1 Kgs. 19:1-8; Ps. 34:1-8; Eph. 4:17—5:2; Jn. 6:35-51.
Bread, Jesus said, “I AM the bread which came down from heaven” … and … “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (vv. 41b, 51b).
Let’s be clear, Jesus’ promise of his life-giving flesh does not, in the first instance, refer to the church’s Eucharist; rather to his coming death for those “seeing” his crucified glory (Jn. 6:40); only by this sight do we, in the resurrection, sacramentally feed on bread-Flesh and wine-Blood.
Earlier Jesus fed 5,000 consisting of Jews, sinners, Samaritans, and Gentiles causing the Apostles to grumble about a forbidden, undifferentiated fellowship (Jn. 6:7, 36; Mk. 6:37b; Mk. 2:16) that signaled new Israel’s Torah bread, enfleshed Son and Speech of God.
By this time Jesus expected apostolic discernment about their distribution of the loaves; and so also you. Tandem miracles; the multiplication of loaves and fish and walking over the sea, were intended for the Apostles’ beginning grasp of his glory that would culminate in his death and resurrection.
For the moment the Apostles refused to be “drawn”, “hear”, and “learn”. St. Mark observed: for hardness of hearts, they “did not understand about the loaves”. Mired in unbelief they remained untaught; but today understanding “the loaves” is essential.
If we do not “listen” and “hear” through the gift of catholic pastors and teachers in the congregation (Eph. 4:7, 11, 12) we have little hope of understanding that the bread Jesus gives for the life of the world is his flesh, first on the cross and by the Spirit sacramentally in the resurrection.
Last Sunday, M. Luther put to rest the heretical notion that Eucharist is ordinary food, ingested and eliminated; rather our eating by the HS is “spiritual” of Jesus’ crucified and ascended flesh and blood for our transformation like unto him. If the devil’s intent is to devour us in death; by Jesus’ Food we consume what God intends for growth of bodies and spirits as sons and daughters to Christian maturity.
The Christian journey is often long and arduous. Elijah for years hid from Ahab and Jezebel; but in time, God let slip his war-dog to slaughter Jezebel’s 450 Baal priests; no doubt at the spectacle, Elijah expected the northern kingdom to repent of apostacy.
Instead, Jezebel doubled-down, threatening Elijah’s life. The fire in Elijah’s belly was doused for fear, causing him to flee deep into southern Judah. Elijah thought the northern mission a failure, falling into depression under a desert broom tree, praying for death.
The Christian walk, more often than not, is tortuous and exhausting. Elijah, did not see expected results, hoping to be relieved of prophetic duties; but the preincarnate Angel of the Lord arrived to feed with his bread and water for strength, commanding, “Arise and eat”.
In the strength of that food, Elijah traveled forty days, arriving at Mt. Horeb. YHWH spoke “a still small voice” that returned Elijah to the Land for continued ministry (1 Kgs. 19:1-9, 12).
Sometimes we become confident and self-satisfied, other times we experience progressive weakness making us feel ineffectual; so, the church by her resurrection Voice, calls us to heavenly Strength, “Arise and eat”.
Much as Jesus instructed of his substantial death as substance as church Bread, St. Paul, taught of Baptism in the language of discipleship: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former [corrupt] manner of life … and put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22, 24).
In what does “putting off” the old man and “putting on” the new consist; but being clothed by the HS in whom you were baptized and sealed for redemption (v. 30)?
Jesus, stripped naked on the cross bore your sin and shame. There in death he handed over the Spirit to the Father completing his Baptism (Jn. 19:30). In the Resurrection the HS is sent, “processing” from Father through Son to Church, for life of the world; like Elijah, Christ feeds, strengthens, and returns us to his proclamation in the world (cf. 14:12-14).
We, who are incapable of self-reformation, are baptized with the HS into Jesus’ death where God strips-off our old man, , and with Jesus, He kills us all the daylong (1 Sam. 2:6; cf. 2 Cor. 3:6; Rom. 8:36). Baptism is death into Jesus’ death, putting on Christ, the new man; it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us (Gal. 2:20).
This is Baptism’s and Eucharist’s transformative work. By God’s stripping, He discards the profligate and foul manner of the old man’s former life. Death into Christ is God’s radical solution to man’s intractable sin nature.
Of ourselves we are utterly corrupt; incapable of removing this or that besetting vice. We must be crucified into Christ’s death to grasp by faith the promise and strength of his new Food.
God kills to make alive. His killing the old man is pure grace, solely his work in Christ. Either we are “drawn” to the Father’s will or we “grumble” against the manner of our salvation, rejecting the sword of the Spirit in word and sacrament; the tragedy of those Israelites refusing to look in faith upon the bronze serpent in the desert (Num. 21:9; Jn. 3:14, 15).
Apart from God’s “drawing”, we in every instance, would reject God’s life-giving “putting-off and putting-on” for the devil’s permanence of death at the end of days. Baptism does not remodel us; rather transforms by the power of word-hallowed water and Spirit (Jn. 3:5).
Our new begetting makes us new creations seeking strength from Spirit Food, Jesus’ crucified and risen flesh and blood; new Bread for our exodus to the Father (1 Kings 19:8).
The synagogue of Capernaum grumbled, rejecting Jesus, Israel’s “bread out of heaven”. The grumblers would crucify Jesus to prove his Flesh, extruded from the “body of Judaism”, ordinary, perishable, and subject to rot in the grave.
In the church’s Supper, we eat Jesus’ crucified, resurrected, ascended, living and life-giving flesh and blood; new Food for end times. Unlike manna, Baptism and Supper transform body and spirit, new men and women in Christ.
We eat by faith, the gift of the HS; it is not our faith-eating that makes Eucharist spiritual; rather it’s new Food substance and Spirit which are imperishable, incorruptible, and eternal. Amen.