Growing up in a Baptist church in the Salinas Valley, California, I always looked forward to communion Sunday. It was, like today, the first Sunday of the month. As a young child, time often slowed down in worship and I felt like I needed a break midway through the service. But, on the first Sunday, we all got a snack – a little cup of juice and a bit of a saltine cracker. It wasn’t much, but it refreshed my spirits until the service was over.
Today, we reflect on the “bread of life.” The nourishment that truly feeds our spirits as well as the bread that sustains us throughout the day. Spirituality is not something abstract and unrelated to daily life. Christianity is an incarnational faith: God comes to us in a little child, unexpected hospitality, a healing touch, the embrace of enemies and backsliders, and in sharing our daily bread. God comes to us in a simple meal and makes us, despite our differences, companions of the spirit, people who share bread and discover their unity in Christ.
There is no one understanding of this bread of life. To some, it’s a meal of memory. We look back at Jesus’ table fellowship with his disciples as he looked toward the agony of the cross. We remember a love beyond our imagination, a love for us and all God’s people. To others, it is truly the presence of God – the body and blood – hidden yet transforming bread and wine into something holy.
There’s no reason to choose – a memory can be intense and take you back several decades. Recently I came upon a picture of myself and several friends taken in 1970 and I was transported back to 1970, and memories of some dear friends, and a young Hispanic girl, Rosie, who was my girlfriend back then. Or, I can vividly remember the day now 37 years ago when I realized that what Kate and I had was something special, or the birth of my son Matt or a special day with my grandchildren. Communion takes us to the living memory of God’s love in Christ and a meal that joins us as God’s beloved children, many and yet one in the spirit.
And, as important as memory is for us, I miss Kate when I travel and want to see her face, hear her voice, and touch her skin. I want the real presence of my family, right here and now, and at special meals we rejoice in the embodied lives of those we love. We rejoice in Emmanuel. God with us.
In today’s reading, Jesus has just fed a multitude from a few loaves and fish, and people are excited and amazed, and want more of what Jesus has to give. Jesus reminds them that his mission is not only give them a good meal, but to provide nourishment for their deepest spiritual hungers. He has bread and wine that fills our hearts and quenches our thirst for wholeness. He has something that will give us fulfillment even in life’s most challenging times.
I like a good meal. And, while there are occasions for stopping by the Golden Arches, Wendy’s, or Burger King, I want a real burger, if I’m in the mood. Grilled, with real cheese and onions, little peppers, and bar-b-que sauce, and I want to share it with people that are dear to me. I want soul food, and not fast food.
That’s what Jesus offered in the first century and that’s what he offers today. Food that fills our every hunger and drink that refreshes the spirit, and after we share the meal, he wants us to offer bread and wine to the world around us – to those who are lonely, vulnerable, homeless, and hungry.
When she walked into St. Gregory’s church in San Francisco, Sara Miles had second thoughts. She wondered what she was doing there. She didn’t know the rituals or the language of the church and felt out of place; she really didn’t believe in God, she was raised in a secular family for whom God was an intrusion or a crutch for weak people, she was a lesbian in a time when GLBT people were often persecuted by Christian groups. But, she stayed, drawn by a spiritual hunger for something more; lured by the possibility of new life and the mystery of a god she did not yet believe in.
Something happened, though, when she came up for communion. As Sara Miles recalls in her book, “Take this Bread,” when she took a piece of bread and a sip of wine, she felt Jesus was with her. She felt that Jesus had come to her and that in bread and wine, she found what she’d been looking for all her life. God is here in something as simple as a loaf of bread and dark red liquid.
Sara Miles initially didn’t feel like she deserved it; and wondered still if she belonged. But, each week, bread and wine called her to God’s supper. Weeks later, she discovered something else – she found a home, a spiritual communion, and a mission. Her spirits filled, she noticed that others went hungry on the streets. And she wanted to respond. God led her from the communion table to the soup kitchen and the food bank, and she became an advocate for the homeless and poor of San Francisco, all because of a meal.
Today, God offers us a meal. It’s just simple grape juice and gluten free bread, but it can change your life. As you take the bread and cup, ask God to give you new life and refresh your spirits. Ask God who you need to feed from the bounty of God’s table.
Here in paradise, nearly 6000 children receive government aid. Just a few days ago a young woman, a single parent, came looking for gas money to go a new job so that she could provide a home for her ten year old daughter. Abandoned by her husband, she sought bread of life from us, and our open door provided her with BIC cards for gas and groceries.
Spiritual hunger is real; and so is the hunger for home, a good
meal, and a place for our children and grandchildren. The bread of life is here, waiting to be savored and waiting to be shared with others, as Christ at their supper tables.
Jesus says “I am the bread of life. Take this bread and you’ll never be hungry again. Take this bread and every meal will be holy and every person welcomed home.”