It’s probably why friends gather over lunch; or we gather with our church families over meals; it’s an important time of fellowship and friendship that is just as important to our inner lives as it is to our physical ones. In my parents house food was one way to show love, it was one way to celebrate. To this day, it’s not truly a celebration in my heart of hearts if pasta isn’t involved. But, even more important to a celebration than pasta, tomatoes, and oregano, is the people and the relationships we share.
Jesus certainly knew this, especially since he came from a humble background where the best food was saved for important occasions. We saw several weeks ago that Jesus fed the 5,000 because he knew that their bellies were empty and that they needed to be fed physically, so that they could better attend to his teaching, and also be in relationship to each other.
One of the things we miss in our English translations of scripture, is the different sense of some of the words that are used. English is a pretty boring language compared to many; there aren’t the same kinds of nuances. In our gospel today, Jesus speaks of eating his flesh which drives some of those who are listening crazy. And they know all about bread from heaven; they cling to the story of the manna, the bread in the wilderness from the time of Moses; it’s an important story in their history where God shows love to them by making sure they have bread to eat. Jesus isn’t just talking about eating his flesh like a quick drive through trip at taco bell while you eat and drive, barely paying attention to what you’re eating. When he talks about eating his flesh his is talking more about the kind of eating that takes time and work; it’s the kind of eating one has to think about and do with others; the kind of eating that stays with you; the kind of meal you remember because of whom you were with and what you were feasting on; the kind of meal where peaches are sweet and messy, and the smell of pasta sauce fills the house, where you can smell the welcoming sweetness of plantains the minute you walk into your friend’s house. Jesus is talking about his flesh and the kind of meal, the kind of eating that makes an impression; it’s the kind of eating that makes a difference now, today, and influences us and our relationships with others long after the meal is over.
And, that beloved really is Eucharist, Holy Communion, don’t you think? It’s not just a quick meal, it’s a feast that requires our full attentiveness so we don’t miss anything. It’s a meal to be savored because it is a meal that brings us together as a community that has God as our host. It is a meal that must be remembered and should influence us as we move out from this place. It is the most precious of meals because it is prepared and given in love. And here’s another thing; it is given, it is not earned; everyone, absolutely everyone gets to have the same meal of love; it’s not for the “worthy” whatever that means, but it’s for everyone who is invited by the host. It’s important for us to remember that we are not the hosts, but that God is the host and God decides whom God shall feed. The meal does more than feed our bodies, but also joins us to God and to the church through the centuries so that we shall indeed live forever. When I went to visit my friend and mentor Bill before he died, I said, “Hey Bill, save me a seat at the banquet, ok?” He said to me, “Trace, just yell YO when you get there, and I will know you’re there.” I believe in that future banquet with every cell of my being, and look forward to more than just a small piece of bread and a sip of wine, a “taste and a sip” of the great banquet that awaits us, as my friend Bill used to say. It’s important for me to remember that the great hope of Eucharist, of Holy Communion isn’t just the hope of our life after we die. Beloved, eternal life with God is here and now; today is just as important as that day sometime in the future. What we do today, feasting on and with Jesus isn’t just a promise of “your kingdom come” but a mandate that “your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” here and now. What we do here matters. And our loving God knows that we struggle and that we sin and that we get it wrong. So God prepares a banquet before us to feed us in love and fellowship to assure us that we are always loved, always welcomed, and never worthy by our own merit, but that we are made worthy by Jesus. How cool is THAT? That God gives us what we need to be made worthy, knowing that we need God’s help? That’s the kind of love only God is capable of. That’s the kind of love that we experience when we eat the flesh and blood of Jesus. That’s the kind of love that ensures that we shall live forever because Jesus has defeated death for eternity.
So come to the table prepared for you by the God who loves you more than you have ever been loved. Come and feast; come and remember the joy of fellowship around the table with Jesus and with each other. This is the great feast of our family. Savor the feast, remember the joy, come and be fed by the only bread that has come down from heaven. Come and have eternal life.