvary. It is striking that in John’s account of the last supper there is no reference to Eucharist but rather a depiction of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. John shows us the Eucharist in action and this is a reminder that the union with Jesus offered through Holy Communion cannot be thought of in some purely personal, devotional way. Jesus gives himself to us so that we can give ourselves to others.
Even though the first reading today may be two and an half thousand years old, the call to seek wisdom and reject foolishness has a very contemporary ring to it. Human nature does not change but we are slow to learn from experience. Today, life itself on this wonderful planet is threatened by our folly and a refusal to recognise that our actions have consequences. Instead of feasting ourselves at the sustainable banquet at Wisdom’s house, we prefer to go blindly on gorging ourselves and ignoring the fact that God has called us to a responsible stewardship of his creation. Our celebration of the Eucharist should be a weekly reminder to us that we are all called to a life-giving relationship with God, with one another and with the planet we share.
From the Connections:
THE WORD:Two dimensions of Jewish worship provide the context of today’s Gospel, the fourth part of the “bread of life” discourse in John 6.
When an animal was sacrificed on the temple altar, part of the meat was given to worshipers for a feast with family and friends at which God was honored as the unseen “Guest.” It was even believed by some that God entered into the flesh of the sacrificed animal, so that when people rose from the feast they believed they were literally “God-filled.”
In Jewish thought, blood was considered the vessel in which life was contained: as blood drained away from a body so did its life. The Jews, therefore, considered blood sacred, as belonging to God alone. In animal sacrifices, blood was ritually drained from the carcass and solemnly “sprinkled” upon the altar and the worshipers by the priest as a sign of being touched directly by the “life” of God.
With this understanding, then, John summarizes his theology of the Eucharist, the new Passover banquet (remember that John’s Last Supper account will center around the “mandatum,” the theology of servanthood, rather than the blessing and breaking of the bread and the sharing of the cup). To feast on Jesus the “bread” is to “feast” on the very life of God -- to consume the Eucharist is to be consumed by God.
HOMILY POINTS:In inviting us “to feed on his flesh and drink of my blood,” Jesus invites us to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble servanthood to others; the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the standards of this world but in the treasures of the next.
In the “bread” of the Eucharist, Jesus shows us how to distinguish the values of God from the values of the marketplace; he instructs us on how to respond to the pressures and challenges of the world with justice and selflessness; he teaches us how to overcome our fears and doubts to become the people of compassion, reconciliation and hope that God created us to be.
In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” that he gives us to drink, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.
In memory of Aunt Rebecca
When Sally’s mother died, her Aunt Rebecca took her under her wing and loved Sally as if she was her own daughter. Although Aunt Rebecca was a bit quirky and Sally’s father made fun of her, Aunt Rebecca was always doing something for somebody else. From the wonders of childhood through the trauma of adolescence and into the struggles of adulthood, Sally could always come to Aunt Rebecca for advice, help, support and unconditional love.
Rebecca also taught her niece the traditions of their family: caring for people who need help, a special skill for growing violets, and, most delightful of all, Grandmother’s special caramel cake -- a recipe that had been passed down from mother to daughter for generations.
Then, one terrible summer, cancer claimed Rebecca’s life. Sally took her aunt’s death hard. In her grief, Sally became bitter and angry that God could take such a generous, loving woman. After the funeral, Sally undertook the task of cleaning out Rebecca’s house. She wanted something of Rebecca's to keep. She found a pot of violets that Aunt Rebecca had trouble getting to bloom; perhaps Sally would have better luck. In the kitchen, Sally found a cake tin with the last piece of the last caramel cake that Aunt Rebecca had baked. She and her aunt were the only ones who knew how to make it; now the secret was Sally's alone.
With tears in her eyes, Sally savored every delicious morsel. As she swallowed the last crumb, Sally smiled, wiped her eyes, and resolved to take the secret recipe that had been passed on to her and share it with her own daughter.
[Adapted from Pastoral Counseling: A Ministry of the Church by John Patton.]
