Pastor Michael Frye:
The prophet Elijah had totally embarrassed Queen Jezebel when he won a contest over her priests of Baal by showing that Yahweh was the one and only God, and the priests of Baal were killed in the process.
Jezebel swore to kill Elijah when she found him, so Elijah fled for his life into the wilderness.
Although he had represented God well, Elijah felt that because of his fear of being killed by Jezebel, he had failed God. He was depressed, and he felt worthless in the eyes of God, and he wanted to just lie down and die.
He found some shade under a broom tree, which was one of the only types of tree to grow in that place, and he fell asleep (thinking that he might not wake up again). But God had another plan for Elijah.
He sent an angel to wake him up and give him a freshly baked loaf of bread to eat and cool water to quench his thirst.
He ate what was before him and lay down again, seemingly unmoved by God’s demonstration of care and concern.
Again, the angel woke him and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too great for you. Elijah got up and ate and drank; and the story says that this time he followed God’s instruction and went on the strength of that food for forty days and nights to Mount Horeb where God had met Moses during the Exodus from Egypt.
God brought Elijah out of his depression and feelings of helplessness and self-pity by first giving him bread and cool water to nourish him on his journey toward fulfilling God’s plan for him.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus picked up on that Old Testament theme in which bread often became the sign of God’s care and concern for his people’s well-being (not just for Elijah, but also by providing mannah for the Jews in the wilderness).
What becomes strange and hard to understand are Jesus’ words: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
Not only would that sound cannibalistic to anyone hearing those words, but also they would be totally revolted by the idea unless they understood the significance of those words and realized their full meaning.
The meaning lies in Jesus’ final words in the gospel lesson: “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died.
But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Jesus’ words here have the same meaning as when he spoke them to his disciples in the upper room on the night of his Last Supper with them: “Take and eat, this is my body given for you; this cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus’ words are about the sacrifice he was about to make on the cross for the sake of the entire world.
He would give up his life (body and blood) so that all of humanity could have its dignity restored; so that those who are depressed and who feel worthless may take in his lifeblood and know that they are priceless in God’s eyes; so that those who are despised and looked down upon (because they do not fit in with what the pious and self-righteous expect of them) might know that God loves them for who they are and values having them in his kingdom; so that the poor, the hungry, and the homeless may know that there is a God who will sustain them through their trials and tribulations; so that the sick and dying may know that there is life beyond this one, and the Jesus, the Bread of Life, will be there to receive and comfort them.
There is room at the table of the Lord for all who seek God’s presence, forgiveness, love, and salvation in their lives.
Just as Martin Luther said of the sacrament of Holy Communion in his Small Catechism: “The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.”
If we truly believe this, then we must be willing to share it beyond our community of faith.
We must fling our doors wide and shout it to the world: “Welcome to the table of the Lord; welcome to the fellowship that we share as a people of God. Welcome! Welcome! Welcome!”
There is a true story about a soldier who had been severely wounded in battle.
When he came out of surgery, the doctors said that there was a good chance for his recovery, except that over the ensuing days the soldier refused all food and drinking only small amounts of water or juice.
One of his friends knew that he must be homesick, so he suggested to his commander that his parents be given permission to travel to the hospital.
Because there were still young children at home, it was decided that the father would go.
As he walked out the door, the mother handed him a package with a freshly baked loaf of bread for her son.
Although the soldier was very happy to see his father, he still refused To eat until his father brought out the package: “Son, this bread was baked by your mother, especially for you.”
Joy came into his face, his demeanor changed, and he delightfully began devouring the freshly baked bread from his mom.
When we have been wounded in the battle of everyday life (by trials and pains, illness or the loss of a loved one, the loss of a job), we lose our taste for the food that will strengthen our souls.
In our worship, Holy Communion gives us life, spiritual life, God’s life.
It gives us spiritual healing and spiritual strength.
Like the mother’s bread (that was baked with an overwhelming love for her son), Jesus Christ, the bread of life, is God’s way of expressing his limitless love for us.
It is God’s way of saying that he will not give up on us, nor will he leave us behind; therefore, we cannot leave that love behind when we leave worship; we must take it with us; we must share that feeling of being loved and valued so that others will know that there is a place where they can come and be nurtured with the life-giving bread that can never be taken away.
In that way, Christ’s invitation to come, taste and see that there is room at the table will continue to expand God’s kingdom throughout the earth.