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But [Elijah] himself went a day's journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: "It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors." Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, "Get up and eat." He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, "Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you." He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God. (1 Kings 19:4-8)
[Jesus said,] "I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."(John 6:49-51)
It’s summer and it’s still vacation season. Have you ever noticed how travel and food seem to go together? Think about long road trips. Do you have particular foods or snacks that get you through the drive? For me, it’s Reeses’ Pieces or gummi peach rings, and large cups of bad gas station coffee. For my sister, it’s Peanut M&Ms and a giant bottle of water. Or have you ever noticed that, even if you don’t think you’re hungry, you still get something to drink on an airplane and eat all of the peanuts that they give you? Or how about hikes through the woods, walks on the beach, or afternoons spent on a boat? The sun and the breeze and the smell of the outdoors leave you spiritually fulfilled but physically hungry and thirsty. There’s something about the journey that makes us hungry. There’s something about traveling that makes us thirsty.
I’ll admit it: I am a Food Network junkie. And hands down my favorite food network personality is Alton Brown, and the way that he is interested not only in the food itself, but the science of cooking and, more interestingly, the people and the history behind that food. A few summers back, he filmed a short series of shows called “Feasting on Asphalt.” The premise of the show was simple: he hopped on his motorcycle, prepared for a cross-country road trip. He enjoyed the open road, and then enjoyed local food along the way. He would stop at diners and neighborhood restaurants. He would ask the locals their favorite places and then eat there. But more than that, he would make a point of meeting the people who cooked his food and owned the restaurants. He would learn the stories of the food and the people he experienced along his journey. The story behind the food was as important as the meal itself, and the people along the road were as important as the road trip itself. The show was a strikingly spiritual meditation on the connection between wanderlust and physical hunger.
Elijah was in the wilderness, not by choice, but rather fearing for his life. And an angel of the Lord came to him twice to encourage him to eat. “Get up and eat,” the angel said, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” It’s like drinking coffee to stay caffeinated for a long drive, or eating trail mix to keep up your energy on a hike. We have to stay nourished so that we can stay strong for the journey.
It shouldn’t be a far leap to realize that nourishment for the journey is not just a physical thing. It also speaks to our lives of faith. In baptism, we are made children of God, beginning our journey of faith as people marked with the cross of Christ and sealed by the Holy Spirit. Baptism is when we die to sin and rise as people redeemed by Christ through the grace of God. And baptism is what drives us to live out our faith in the world. Baptism is the start of a journey, a lifelong process of growing in faith and service as we come to understand God’s grace more fully with each passing day.
Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, talks about this journey. He reminds us that we have, in baptism, been sealed by the Holy Spirit. He reminds us that we are people who have been saved by God’s grace. And, since we have been saved, we are thus called to journey forward in faith, imitating Christ in our lives. What does it mean to imitate Christ? Paul tells us that it means “letting no evil talk come out of our mouths, but only what is useful for building up, so that our words may give grace to those who hear.” He tells us that it means “putting away all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and being kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven us.”
Put more simply, God loves us so much that Christ offered himself for the sake of the world. Therefore, we are to offer ourselves to the world so that others might see God in us.
Our faith journeys are not always simple, however. It is not always easy to rid ourselves of anger or bitterness, and it is certainly not always easy to forgive one another. We sometimes find ourselves in the midst of doubt and confusion. Our hearts are touched by death or tragedy or sorrow. We seek peace but get weary, or we find it hard to show love to others. There are and will be many times in our lives when we find ourselves sitting stranded on the side of the road, under a tree in the wilderness, ready to say with Elijah, “it is enough now, O Lord, take away my life.”
But when we are in that place, when our faith seems stagnant or nonexistent, or when the life of faith and grace and hope seems to be more trouble than it’s worth, we, too, have a voice rousing up from sleep, encouraging us to get up and eat bread, so that the journey will not be too much for us. This voice is Jesus, who says, “I am the bread of life.” This voice is Jesus, who says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, and whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” This voice is Jesus, who pulls us up, walks with us, and feeds us with his own self as bread for the journey.
Jesus, our bread, is no stranger to suffering, nor is he unfamiliar with our worries, doubts and fears. Jesus himself prayed in the garden before his arrest, “Father, if it is your will, take this cup from me,” as he faced his own anxiety about suffering and death. Jesus is the one who, on the cross, quoted the Psalmist: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus knows what it is like to be hungry, lost in the wilderness, tempted by Satan to turn even stones to bread.
But Jesus also knows what it is like to live and live again, to love and love deeply, to forgive and forgive freely, to hope and to be our hope.
Jesus feeds us through the scriptures – stories of God’s faithfulness to his people and the story of our redemption from sin into the fullness of God’s grace.
Jesus feeds us through people who inspire us, through unexpected kind deeds, through caring words, and through those who show us compassion.
Jesus feeds us through the beauty of God’s creation and the beauty of creative expression, through art and music and science and nature and all the things in life that provoke in us a sense of wonder.
Jesus feeds us through those who build us up in faith, through our worship and Christian fellowship, through people who keep us accountable and people who urge us toward a deeper engagement with God in our world.
And Jesus feeds us here, at the table. We come to the table, confident of God’s presence among us, lifting our hearts to the Lord and giving God our thanks and praise. We sing “holy holy holy” with all the saints in heaven and on earth, and give thanks for God’s gifts of life and salvation. In the Eucharistic prayer, we do the work of remembering. We remember the ways that God has guided and saved his people throughout history, recalling characters and stories and moments in the scriptures where God has provided for his people. This act of remembering leads us to the last supper, and we remember Christ’s words at the table: This is my body, given for you, and this is my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. In Christ, God’s salvation history becomes complete, and we approach the table as people eager to eat the bread that will not perish, the food of eternal life, the body and blood of Jesus Christ who is the life of the world.
This is why we celebrate around the table every week. This is why we pray before meals and give thanks to God our provider. Because God is present wherever bread is broken, nourishing us for the journey, giving us strength in faith and hope.
For the life of faith – our lives in the world as people of faith – is much like that motorcycle ride across the country. It is a journey where the food that nourishes us along the way is as important as the traveling itself. It is a journey where the table and the open road come together, where the cross meets our daily lives, where we share the bread of life with a hungry world. So today, let this table be your family-owned diner alongside the road. Let it be the ice cream shop that has been owned and run by the same family for 60 years. Let it be the hole-in-the-wall sandwich shop that serves up both food and friendship. Let it be your travel cup of coffee or your snacks for the car ride. Let this table be a welcome place to refresh, recharge, and receive strength along the journey, for this table is Christ’s table, a table where we feast together on the food that will not perish, the food that is, for us, our hope and our salvation and our life-giving daily bread.