As Sally experiences her aunt’s love anew in her caramel cake, the Eucharist we celebrate at this table is much more than a re-enactment of the Last Supper event: in breaking, blessing and sharing this bread with one another, the love of God comes alive for us in the Eucharist. In inviting us to feed on his “flesh” and drink of his “blood,” Jesus invites us to embrace the life of his Father: the life that finds joy in humble service to others; the life that is centered in unconditional, total, sacrificial love; the life that seeks fulfillment not in the conventional wisdom of this world but in the holiness of the next. In the “bread” he gives us to eat, we become the body of Christ with and for one another; in his “blood” of the new covenant he gives us to drink, his life of compassion, justice and selflessness flows within us, and we become what we have received: the sacrament of unity, peace and reconciliation.
From Fr. Jude Botelho:
Today's reading is a small portion of the Book of Proverbs which tries to give us words of God's wisdom to live by. The reading imagines Wisdom as a woman who has provided a plentiful table of meat and wine. All who lack wisdom are invited to leave their folly behind them and come to the banquet where something wonderful awaits them. The point the reading is making is that we have a choice to make: living according to the wisdom of God or living out our own foolish ways. It surprises us that God offers us his wisdom free of cost, we only have to come to him and it is ours for the asking. Will we live our life in partnership with God or do we think that we can manage on our own?
Just in Case Living as we did in a congested and bustling city, my mother arranged with a teenage girl who lived next door to walk me home at the end of the day. For this arduous responsibility, the girl was paid five cents a day, or a grand total of a quarter a week. In the second grade I became irritated that our poor family was giving this neighbour girl so much money, and I offered a deal to mom. "Look", I said, "I’ll walk myself to school and if you give me a nickel a week, I will be extra careful. You can keep the other twenty cents and we'll all be better off." I pleaded and begged and eventually my mother gave in to my proposal. For the next two years I walked to and from school all by myself. It was an eight-block walk with many streets to cross, but I crossed them all with great care. I didn't talk to strangers. I always kept on the appointed path. I always did as I promised and did it alone –or so I thought. Years later when we were enjoying a family party, I bragged about my characteristic independence and, in a grandiose fashion, reminded my family of how I had been able to take care of myself, even as a small boy. I recalled the arrangements for going to school that I had worked out with mom. It was then that my mother laughed and told me the whole story. "Did you really think that you were alone?" she asked. "Every morning when you left for school, I left with you. I walked behind you all the way. When you got out of school at 3.30 in the afternoon, I was there. I always kept myself hidden, but I was there and followed you all the way home. I just wanted to be there for you in case you needed me. Mom was always there for me…
Tony Campolo from 'What My Parents Did Right'
In the gospels of the past Sundays we have seen Jesus proclaiming that the bread of life, his teachings, was more important than the Torah, the Law which the Israelites held sacred. In today’s Gospel Jesus proclaims that He is more important than anything else. "I am the living bread from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread which I will give is my flesh for the life of the world." Unlike the Israelites who ate manna, the food prepared and provided by God, here, we do not have food provided by God, but God himself becomes the food that sustains us. Unlike food that becomes part of us when we eat, we are invited to become part of God by receiving His Son in the Eucharist. The people refused to accept the invitation of Jesus saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" We too in so many ways have the same reaction. "Do I really need God in my life so much? I think I can manage most of the time; I only need him in emergencies. I have enough resources of my own to get along."
Why bring God in the picture?
Upon the mountain top lived a kind and gentle God and in the village far below, lived his people. They were a very busy people, with books to read, games to play and many meetings to attend to. They seldom thought about the kind and gentle God, so far away did he seem. No one had seen his face and some doubted he was even there at all. One day, God looked on his own and wanted very much that they should be friends. 'I must do some small things' he thought, 'to show them that I care.' And each day he sent a messenger to the village, with a pack upon his back, and in the pack was a gift for everyone in the village. Each day the gifts arrived and each day the people ran with open arms to gather them. Soon, however, they got used to being gifted. Some began to grab the gifts from the pack, some took more than they were meant to have, and some complained of the gifts that were too small. Far up on the mountain sat God. Day after lonely day he waited for a word of thanks, for a friendly word, or just recognition that he was there. But no word came. 'If only I can tell them that I am', God thought, 'How can I tell them I am a friend, and that I want to give them friendship most of all?' And then his eyes lit up. 'I know', he said, 'I'll give a party for my friends below. I'll give a party and invite them all. Surely if they spend some time with me, and learn to know how much I care, then of course they will come to know that I am their friend.' And so the invitations were sent out. Some just laughed and said, 'That's not for me! And some said, 'Spend a day with God? No way!' And some were very busy with their chores and said, 'Some other time maybe, but not today.' Some were tempted. 'Maybe it is for real, and maybe God wants to be my friend.' Timidly, they signed up for the day. But when the others laughed, they became embarrassed, and withdrew their names. The party day arrived, but no one showed up. And in his mountain home, the kind God sat. 'I only want to give them love', he said. How can I tell them? Make them understand? Is there no one who wants me for their friend?' And below the people laughed and cried. They worked and played and died. And seldom if ever did they think of the gentle God who loved them so very much.
