I suspect that over the past weeks most of us, at one time or another has spent some time watching the Olympics. The Olympians are dedicated men and women who spend years preparing for these Olympic contests. A big part of that preparedness is following strict diets. They have to watch what they eat. No junk food, no cakes or cookies. Must be terrible.
In our first reading we have the weary and depressed Elijah on the run. He’s fleeing the wrath of Queen Jezebel. He just wants to sleep. God does not abandon his prophet. God sends an angel who encourages Elijah to get up and eat. Otherwise the journey would be too much for him. Elijah does what he is told, he eats and drinks and in the strength of that food he walks 40 days and nights to the mountain of the Lord.
We are all walking on the journey of life, some are just beginning, and some of us are near the end. We are a pilgrim people and we need nourishment for the journey. In the Jewish scripture we hear of God providing bread from heaven to God’s people. This bread, this manna gave them the strength they needed for their journey to a new land.
Jesus tells the people, people he’d fed earlier that he is the bread come down from heaven, a bread far greater than the manna of old. They reject his claim. Who does he think he is? They know him, they know his family, his father is Joseph the carpenter, his mother is Mary. Where does he get off trying to make himself something he is not? The mentality of that time was you stay in the status into which you were born. To try and better oneself is to dishonor your birth. Bread from heaven indeed.
The bread of life Jesus offers these people is meant to do more than satisfy hunger. This food, his flesh and blood, is meant to strengthen and sustain each one of them for their life’s journey. This is the bread offered each of us in this Eucharist.
We’re coping here with what we call, ‘they mystery of faith’. Bread is more than bread and wine is more than wine – they are the body and blood of Jesus. We find it hard to get our heads around this. I read recently that 65% of Catholics in North America believe that the bread and the wine are symbols, memories of the body and blood of Jesus. Not so. When the priest hands you the host he says, ‘the body of Christ’ and you answer, ‘amen.’ Amen mean ‘yes’ yes I believe this truly is the body of Christ, not a symbol, not a memory but a reality. Christ comes to us as our nourishment, our sustenance, our energy to sustain us on our particular life’s journey.
Someone recently wrote, “Our contemporary struggle with belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist is a quarrel over transcendence, dealing with things beyond our grasp. For us only the here is real. Only the now is actual. Only the observable is knowable. Only perishables can sustain us. The immediate feeling. The experience at hand. The pain pressing. The pleasure welcome. These and only these are what are real. Our problem is not just believing that God could inhabit bread, our problem is believing that God could inhabit us.” “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me and I live in them.” This is the mystery of faith that challenges us at every Mass.
Here’s another thought. Just as the Eucharist is meant to sustain and strengthen us in our daily lives, it is also meant to give us the generosity we need to strengthen others. We who are nourished are meant to nourish others. We do this when we reach out to others who are hungry for love and companionship, hungry for understanding and support, hungry for forgiveness and healing, hungry for acceptance no matter their race, religion, culture or lifestyle.
As we continue to celebrate this Mass we pray for ourselves and for each other for a deeper faith in the wonder that we are nourished with the body and blood of Jesus, a food given to us to strengthen each of us on our own life’s journey, a food given us that we may be food and nourishment to friend and stranger.