(Proper 14B2) I Kings 19: 4-8; John 6:35, 41-51
Good morning, and grace and peace. Certainly giving thanks for a somewhat cooler weekend after what has felt like one non-stop heat wave since before Memorial Day. I expect we’ll have some more high summer before we get the true beginning of the fall, but it is nice to have this bit of anticipation this weekend. Highs in the 70’s. Remembering when my grandparents retired down near San Diego back in the 1960’s. We used to say: 78 all summer long, 75 all winter long . . . .
The readings appointed for us this morning from First Kings, with Elijah under the Broom Tree, and then from the Sixth Chapter of St. John, are distinctively we might say “eucharistic”—and in fact they are both readings that I sometimes use as Biblical references when we have gatherings of our young people for preparation for their first Holy Communion.
Others as well make their appearances in those First Communion sessions. A little different every year. The story of Manna in the Wilderness. Elijah again and the Widow of Zarephath, with the cruet of oil and jar of flour miraculously replenished each night in the midst of famine. The 23rd Psalm, “thou settest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.” The Prophet Isaiah’s great vision of the banquet in the Day of the Lord, in the 25th chapter, as we so often have as an appointed reading at the Burial Office “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wine on the lees well refined. And he will destroy on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death for ever, and the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken.”
Elijah and the Broom Tree this morning. Such a great story. So far as he knows, he is the last of the Prophets of the LORD, in flight for his life from the pursuing armies of King Ahab and his Queen Jezebel, without family or friend or hope of any refuge. No hope, no future. For him personally, or for the sacred trust between God and his People. And he sits down in the heat of the day in the shade of this tree, exhausted, in despair, waiting to die. One way or another, I guess we’ve all been there. Out of options.
And in this moment for Elijah of profound emptiness and vast hopelessness the Angel of the LORD comes to touch him with blessing, and encouragement, and shares with him this food and drink, a cake of bread, a jar of water, that will lift him up and fill him with new energy and resolve, and will sustain him miraculously through the wilderness not just for that afternoon but for the whole of the journey ahead, forty days and forty nights, until he is able to reach the holy mountain.
And then of course in those First Communion conversations all the meals of Jesus, with his friends, with the poor, the outcast, the untouchable, the miraculous feeding of the multitudes, and that Last Supper, breaking the bread, sharing the cup of wine, in the looming and defining shadow of the Cross, with his words of promise of his continuing presence, “this is my Body, this is my Blood,” and with his word of command, “do this, in remembrance of me.”
And the sacred meals of Eastertide. At table with the two disciples from Emmaus. In the upper room. Breakfast on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.
All of that swirling around in the background, on this Morning Prayer Sunday at St. Andrew’s, as we would be called to attend to this sixth chapter of St. John. This is a passage that often gets read in pastoral situations when we share Holy Communion from the Reserved Sacrament, at home or in the hospital, and often in moments of some crisis or distress, illness, even as we would pray together in the last hours of this earthly life. “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger. He who believes in me shall not thirst.” “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
I am the Bread of Life. We don’t very often sing here, though in some of our churches around the diocese you’ll hear more often the hymn by Suzanne Toolan and Betty Pulkingham, number 335 in our hymnal, from the Community of Celebration back in the 1970’s, with the repeated refrain, “And I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, on the last day.”
Maybe it is better to have all this on a Morning Prayer Sunday. To call our attention, in the momentary absence of the bread and wine, to the Living Bread of his presence, his real presence, in the scriptures and in the prayers, in the life of the church, in our obedience. To encounter his living presence.
Certainly to say that what this is about is knowing Jesus, recognizing him as the only Son of the Father, God from God, light from light, very God of very God. Trusting him, opening our hearts to him. Here today. “No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.”
God’s intention for us. A deep invitation. A door that opens before us. The gift the Father longs to give us is communion with him in the life of his Son, through the Holy Spirit. And then to see how that happens.
Those in the background of John 6 who are grumbling about Jesus seem to have read the words of the scriptures, but they have not opened their hearts in that reading to be led by God into the relationship that leads to eternal life. The great arc of repentence, forgiveness, restoration, renewal. Healing in this life and in the greater life to come. As we encounter the prophets and God’s word with an open heart, “everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”
“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever. “
Hard to pause here and not to think of the story in the fourth chapter of St. John, Jesus with the woman at the well. When he says to her, “every one who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Wow. And “the woman said to him, “sir, give me this water.” As we would say this morning, as we hear the words of John 6, “Sir, give me this bread.”
Our prayer this morning, in our prayers and thanksgivings, and in all our life. “Sir, give me this bread.”
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.