Jack McArdle from 'And that's the Gospel truth'
Touching the Body of Christ!
Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a rule that when a newcomer arrived to join her Order, the Missionaries of Charity, the very next day the newcomer had to go to the Home of the Dying. One day a girl came from outside India to join. So Mother Teresa said to her: 'You saw with what love and care the priest touched Jesus in the Host during Mass. Now go to the Home for the Dying and do the same, because it is the same Jesus you will find there in the broken bodies of our poor.' Three hours later the newcomer came back and, with a big smile, said to her, 'Mother, I have been touching the body of Christ for three hours.' 'How? What did you do?' Mother Teresa asked her. 'When I arrived there,' she replied, 'they brought in a man who had fallen into a drain, and been there for some time. He was covered with dirt and had several wounds. I washed him and cleaned his wounds. As I did so I knew I was touching the Body of Christ.' -To be able to make this kind of connection we need the help of the Lord himself. It is above all in the Eucharist that he gives us this help.
Flor McCarthy, in 'New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies'
"He didn’t know I had made my communion..."
I like the story of a little orphan, Joe. Joe went to be examined by the orphanage doctor. When he came back the nun asked, "What did the doctor say to you Joe?" And Joe answered, "He said to me, 'What a miserable little specimen you are.'" And Joe added, "But, Sister, I don't think he knew I had made my first communion." -You see that's what gives us value. You and I don't need to fight and fume to win love and respect. For God who made us, likes us so very much –even if we are really not very likeable –that he comes to us in communion and comradeship.
Edwin White in 'Quotes and Anecdotes'
Places at the Table
Once there was a wealthy merchant who had his newly married son and his wife living in his household. The son had a kind heart, and devoted himself to charitable works, helping every poor person who asked for his assistance. In time the young wife gave birth to a son. In honour of the occasion, the happy grandfather arranged a great feast. Shortly before festivities were about to begin, the son asked, "Tell me father, what arrangements have you made for the seating of the guests? If you do the conventional thing and seat the rich at the head table and the poor near the door, it will distress me. You know very well how I love the poor. As this is my celebration, let me honour those who get no honour. Promise me, then, to seat the poor at the head table and the rich at the door." His father listened attentively and replied, "My son, it is difficult to change the world. Look at it this way: Why do poor people come to a feast? Because they are hungry and would like to eat a good meal. And why do rich people come to a feast? To get honour. They don't come to eat, because they have enough at home. Now just imagine what would happen if you seated the poor at the head table. They would sit there, very self-consciously, feeling everybody's eyes on them, and so would be ashamed to eat their fill. And what they'd eat they wouldn't enjoy. Don't you think it would be better for their sake, to eat to their heart's content without being ashamed? Then again, suppose I agreed to do what you're asking and seat the rich at the door; Don't you think they'd feel insulted? They don't come for the sake of the food, but for the honour. And if you don't give them that what will they get?" -The Eucharist is the banquet Jesus provides for his followers. All of us come to this banquet hungry; all of us need the bread that only Jesus can give – the bread of eternal life. And all of us come here poor before God. Here all of us are nourished. And all of us are honoured, because here every place is a place of honour.
