IN a book called Babbette’s Feast, there is a story of two sisters, who lived in Norway, who were both very beautiful and very religious. Their father had formed a small sect of piestic members who eschewed all pleasure in favor of the holy. Any physical and anything real was seen as too worldly. They even turned down love, one by a courageous general, and the other by a world famous opera singer. Neither marries and they continue to lead this small sect after the death of their father. One day a woman, wild eyed, lands on their porch. Her name is Babette and she a Catholic has escaped the political turmoil in France at this time. They offer Babette to serve as their family cook, but make it clear, that they only want the blandest food– cold cod, stale bread, and water. One day, Babette finds out she won the lottery in France. She wants to repay the sisters and offers to cook them a French feast. Over the course of several weeks, a plethora of foreign items begin to be shipped in from fresh duck to, God-forbid, wine. The women, being who they were, went to the other members of the sect and told them that they needed to just act like they enjoyed the feast. However, what happens, is that through this feast they are given new eyes to view the world, a whole new palette is opened, and the air of piety leaves and is replaced by love. These sisters then assume that Babette will now leave, for she has money, and can travel back. However, Babette reveals to them they she spent all of her money on them, and for them– that she had given all she had to show love to these sisters.
Babette gave of her all for the life of these sisters, in today’s Gospel passage, Jesus will go beyond that and give to us a hope for the life of the world world.
We start our Gospel passage with Jesus telling the gathered crowd– “I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” What we don’t read is this whole conversation is occurring after Jesus had fed the 5000, and then walked across the sea to escape the crowds that were wanting to make him King, and then they still tracked him down. If you have ever seen the old Benny Hill show where he is being chased through one door and comes out another and so on and so on. This is what is happening here. Jesus fed them physically, because they were hungry, but what he tells them is that you are hungering for something that you don’t know.
Let’s go backwards a few hundred centuries to Moses, and the Children of Israel, after the exodus from Egypt (baptismal imagery), and they rebel, and they are wandering the desert. They are hungry and they are doing what Children do when they are hungry: they are complaining, they are whining. As a father of four little ones, I know this sound. I’m sure like I feel a lot of times, Moses was about to threaten to pull this caravan over. So they are wandering for 40 years, and God says, even in the midst of your wandering I will provide. And he sends down bread, and they say ‘Manna’ which means ‘What is it?.’ This bread only lasted for a day (except on the day before the Sabbath) when the manna was to be collected enough for both it and the Sabbath, so it was not everlasting bread, it was bread from heaven, but it nourished physically only. There was still a hunger there, and Jesus is speaking to that hunger in this passage.
He goes on to tell the gathered crowd that he has come to do the will of the Father and to begin to promise eternal life. In vs. 41 & 42, we pick it back up and see part of the gathered crowd saying, ‘Surely this is Jesus, Joseph’s son! How can he say, “I have come down from heaven?” They are essentially saying, ‘This is just ordinary Jesus. Nothing special here.” How often do we see something that is truly supernatural, truly out of the ordinary, and pass it by or blow it off because we believe it’s just something ordinary, something plain. But Jesus is telling us something here, he is saying that hidden in what may look like ordinary things is something spectacular.
Jesus is asking them, and us, something here– do you recognize me? In vs. 43-44, Jesus lays out that no man can come to the Father except by Him, and only those that are called or drawn towards Him. The word “draws” in this passage translate in Greek to a force that is resistless or, at the least, successful. It could be used for the stretching of a sail, the dragging of a net, or the drawing of a sword. It is also used by writers like Plato to illustrate the internal drawing of desire towards pleasure. So God is drawing, inviting, pulling us towards Himself in Jesus, and in Jesus we are given something, everlasting life & resurrection.
