A few weeks ago when we started reading the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel, I suggested that we use as a starting point the idea that we should have not just a desire but a desperation to be fed by the Eucharist. With today’s readings, I want to continue playing with that idea. That’s because in the first reading, Elijah the prophet reached his breaking point. He was fleeing Queen Jezebel who intended to kill him and as he journeys out into the desert he breaks down and cries out, “O Lord, take my life!” At that breaking point the Lord sends his angel to him to feed a hearth cake, which is a small biscuit-like cake, and the angel encourages him that he must eat in order to make the journey. Long before Elijah the Israelites had journeyed out into the desert fleeing for their lives from Pharaoh. They, too, found their breaking point and cried out in last week’s reading “would that we had died at the LORD’s hand in the land of Egypt” At that breaking point the Lord sent his people mana from heaven, the bread-like wafers that collected on the ground like dew.
These passages from Scripture would have been well known by the people Jesus was speaking to; when he mentions mana in the desert, the desperation of the Israelites fleeing into a desert was as much a part of the memory as being fed was. So when he pulls in all this imagery and says “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die”… he’s saying that what was before a symbol — desperate people at their breaking point on the brink of death being fed in the desert — is now to become something real… desperate people being saved from death forever. In him, in his presence, in the bread of life that we will partake in here today… is the realness of the cross which saves us from our own sin and binds us to Christ such that death has no power over us, just as it had no power over him. “I am the bread of life.” Do you see now why we ought to be so desperate to receive the Eucharist? This sacrament is not just something nice that brings us together as a parish community, it is the bread that comes down from heaven so that we may eat it and not die. But believe me, I know how hard it can be at times to be before the Eucharist and be consciously aware of what it is. It’s easy to be like the crowd at the start of this gospel who “isn’t this just Jesus? Don’t we know his parents? Isn’t he just another one of us?” How many times have we gazed upon the Blessed Sacrament, received it in our hands and on our tongues, walked in and walked out of this building as just another Sunday in our lives? We become so accustomed to the sacred that it becomes normal, so frequently holding a miracle that it becomes routine.
The answer, I think, is desperation. In each of our lives there are moments of desperate both large and small, when in our hearts we are wandering through a desert of our own. When there is a major decision in your life with no easy answer, come to the chapel and pray before the tabernacle. When your life presents you with a darkness you can’t see past, come to a weekday mass. When you find yourself sick and in the hospital ask for communion to be brought to you. When you arrive at your own breaking point, make this altar your anchor. Make the bread of life the thing you seek in those moments of desperation. “Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give
is my flesh for the life of the world.”
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Homilies are meant to be heard, not read… and part of the Eucharistic liturgy, not words that stand alone. Please remember that no homily is written with this blog in mind.