Flor McCarthy in 'Sunday and Holy Day Liturgies'
Piers Paul Read's best seller Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors tells the true story of Uruguayan rugby players who chartered a plane to fly from Uruguay to Chile to compete in a tournament. Flying out on October 12th 1972, their airplane crashed over the snow-capped Andes Mountains. Out of forty passengers only a handful survived. Lost in the snowy Andes for two months, when all food supplies were exhausted, the weaker players sensed that death was near. Thus, they begged their companions to eat their flesh after they were dead. Surviving on the flesh of their friends, the few who remained alive tearfully narrated how their friends wanted them to survive by consuming their flesh. The Uruguayan rugby players offered their flesh to friends after death so that they could stay alive. Jesus challenges us to be flesh-and-blood Christians before death so that everything, everyone, everywhere may be fully 'Alive'.
Francis Gonsalves in 'Sunday Seeds for Daily Deeds'
From Fr. Tony Kadavil & Seromns.com
1: Touching the body of Christ!
Mother Teresa of Calcutta had a rule that when a newcomer arrived to join her Order, the Missionaries of Charity, the very next day the newcomer had to go to the Home of the Dying. One day a girl came from outside India to join the Order. Mother Teresa said to her: "You saw with what love and care the priest touched Jesus in the Host during Mass. Now go to the Home for the Dying and do the same, because it is the same Jesus you will find there in the broken bodies of our poor." Three hours later the newcomer came back and, with a big smile, said to her, "Mother, I have been touching the body of Christ for three hours." "How? What did you do?" Mother Teresa asked her. "When I arrived there," she replied, "they brought in a man who had fallen into a drain, and been there for some time. He was covered with dirt and had several wounds. I washed him and cleaned his wounds. As I did so I knew I was touching the body of Christ." To be able to make this kind of connection we need the help of the Lord himself. It is above all in the Eucharist that he gives us this help.
2: Cannibalism in the Andes:
In October, 1972, a plane carrying 46 passengers an Uruguayan rugby team and their families and supporters to an exhibition game in Chile crashed in the Andes. NandoParrado, one of the survivors, tells the story of their 72 day struggle against freezing weather and dangerous avalanches in the book Miracle in the Andes.[Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home is a 2006 book by Nando Parrado and Vince Ra.] The author's mother and sister were among those killed in the crash. High in the Andes, with a fractured skull, eating the raw flesh of his deceased teammates and friends, Parrado calmly pondered the cruelties of fate, the power of the natural world and the possibility of his continued existence: "I would live from moment to moment and from breath to breath, until I had used up all the life I had," he wrote. The 16 survivors had nothing to eat except the flesh of their dead teammates. After two months, Nando, an ordinary young man – a rugby player - with no disposition for leadership or heroism, led an expedition of the remaining three of the survivors up the treacherous slopes of a snow-capped mountain and across forty-five miles of frozen wilderness in an attempt to find help. The party was finally rescued by helicopter crews. It was difficult for them to decide that eating human flesh was all right, even in those extreme circumstances! Hence, it is not surprising that Jesus’ listeners protested against his invitation to eat his flesh and drink his blood as described in today’s Gospel. (http://www.viven.com.uy/571/eng/default.asp)
3: Food pyramids:
New standards for diet were proposed recently. A new food pyramid was developed as a guide for healthy eating. It includes a base of bread, cereals, rice and pasta. The next level up the pyramid is vegetables and fruit. A still smaller next level is milk, yogurt, cheese, meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and nuts. The smallest group at the top is fats, oils and sweets. We can propose a food pyramid for those who want a healthy spiritual life. You may want to develop your own, but it might include a base of feeding on the Word of God in the Eucharist and by study and meditation on the Scriptures. Upon that base one is nourished by Christian fellowship. It should include servings of regular worship. To that a daily use of prayer and devotions could be added. On top of those elements should be time for Christian service to meet the needs of others.
4. Your words and your life:Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, then at the height of his influence as minister of the Riverside Church, New York City, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Near and Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"
This was a call to consider one of the great issues of human belief: religion and life, Christianity and character, word and spirit. Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I cannot hear a word you say." Jesus' discourse in this whole sixth chapter of the Gospel of John had two foci - spirit and life. "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." By this he meant that those who appropriated his spirit, i.e., fed upon him as the bread of life, would find, thereby, a fulfillment and satisfaction no other means could give.