So Jesus gives us something and we are to receive. But how? How do we receive this everlasting life? How do we receive resurrection? In v. 45, we see that our experience or knowledge can lead us to Jesus. Jesus is telling us that to be ‘taught by God’ is a life-long process, not an instantaneous moment. Jerome’s Vulgate translates it as ‘docibiles Dei’ or ‘School of God.’ Like many, I appreciate those wonderful, Come to Jesus moments, when I hear people tell of the work of God in their life. Our stories, and especially our stories of God’s work in our lives, can take others on journeys to see that even in their lives, God is working. However, what you don’t hear a lot, are the stories of the long journey– where God teaches us in the little things and through the mundane everyday– to follow him. It goes back to the part of recognition– we can’t recognize the work of God in our lives if we are not willing to accept what that may mean for us. Are we willing to listen to the Father and learn from him in our daily lives? Are we willing to wait like Elijah for the ‘still small voice’ in the cave?
Jesus then goes on in v. 46, “I do not mean that anyone has seen the Father; he who has come from God has seen the Father, and he alone.” Jesus, according to both St. Cyril and Erasmus, is distinguishing himself from Moses. He had already done this in an earlier passage where he talked about how it was God that sent the manna, and not Moses. Jesus is trying to show that he is more than just a prophet, but that he is what S. John wrote in the first chapter: The Word Made Flesh. Jesus is saying– I am the bread of life, I am the Word made Flesh, I am not just a prophet, I have seen the Father and beheld His face– and this is why– so that I can give you, the one whom the Father is calling, eternal life. Jesus is giving Himself to us.
We receive the grace of God in a myriad of ways– from our baptism into Christ, to confirmation and receiving of the Holy Spirit, to prayers by friends, and the beautiful words of absolution to just name a few– and we take these in by faith. God gives us grace through things called sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of a inward and spiritual grace. Our Book of Common Prayer says there are two Gospel sacraments that Christ instituted– Holy Baptism and Holy Communion (which is also called the Eucharist). The Church has traditionally said that there are more that can include confirmation, confession or reconciliation, unction or healing prayer, Holy Matrimony, and ordination. Our Eastern brethren even go further and say while there are these sacraments, that there are many many more sacramentals which God uses to bring us to Him and to give us His Grace. I tend to side with the East on this as I have seen many times God work in mysterious ways to bring people back to Him.
As Anglicans who hold to the teaching of the Patristic Church, we hold a certain view on what happens up here during communion. We say that Jesus becomes really and truly present– that there is a “real presence” of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Also as good Anglicans, we make no definitive statement on how Christ is present in the Eucharist. We leave it to mystery for mystery if removed, makes no faith. Charles Spurgeon once said, “Make inscrutable mysteries into footstools for faith to kneel upon.” The Eucharist is a mystery and when in our liturgy the bread and wine become the Body and Blood is anyones guess. And believe me, there have been a lot of guesses. However, no matter when it may happen, we know it is true. That’s where our faith comes in, that’s where God draws us, into truth and into life.
The Eucharist is given to us , according to the Catechism, for “the continued remembrance of the sacrifice of his atoning death, and to convey the benefits the faithful receive through that sacrifice.” We receive grace, or a ‘strengthening or refreshing of our soul’ through our receiving of the Sacrament. Christ meets us here, gives himself to us, to send us out. We are fed and then sent. That is key. In so many parts of Eucharistic theology, we focus on the ‘whens and hows’ and not the ‘whys.’
St. Ignatius of Antioch said, “I hunger for the bread of God, the flesh of Jesus Christ …; I long to drink of his blood, the gift of unending love.” My first time stepping up to the altar at an Anglican Church was, looking back, a pivotal moment in my life. As I stepped up to the priest, and he said the words to me, ‘The Body of Christ, the Bread of Heaven,’ I remember tears welling up in my eyes. Something had happened in those minutes from when he opened with ‘Blessed be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ and when he placed the host in my hand. As a new Anglican, I had no clue about eucharistic theology or what had happened or did not happen in that moment. All I know, and all I still know, is that Jesus Christ had made Himself present to me in that moment, that he was truly the Lamb of God, and truly the Gift of God Himself, given to & for me, for my salvation.
And that’s what Jesus is telling us in the last part of our Gospel lesson– he is leading us to the point that He alone is our satisfaction. That He alone is in the who can bring eternal life. That He alone has seen the Father’s face.
