1 Kings 19: 4-8 Ephesians 4: 30 – 5:2 John 6: 41-51
How often during either the day or a week, does anyone of us recite the “Our Father”? It is that prayer or, better, that outline of prayer that the Gospels record as being passed on to us by Jesus. No matter how frequently, or how routinely – and many times without much reflection – we say this prayer, we ask our heavenly Father to “give us our daily bread.”
I ask that you think of this as we give consideration to the continuation of the conversation, reported by St. John, between Jesus and those listening to him who are puzzled and who have questions about what he is saying. They want to know what it means when he says that he is the “bread of life.”
As Jesus speaks to those of his time, he also speaks to us. He wants us to realize that he, and his presence, is so much more than a symbol as is recalled by reference to “manna.” It was breed from heaven that was given to the Israelites by a generous and loving God. He is also so much more than the miraculous feeding of the vast crowd that is remembered. The presence and the person of Jesus, as he declares, is nourishment, sustenance, what keeps us going, that is available to us from day to day.
But it can be puzzling. Jesus says that if we partake of this bread, we will never die. But we know that we die, death is a reality that is around us. What Jesus declares, then, also has a deeper meaning than what might be immediately evident. The life that is sustained by the “Bread of Life,” Jesus Christ, is a life that is far beyond the few years we spend her on earth. It is a life that is lived in union with our eternal and loving God because it is by being joined with our Creator God that full meaning and dimension is given to life.
As we know death in our human experience, it is a separation from others in this life. But if we are joined with Christ, if he is truly our “daily bread,” then the human death we experience does not separate us from life itself, from being alive in the way that is offered to us by our God. As is said in a prayer at a funeral liturgy, “life is changed, not ended.”
The story which we heard in the first about Elijah offers an example to us much like a parable, a story that teaches a truth. Elijah was threatened with being killed for fulfilling his role as a prophet. He was dejected and despondent. He runs away in order to escape and begs to die. But he is not successful. Through a mystical experience he is fed and nourished so that he might continue on his journey in life and eventually encounter God. In a similar way, this is the power and the effect of the Bread of Life, the “daily bread” for which we pray. It is the active presence in our lives of Faith in Jesus Christ that nourishes us and sustains us so that we might encounter God.
As those who partake in this bread of life, we are called upon to give of ourselves for the life of the world, as Christ did in his giving of himself on the cross. We are nourished by Jesus so that we can nourish others. We are to be nourishment to others by partaking of daily bread the Father gives us.
Lest we think that these are just some vague ideas, simple generalizations or nice pious thoughts, we need to listen to what St. Paul writes. He urges us to replace bitterness, fury, anger shouting, rivalry and malice with kindness, compassion and forgiveness. Be imitators of God, he tells us. What else is this than to reflect the reality of the goodness of God who countered the dejection of Elijah and responded to the complaining if the Israelites with the kindness of nourishment and sustenance. In very specific ways nourished withe “daily bread” of Jesus Christ, we are to be imitators and reflections of the generous love of our good and gracious God.