The traditions of the world of his time, of course, had a different emphasis..._______________________
5.Have you ever been assaulted by a smell?
Walking down the street, creeping out of a vent in the sidewalk; strolling along the mid-way of a carnival or fair, wafting its way from a kiosk - sometimes an odor will "hit you" and almost send you reeling. Sometimes that odor will even thrust your psyche back into another time and place.
Maybe it's the sweet smell of caramel apples.Maybe it's the pungent punch of garlic and onion.
Maybe it's moldy and murky smell of a basement.
Maybe it's the seaweedy smell of the beach.
Whatever the odor, it is officious - meaning, it is "large and in charge." It teleports you back to a particular place and a particular time. Each of us has memory smells. Our sense of smell is the physical sense most associated with memory. Smells, more than sounds, more than sights, more than touches, transport our minds and bodies back in time to an imprinted memory. Garlic brings you back to your grandmother's kitchen. A wet woolen smell brings you back to the locker room-or to the terror of the day you fell in a frozen pond and almost drowned. Rising yeast smells like every Sunday dinner. Gasoline chokes you with memories of a car crash. Nothing evokes strong emotions, strong memories, strong longings, like the sense of smell. It is a powerful communicator to our inner being.
In the days of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, burnt offerings were the norm - small birds, little lambs, calves, great grains - all were sacrificed and burned. Burnt sacrifice was offered to appease God's righteous anger over the sins and transgressions the people of Israel had committed...
6. Life-giving bread in heaven’s buffet:
This 85-year- old couple, having been married almost 60 years, had died in a car crash. They had been in good health for the last ten years, mainly due to their interest in healthful food and exercise.
When they reached the Pearly Gates, St. Peter took them to their mansion, which was decked out with a beautiful kitchen, a master bath suite and a Jacuzzi. As they "ooohed and aaahed,” the old man asked Peter how much all this was going to cost. "It's free," Peter replied, "this is Heaven." Next they went to see the championship golf course that their heavenly home backed up to. St. Peter told them they would have golfing privileges every day. The old man asked, "What are the greens fees?"
Peter's reply, "This is heaven; you play for free." Next they went to the clubhouse and saw a lavish buffet laid out for them. "How much does it cost to eat?" asked the old man. "Don't you understand yet? This is heaven! It's free!" Peter replied. "Well, where are the low fat and low cholesterol foods?" the old man asked timidly. Peter smiled and said, "That's the best part...you can eat as much as you like of whatever you like and you never get fat and you never get sick. This is Heaven."
The old man looked angrily at his wife and said, "You and your oat brans and whole wheat! I could have been here ten years ago!”
6) Abiding with Christ
Eat this Bread and you will live, he promises. But even more than that, eat this Bread and I will abide with you, and you will abide with me. I like that word abide. I have pictures again: look, can you see them? They are images of home, of dwelling, of staying with, of living in and with, of trusting and being there. To abide is to know that no matter what comes our way, we will not be deserted nor left to face whatever the matter is on our own. Christ comes to live within us, to take up residence in our spirits, and promises not to leave.
Over the years I have witnessed many scenes of this abiding presence played out in the lives of persons I have known. None are more powerful, more moving, more meaningful than the images which walk across my mind of faithful spouses who care for each other to the very end. Let me draw them for you. There is one now, walking his wife, a victim of Alzheimer's disease, down the streets in front of the nursing home. She in a wheelchair, not knowing a thing. He pushing her faithfully day after day. Their love of more than 60 years abides in his heart. Here is another: the picture of a woman standing beside the bed of her husband, holding a hand, offering a calm, reassuring voice to this one who has only moments before been thrown into convulsions. "I will not leave you." Finally, here is the unspoken presence of a Loving Friend who calms my own grieving spirit in the dark hospital room where my father lays dying. "Those who eat my flesh? abide in me, and I in them (John 6:56, NRSV)."
In a world of fast food chains in every village, of drive-through windows, of buffet lines and all-you-can-eat salad bars, we are today offered a different food, the Bread of Life. It is food for a hungry soul. It is eternal food which, when you eat it, satisfies the craving of your heart and opens your eyes to see that all else is imitation and second rate.
