Someone once said that the English look at Europe wearing glasses tinted with the Union Jack. We Christians read the Old Testament wearing glasses tinted with the reality of the Resurrection. So we would hear the first reading about Elijah receiving food for his journey through glasses tinted with today’s gospel and Jesus statement “I am the bread of life – I am the living bread come down from heaven.”
Elijah is a very interesting person. In the first book of Kings we read of his confrontation with a group of 150 prophets of a god called Baal. They had a test to see whose sacrifice would be accepted by their god. The prophets of Baal prayed and chanted all day calling on their god to send fire to consume their sacrifice. Nothing happened. Elijah prepared the same sacrifice; he even poured water on it and then waited for God to act. Fire from heaven consumed Elijah’s sacrifice. His god won. In fury Elijah had the prophets of Baal slaughtered. They didn’t fool around in those days.
These prophets were at the service of Queen Jezebel and she sent a message to Elijah that she would do the same to him and even more before the day was out.
In today’s reading Elijah is on the run. He comes back to Israel only to find his own people unfaithful to the very God he was proclaiming. Elijah fears for his life, he is exhausted and depressed. He’s had it as a prophet, it’s a thankless task. He just doesn’t have it in him to make that long trek to Mount Horeb – he just wants out.” It is enough O Lord; take my life away for I am no better than my ancestors. Elijah was giving up on God but God was not about to give up on Elijah. He is ordered to eat the food prepared for him otherwise the journey would be too much for him. The strength of that food kept him going for forty days and forty nights until he reached the mountain of the Lord.
During the second Vatican council we took a new look at ourselves as church and came to see ourselves as a pilgrim people, a pilgrim church, a community still on its journey of faith, life and service. One of the ways of expressing this truth was the new way we could receive Holy Communion. Instead of knelling at the altar rail, which symbolized a table, we could receive communion as part of a procession, a long line of fellow parishioners walking toward the priest or a minister of communion, holding out an empty hand, about to receive our food for the journey before us.
Today we hear the wonderful words of Jesus – I am the bread of life, whoever eats of this bread will live forever.
Our empty hands signify our neediness. There can be times in our lives when we feel so much like Elijah, “I’ve had it, I can’t go on.” We can be burdened by so many cares and concerns. Just like Elijah we can be frightened, exhausted, dispirited and wonder how we can go on. But we have the promise of Jesus, ‘whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” So we accept His invitation ‘take and eat” not because we are good and holy but because we know we need the strength of this bread. We don’t receive Communion because we are good and virtuous; we stretch out our empty hands to receive the strength and grace we need to continue our own pilgrim journey of life. In the strength of this food we carry on.
As we continue to celebrate this Eucharist we pray for ourselves and for each other that we always treasure this gift of ‘living bread and no matter how unworthy we may feel we will always stretch our own empty hand to receive this living bread, a food that strengthens us for life’s journey.