You see, we believe one thing, that our church, our lives, our families, everything should be centered on the person of Jesus Christ. If you have ever noticed when we say the Creed, that the majority of the time is spent on defining who Jesus is:
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father;
through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven,
was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
In our Jesus’ centeredness, we are sent out to live as Jesus with Jesus within us to the world. You see, we are given Him to become Him to the world. IN that becoming Him, we are invited to offer ourselves as a ‘holy and living sacrifice’ to the Lord. We are invited to become the Eucharist, a thanks-offering (literally) to God who has given us himself through the Eucharist.
We are filled by the breaking and emptying of Jesus on the cross to become a people who are defined by that same cross, who are to be broken and emptied out for the life of the world. Jesus gives himself, as you see in our last vs. ‘for the life of the world.’ That’s what this whole thing is about– it’s about Him, His Kingdom, and His love for the whole world. John 3:16 says, ‘For God so loves the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.’ John knew what he was doing as he was writing this account of the life of Jesus. John’s Gospel is very Eucharistic, even though it’s the only Gospel without a direct mention of the Last Supper. John is showing us that Jesus’ whole life is being lived and he will die for the life of the world.
But how do we live this eucharistic life in the midst of a world that seems to even despise our love?
First, we remember. Alexander Schmemann in his book ‘For the Life of the World,’ says that “Remembrance is an act of love. God remembers us and His remembrance, His love is the foundation of the world. In Christ, we remember. We come again beings open to love, and we remember. The Church in its separation from ‘this world,’ on it journey to heaven, remembers the world, remembers all men, remembers the whole of creation, takes it in love to God. The Eucharist is the sacrament of cosmic remembrance: it is indeed a restoration of love as the very life of the world.”
Our remembrance allows us to change our interactions with others in our daily lives. Imagine how different our interactions with those around us would be if we just took a moment to remember that this person is remembered by God, and that in some way, we are to show them God’s love, to break ourselves open for them. We also participate in the liturgy (or “work”) of the Church. We receive and remember that Christ died for me, and Christ died for the world, and that because I love Jesus my life is given to His work and His Kingdom.
Secondly, we give. We give of our time and talents as ‘thanks offerings’ to God. I want to take a word to encourage two groups of people– teachers and artists. Most of you, in this congregation, are one, or the other, or both. You may not recognize it, but I look out and see bible study leaders, carpenters, landscapers, mothers, fathers– I see people who may think they are nothing or have nothing to give. I want to stop you, and shake you, and tell you one thing– God made you for a purpose. You have talent. Give it to God. He will do amazing things with it. Create and create with an understanding that you are giving of yourself for the life of the world.
Finally,we pray. Prayer may seem like the opposite of action, but let us look back on the life of Jesus. If we see Jesus, if we look closely, we see a man who spent more time in prayer and contemplation than action. However, when we think of the life of Jesus, we think of all that he did– his miracles, his sayings, his teachings. Jesus life was a life that wholly connected to the Father through prayer and study. Look at other great men in the Bible like Daniel and Elijah. You see men whose lives were soaked in prayer. As Anglicans, we are given an amazing gift– our Book of Common Prayer. In this book, we are given an outline of prayer to bookend our days. We also should take moments of silence and meditation to sit before God in stillness. I’ve come to find in my own life that when I finally shut up, God has been patiently waiting to speak to me.
In the Eucharist, Jesus is giving Himself to us, in the bread and wine, to both join us together, but also send us out.
In Jesus, we are all made whole again.
In Jesus, our hunger was filled.
In Jesus, we are called to follow Him.
In Jesus, we are remembered.
And all of this, all this giving, and feeding, and remembering, and sending, is done for the life of the world for which God loves so much that he sent His son to be born of a woman, live a perfect life, die a gruesome death, descend to the bowels of Hell, resurrect on the 3rd day, ascend into heaven, and to return again to establish His Kingdom someday.
May we always remember and may we be filled with Jesus more and more.
In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.