Larry M. Goodpaster, Like a Breath of Fresh Air, CSS Publishing Company
7) O, Lord Give Me a Penny
A man asked God, "What does a billion dollars mean to you who are all powerful?"
"Hardly a penny." God said.
Then the man asked God , "And what are a thousand centuries to you?" God answered "Hardly a second!!"
Thinking he had God backed into a corner, the man then said, "Then if that's the case, O, Lord give me a penny !!"
"Sure," God replied. "In just a minute."
Wisdom isn't outsmarting God, wisdom is living in and with God. Wisdom is being in Christ and surrounded by Christ. Wisdom is eating and drinking from the feast which God has prepared for us.
8) Bread Is Not a Mere Commodity
The theologian John Macquarrie relates that the Scottish churchman, George Macleod, used to watch grain ships from Canada and the United States bringing their cargoes of wheat into Liverpool harbor, and he reflected that the wheat has the potentiality of becoming the body of Christ. This is the point at which sacramental theology spills over into the market place. Bread is not a mere commodity; things are not mere bits of matter. We can learn something of this from natural theology, but we learn it above all from Jesus Christ, the bread of God which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
John Macquarrie, A Guide to the Sacraments, p,156
9) The Truth
There is an Irish saying, "the person who speaks the truth should have one foot in the stirrup." He should be ready to ride off at once. People do not like the truth, especially when it challenges their attitudes; and the reaction is often to try to destroy the evidence of the truth or the one who witnesses to it.
Father Gerry Pierse, The Dangerous Memory of Jesus
10) Dining with God
When Seymour passed away, God greeted him at the Pearly Gates. "Thou be hungry, Seymour?" said God.
"I could eat," Seymour replied.
So God opened a can of tuna and reached for a chunk of rye bread and they shared it. While eating this humble meal, Seymour glanced down into Hell and saw the inhabitants devouring huge steaks, lobsters, pheasants, pastries, and fine wines. Curious, but deeply trusting, Seymour remained quiet.
The next day God again invited Seymour for another meal. Again, it was tuna and rye bread. Once again looking down, Seymour could see the denizens of Hell enjoying caviar, champagne, lamb, truffles, and chocolates. Still Seymour said nothing.
The following day, mealtime arrived and God opened another can of tuna. Seymour could contain himself no longer. Meekly, he said: "God, I am grateful to be in heaven with you as a reward for the pious, obedient life I led. But here in heaven all I get to eat is tuna and a piece of rye bread and in the Other Place they eat like emperors and kings! Forgive me, O God, but I just don't understand."
God sighed: "Let's be honest, Seymour. For just two people does it pay to cook?"
Donel McClellan, The Imaginary God________________________
11) Meeting God
Barbara Brokhoff says in her book, Faith Alive, "The Happy Hour for the Christian should be the hour of worship on Sunday morning, but how do you honestly feel when you are awakened by the alarm on the Lord's Day and you realize it is another "Church Day"? Can you hardly wait for the service time to roll around or do you roll over in bed, moan and groan and cover your head, and wish that once, once again maybe once more like last Sunday the one before, you would, or could sleep in and forget the whole boring, time consuming thing?? Is the thought of worship agony or ecstasy? I think we are coming to meet God--not just anybody, but God!! Shouldn't the delightful suspense of worship make our breath short and our hearts beat faster?"
Barbara Brokhoff, Faith Alive, quoted by Tim Zingale, Wisdom = Being in Christ_____________________
12) Bread from Home
I'm reminded of a true story of a soldier who was severely wounded. When he was out of surgery, the doctors said that there was a good chance for recovery, except that the soldier wouldn't eat anything. The nurses and nuns tried everything, but he refused all food-drinking only water and juice.
One of his buddies knew why the soldier wouldn't eat-he was homesick. So, his friend, since the hospital wasn't too far from the soldier's home, offered to bring the young man's father to visit him. The commanding officer approved and the friend went to the parents' home. As the father was about to leave for the hospital, the mother wrapped up a loaf of fresh bread for her son.
Well, the patient was very happy to see his father but he still wouldn't eat-that is, until the father said; "Son, this bread was made by your mother, especially for you". The boy brightened and began to eat.
