Sunday, August 12, 2012

19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Readings: 1 Kings 19:4-8; Ephesians 4:30-5:2; John 6:41-51

“Get up and eat, 
else the journey will be too long for you!”
These are the words that God, 
sounding suspiciously like someone’s mother, 
speaks in our first reading,
when Elijah has grown discouraged 
on the journey he is making to Mt. Horeb, 
where he will encounter God.
He is being pursued by his nemesis King Ahab 
and it looks like his prophetic mission is a failure,
so he sits himself down beneath a broom tree 
and prays to die:
“This is enough, O Lord!”
But God will have none of it:
he sends an angel with bread and water 
and tells him,
after he lies down for a second time,
“Get up and eat, 
else the journey will be too long for you!”
God has plans for Elijah;
God has a journey for him to undertake,
and the miraculous food and drink that God offers him
is intended to sustain him on that journey.

Maybe you have never prayed to die,
or maybe you have,
but I suspect that almost everyone here
has at some point or other sat down and said,
“This is enough, O Lord!”
I am tired of having my efforts go unappreciated.
I am tired of work that is frustrating.
I am tired of trying to love people who do not love me back.
I am tired of taking one step forward and two steps back.
I am tired of this journey you have put me on
and I think I will just stop, sit down, and let life run its course.
We may not pray for death like Elijah did,
but we do sometimes feel like giving up on life – 
giving up on a life that is more than simply getting by,
more than simply marking time, 
giving up on our life having some larger meaning, 
some eternal meaning, 
some meaning in the eyes of God.
We give up on the idea of our life 
being a journey to Mt. Horeb
where we will meet God.

But God will have none of this.
I cannot, of course, speak for you,
but I know that when I say, 
“This is enough, O Lord!”
God never seems to reply,
“Yes, you’re right.
The journey is too long.
I’ve asked too much.”
Instead God says, 
“Get up and eat, 
else the journey will be too long for you!”

God seems to say this most often 
in the form of my wife or children or friends
not letting me mope around feeling sorry for myself.
God reminds me through their voices 
that there really is no choice,
if my life is to have ultimate meaning,
but to get up, as weary as I might feel,
and continue the journey
even though its final goal, 
union with the living God,
is something that lies infinitely beyond 
even my power to imagine.

“Get up and eat.”
What food can sustain us on such a journey?
What food can give us the strength to go forward
into the mystery of the living God?
Jesus says it quite plainly in todays Gospel:
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."
One of the terms that early Christians
used for the Eucharist was viaticum,
which means “food for the journey,
a term we still use for the final Eucharist given to the dying.
But in a sense every Eucharist is viaticum;
as a medieval hymn puts it,
     O food of travellers, angels’ bread,
     Manna with which the blest are fed,
     Draw near, and with your sweetness fill
     The hungry hearts that seek you still.

Every time we receive the Eucharist, it is food for our journey.

But it seems so small:
how could a bit of bread and sip of wine
fill the hunger of our hearts?
How could a small Sunday slice of time 
give us the food that would sustain us
on a journey to eternity?
This is the mystery:
the bread and wine that we bring to God’s table
is graciously accepted by God
and then graciously given back to us,
no longer bread and wine
but Christ’s flesh for the life of the world.
This is the mystery:
here at this altar,
week in and week out,
we come, weary travelers,
to whom God says, 
“Get up and eat,
else the journey will be too long for you!”
And strengthened
by the living bread of Jesus Christ
we continue on the journey,
glorifying the Lord by our lives.