Patti LaCross delivered the following homily at Sunday Assembly at Holy Wisdom Monastery on June 26, 2011. The readings from the common lectionary that day were Deuteronomy 8:2-3, 14-16, 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, and John 6:51-58.
Scripture scholars seem to agree that the Israelites who fled Egypt and landed in the Sinai wilderness subsisted in part by eating the secretions and bodies of insects they found on local scrub trees in the morning.
Many believe that the name given this substance – Manna- derives from Man hu, a Hebraic expression for “What is it??”
Imagine the buzz of young children in the early morning: Curious and playful, touching, then smearing the sticky bug Yuk that had appeared overnight on the bushes like dew; they dare one another to lick it. Happily surprised to taste a rare sweet treat in lean times. Excited to show their parents: What is it?
And, because this whole journey began as a much more daring venture of faith, the adults had to ask: “What does this mean for us?” And they came to understand this exotic breakfast as the Promised Providence of God.
This God, who led the weary out of the oppression of Egypt, would sustain them on their way – in ways they couldn’t have imagined. And so they moved forward into that mysterious God.
Imagine those moments of encouragement and possibility on a lifelong trek marked by hunger, grumbling, and the temptation to despair.
Manna: not everything they needed, but that and God’s trustworthy promise was enough to step into the day.
I’ve wondered why the owners of a pricey eastside café named it Manna, when you can go in any direction another mile and see the real thing: around a table at Luke House, or at the Vera Court or River food pantries.
Families also forage in our urban deserts.
When people are thrown by oppression and injustice onto the providence of God, Manna is a lesson for each generation that God’s providence suffices, and all else is greed and arrogance. (Diane Bergant, CSA, 2007)
We who’ve been handed down this wonder-filled story are called in our time to incarnate God’s providence. Humbling and necessary for both giver and receiver, for as Mother Theresa observed closely, wealth and abundance can create an even more devastating poverty of Spirit.
John’s Gospel addresses a later grumbling crowd, feeling their own oppression and unsure whether they wanted to follow Jesus. He seemed headed to a disastrous end. Yet they hungered for the love and freedom he embodied. Even as his listeners and followers struggled to understand and accept who he was, they feared that his inevitable death would rob them of the singular intimacy and hope his friendship brought them.
Then Jesus offered a meal stunning in its substance and radical in its demands:
Eat this bread, my flesh, my body – and live forever with me!
And the people asked “What is this?” then, “What can this mean for us”?
Eat this bread, become this body, for it is true food, and when you eat this bread I abide in you and you in me. Let me satisfy the hungers of your heart.
Eat it and we are one, and you now incarnate the very love of God.
Eat it and love as God loves; love without fear because you will live forever.
This gift of Eucharist is an action and sign of great power.
We are cautioned in the epistles to eat this bread or drink this cup with care, because it is not just any meal.
It is not just food to keep us alive and seeking the security of our own land:
This meal brings us into God’s own home.
A mystery so great, our days are shaped by meditating on “What does this mean for us?”
And while we come to appreciate its meaning along various paths, Jesus and his death have fixed the meaning of this meal and his presence with us.**
What we come to recognize in this shared meal of the bread and cup, is that his presence is as live in this meal as it was 2000 years ago across the world
and now your faces, our bodies, embody that living presence.
When I was a child I was briefly naïve enough to believe a teacher who answered our childish questions by saying that Jesus was really, sacramentally present in us for about as long as it took for our bodies to digest the host.
The experiences of my adolescence graced me with the growing recognition that Jesus was in fact urgently present in the pain and grief of those I served in nursing homes;
insistently present in the hunger of the poor of Milwaukee and the marginal in Uptown Chicago;
and joyfully present in the music, solidarity and healing of many I knew.
Our recognition of Jesus in those we meet is in its every moment sacramental, for Jesus abides in us from now, until forever:
And that’s the Gospel truth.
It was with great care and intentionality that this table was opened to believers of all Christian denominations. This Eucharist of giving thanks is validated by our shared faith in Jesus of Nazareth, put to death and Risen again-
Because, really, This is the meal for which we all hunger:
**see Tad Guzie, S.J., Jesus and the Eucharist, Paulist Press, 1974
This is the meal that makes us one, abiding together in the love of our God.
– If you accept the invitation, please read the waivers in the Gospels and acknowledge the risks inherent in embodying that love and seeking the justice it demands.
– Known risks include fear, revulsion, fatigue, loss of possessions.
– Some experience loss of friends and/or family, injury to body and/or reputation, imprisonment – and in rare cases, death.
And through all of this the Bread of Life continues to nourish and strengthen us,
And the Life Blood of Jesus courses through our own veins bringing us courage and peace.
This meal we share is no sweet treat before coffee on a Sunday morning.
This is the hearty bread and joyous cup that satisfies our hunger, quiets our grumbling, and quells our fears.
We return to it often to express our gratitude,
To cherish the intimacy we are offered with our God, and to renew the covenant that defines us as Christian community.
Today let us eat heartily, love fiercely, and rejoice always in the abiding presence of Jesus the Bread of Life.
How sweet it is.