I think that you can guess where I'm going with that story. You and I are that boy. We are the ones who have been wounded in the battle of life. We are the ones who've been wounded by sin, by trials and pains, by loss and by our forgetfulness of God.
We lose our taste for the food that will strengthen our souls. Holy Communion gives us life, spiritual life, God's life. It gives us spiritual healing and spiritual strength. There was nothing 'magic' about the mother's bread unless, that is, one feels that 'love' is magic--which, of course, it is.
13) The Communion of Empty Hands
There's a beautiful incident recorded by Thomas Pettepiece, a Methodist pastor, who was a political prisoner, a prisoner of conscience. Pettepiece writes of his first Easter Sunday spent in prison. He was among 10,000 prisoners. Most of the men had lost everything: their homes, their jobs, their furniture, their contact with their families. It was Easter Sunday, and they wanted to celebrate Communion. But, they had no cup for Communion. They had no wine for Communion. They didn't even have water for Communion. Nor did they have any bread for the Sacrament.
So, they practiced the Communion of Empty Hands. "This meal in which we take part," Pettepeice said, "reminds us of the imprisonment, the torture, the death and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body which he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don't have today, is his blood, and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, without difference of race or class."
Then Pettepiece, the pastor, held out his empty hand to the next person on his right, and passed on the imaginary loaf. Each one took a piece and passed it on. Then he said, "Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me." And together they ate the imaginary bread, trying to imagine tasting it.
After a moment they passed around the non-existent chalice, each imagining he was drinking from it. "Take, drink, this is the blood of Christ which was shed for you ... Let us give thanks, sure that Christ is here with us, strengthening us."
They gave thanks to God and then stood up and embraced each other. And a while later, one of the non-Christian prisoners came up to them and said, "You people have something special, which I would like to have." And the father of a girl who had died came up to Pettepiece and said, "Pastor, this was a real experience. I believe that today I discovered what faith is ..." (from Visions of a World Hungry, quoted in A Guide To Prayer, Rueben P. Job and Norman Shawchuck, editors, The Upper Room, p. 143).
Alex Gondola, Jr., Come As You Are, CSS Publishing Company.
14) Togetherness in the Eucharist
Bread suggests togetherness, care and love, hopes and dreams, fun and adventure.
Let's say some new friends invite you to their house for a meal. When you are a guest in their home, they are sharing their intimacy with you. They are sharing with you some of the privacy of that place where they live every day, eat every day, love every day, work on their problems, argue from time to time, sleep and depart for work and pleasure and return for rest, every day.
After graciously receiving you, they show you around their home in which they take deep pride. Then you go to the dining room for the meal. You find the table set with care, the food exceptionally delicious, and the conversation flows easily. Simply put, it becomes a lovely evening and you leave feeling full in every way. You enjoy bread from the kitchen, but much more. You enjoy the bread of being graciously received, the bread of informed and lively conversation, and the bread of being in beautiful surroundings..
Magnify that thousands of times and you begin to have a glimmer of what the church perceives the Holy Eucharist to be. In the Eucharist Jesus and "Bread of Life" are one. In the Eucharist bread and wine are the elements that nurture faith in God.
Charles R. Leary, Mission Ready!, CSS Publishing Company
15) Andrew Greeley:
One must not take this passage as a description of an actual dialogue between Jesus and some of those who followed him. Rather it doubtless refers to a difficulty in St. John’s community over the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a difficulty which has plagued the Church through it’s history, mostly because have tried to reduce mystery to prose, to explain the inexplicable.
The Eucharist demands faith at every time and place, but less faith in the how then in the fact of the presence of Jesus.
As the first reading suggests faith opens up the fonts of wisdom and feeds us with it.
Fr. Greeley's Last Book:
A young college student went to the Newman chaplain and said, I believe in God and in life after death and in resurrection and in the church, but I cannot accept that Jesus is really present, body and blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist.
I’m sorry, but I just can't.
The priest thought this was like swallowing the grizzly bear and straining at the gnat.
