Summertime is one great, generous, overflowing season. We enjoy vacations (or stay-cations), and special family celebrations such as weddings, anniversaries and reunions. We plan barbecues, picnics and potluck meals. We indulge in the rich harvest of juicy berries, crisp carrots, fresh peas and beans. Summertime creates precious memories of special places and times, with special people and always, there’s the food.
Both high and low points in family life are marked with food — think of the lavish spreads at parties, and of the meals provided by neighbours and friends when grief and loss robs us of “normal” living. Food is a fundamental ingredient in how we create community.
Against the backdrop of all this food-talk in this abundant summer season comes the words of Jesus in this Sunday’s Gospel from John. Now real food was central to Jesus’ teachings, both during his earthly life and after he rose from the dead. Many times he taught in the context of meals: the wedding at Cana, eating at Zaccheus’ house, dining with the Pharisees, breaking bread at Emmaus, cooking fish on the beach. Keep in mind that all the passages from John’s Gospel which we have been hearing at church the past three Sundays, including today’s, are part of a conversation between Jesus and the people right after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000. Jesus gets it: food is fundamental to living.
Jesus also knows, however, that while our tummies growl when left unfed, our spirits hunger and thirst for food from heaven, spiritual nourishment. If we’ve lived at all, we know that we clearly do not live by bread alone. Life can throw curves, in the form of sorrows and losses, that can trigger such an insatiable spiritual hunger that even the most bountiful banquet leaves us famished.
Those who lose their way hunger for the bread of soul to find meaning and belonging. Young people seeking their path in life hunger and thirst for role models, women and men who live their commitments with the joy, courage and faithfulness their own hearts yearn for. When an intimate relationship is shattered, we hunger for the emotional, mental and spiritual food of reassurance, of endurance and of comfort. When a spouse, parent or close friend suffers and faces death, we thirst for the holy food of a community’s love and prayers to carry us through. When it comes to these matters of heart and spirit, a diet of Big Macs and root beer will not suffice.
But then sometimes we can get caught up in the weirdest questions: Isn’t this just the local boy, Joseph’s son? How can he come from heaven? Isn’t this just a conversation with a friend? How can this be a word from God? Isn’t this simply a meal my neighbour brought? How can this be God’s food for my soul? Isn’t this just an ordinary marriage with its ups and downs? How can this be a holy witness to God’s faithful love?
And yet in these many ways, this is how God offers the Bread of Life. Jesus is that savoury sacred bread from heaven no juicy berry or new potato can satisfy: “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Jesus stills a hunger that no Burger King or Tim Horton’s can even begin to satisfy. In Jesus, God feeds us, even if it can take a long time before we feel any effect. In Jesus, God frees us, provided we open up all of ourselves to God. Eating and drinking Jesus in the eucharist, the Bread of Life equips and liberates us to give ourselves as food for others without depleting ourselves. Eating and drinking Jesus is eating and drinking God’s healing power to see us through incredibly painful things, including death itself.
Take and eat me, says Jesus, take and drink me. Make my body and blood part of your body and blood, and I will be the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation for you. Is this not Joseph’s son? Are you not simply the neighbour down the street? Are you not the kid who, a year ago, was losing her bearings? How can you be food for my famished soul and drink for my parched spirit?
This is eucharist: in Jesus, we eat and drink God’s love, in big gulps, without reserve, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. In turn we are set free to allow God to claim our lives, to bless our lives, to break our lives in the name of Love, and to share our lives with those hungering and thirsting for love and mercy, peace and justice in our broken world.
This is exactly who we are called to be for one another: in the words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, “to be imitators of God, to live in love as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” Eating and drinking Jesus is meant to transform us so that we will discover that with Jesus we can put away — again in the words of Ephesians — “all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice.” Eating and drinking Jesus teaches us to “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.”
So enjoy the summer. Bite into that first sweet corn with gusto. Let the juice of the berries run abundantly down your face. Put the butter on the new potatoes. Have another hamburger at the next reunion or anniversary you attend. Delight in one another. Know that God’s love is as abundant as our prairie summers with Bread of Life, Living Water, Cup of Salvation. Out of that abundance in Christ Jesus our Lord, we are moved to respond with that same abundant love toward one another. Like the boy with the five loaves and the two fish, once we share the love there is more than enough to go around.
Ternier-Gommers, wife, mother and grandmother, is a retreat leader and spiritual director, freelance writer and author of two books. She has worked in diocesan and parish ministry, in ecumenical dialogues and ministry, and co-ordinates an ecumenical network of women in ministry. Visit her website at www.prairie-encounters.ca and her blog at https://graceatsixty.wordpress.com