Resurrection, he said, is a humungous miracle. Real Presence is kind of ordinary in comparison. I don’t believe I really eat Jesus, the young man said. It’s just bread that’s all. You don’t eat Jesus, the priest replied, knowing that he had one of those kids who somehow or the other had run into an old fashioned teacher, one that still thought it was a sacrilege for anyone but a priest to touch the sacred host. The poor kid was really worried about how the doctrine of the real presence exposed Jesus to desecration if even a tiny piece was somehow lost. The priest went through a lot of theological explanations which did not satisfy the young man. I just have to understand how he works it out, the lad pleaded.
Have you figured out how God created the universe from nothing in the snap of a finger, the priest asked.
Of course not the young man replied. Then his voice faded off. Oh, I get it, he said softly. I’m not supposed to understand everything.
16) Unhappily few of the lines that follow are original. The majority belong to those writers known as Author Unknown. Where possible, I have identified the artist. He was conceived and born contrary to all biological law. He grew up to be a very bothersome man. He told the truth and it cost Him His life.
He could have avoided assassination by going fishing in Galilee for the weekend. He was often seen talking and laughing after His death. He remains forever a question mark with which people are never quite finished. Non-believers forever worry lest they might be wrong.
The Church He founded is discussed daily on the first pages of the major newspapers of the world.
What might He have accomplished had He lived to 50?
--------------17) As a babe, He terrified a king. As a youngster, He puzzled scholars. As a man, He intimidated a Roman governor. To borrow from GK Chesterton, He was constantly in hot water. He did not seem to mind. He felt it would keep Him clean.
He had no training in psychiatry. Yet, He has cured more minds and spirits than anyone else in history. Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon established mighty empires by force. He began His with love and service. Theirs have disappeared. His remains. Statesmen have legislated on their turn. Artists and philosophers have reigned for a short period.
Some have said they were more popular than He. But their names are written in the sand. His is spoken with frequency by one billion followers.
Each week millions assemble to salute Him in the Eucharist. He spoke that last night to a small band of illiterate men as though the memorial ceremony would continue down through the centuries. History has proved Him correct.
He calls us to Liturgy both to remember Him and worship Him. The first food consumed on the moon was bread and wine consumed in His name.
Those who discover they cannot believe in Him live with sorrow. Those who believe but lack the courage to resemble Him survive with regret.
Though centuries separate us from Him, He is more vital than we. We will not even be memories in the next generation, but He will flourish.
He no longer stands in the dock. He has nothing to prove. He has survived the test of time. It is we who are on trial in our reaction to Him.
Unlike countless peoples who impacted society by jumping in front of it and going with the flow, He got in front of the parade to take it in the opposite direction.
He presides over the world like a Colossus. After almost a century in USSR gulags, He walks openly in Moscow, Kiev, and St Petersburg. No one seems surprised.
No historian can portray humanity honestly without giving Him, in HG Wells' words, the foremost place.
Millions utter His name upon rising. Other millions shout it throughout the day in anger or pain. For still other millions, it is the last name they whisper before they die and the first they expect to speak when they awaken in His presence.
Robert Griffin says He is the hero you could never invent. Angels rush to Him. Devils flee from Him.He not only pushed the envelope. He broke through it.
In a poor man's apparel, He pursues us always.
To borrow Tennessee William's language, He is the long delayed but always expected something we live for.
Ralph Waldo Emerson said His name is not so much written into the history of the world as plowed.Harry Emerson Fosdick says He changed BC into AD.
Albert Nolan suggests He has no interest in people theorizing about Him but rather reproducing Him in their lives.
Time magazine suggests that in His lifetime, He had no equal. It is the same today. It is not He who needs us. It is we who need Him.
18) Unaware of the Free Meal on Board:
There is a story of a very poor family who emigrated to the USA from Europe many years ago on an old fashioned ocean liner. Coming from an obscure country there was no one on board that could speak their language. They were down below the water-line in steerage. Having no experience of a sea voyage they brought enough hard bread and cheese to last the journey. One meal time the youngest son was missing after a while he came back after having eaten in the large dining room upstairs. The family were shocked but he assured them that another young boy whom he had met had explained to him in sign language that the meals were included in the price of the ticket.
The world is full of people like them totally unaware of the incredible Banquet of Life that God spreads for them each day in the Eucharist.
Jesus says: I am the Bread of Life, whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh for the life of the world.