1 Kings 19:4-8; John 6: 35, 41-51
Who remembers the 1980s TV show Cheers? It takes place in a Boston bar, with Ted Danson as bar owner Sam Malone. Diane and Carla are waitresses, and regular customers are Cliff and Norm.
As the show begins, there is always a little sketch with one of the lead characters, then a pause. The bar door opens and a chubby guy walks in and says, “Hi, everybody.” And everyone in the bar yells, “Norm!”
The show is about characters who tease, support, cry, and love each other so well that the show ran for 8 seasons. The show worked because the staff and the regular customers were a family. They had a relationship with each other. So much in life is about relationships.
… For 5 weeks, the last week of July and all of August, the gospel readings are from John 6, the feeding of 5,000 people with bread and fish, and lengthy reflections on what the bread means. The Old Testament readings each week tell stories about other miraculous feedings. It is clear in each of these feeding stories that the source of the food is God, and that it is important to have a close relationship with God.
In today’s Old Testament story, Elijah has just fled from Queen Jezebel, who has sworn to kill him because Elijah defeated her priests in a fire-making contest. Elijah is tired, depressed, and ready to die. So he curls up under a tree and prepares himself for death.
But, an angel sent by God intervenes. The angel wakes Elijah and orders him to eat. The angel allows Elijah to sleep a while to recover his strength, and then the angel wakes Elijah again. Eat, the angel says, so you will have strength for the journey ahead. This time, the food lasts 40 days and nights, until Elijah reaches Mount Horeb, where he will have an encounter, a conversation, with God.
This story shows that there is a strong relationship between Elijah and God. Elijah has trusted God in the past, but he is so depressed he is finding it hard to trust God right now. God shows Elijah through the angel and the encounter on the mountain that God knows what Elijah is going through. Their trusting relationship is restored as God gives Elijah a new assignment.
… Jesus is talking about relationships in his lengthy commentary on bread. In today’s reading, he uses the phrase “I AM” for himself for the first time. “I AM” is the name God used when Moses asked what name he should use for God when he goes to the people. God replied, “I AM that I AM” or “I AM what I AM.” This name shows up in English Bibles as Y-H-W-H (YHWH) or Yahweh.
Jesus is saying that he is God, that he is the Bread of Life, which is provided only by God. Though the bread the crowd ate the other day was real bread, the bread that Jesus offers is life, life in relationship with God, through Jesus.
Having a relationship with God through Jesus gives us eternal life. Many people believe that eternal life happens after we die. Then we live eternally with God, wherever God is. People who believe this spend their lives trying to earn enough goodie points with God to make it to heaven. They constantly wonder if their sins are too big to be forgiven. They constantly worry about being good enough for God to love them. They focus on winning heaven as a prize instead of having a relationship with God.
But these bread of life passages make it clear that eternal life is not about getting into heaven. Tasting the goodness of the bread of life doesn’t have to wait until we die. The bread of life is available to us right now, today. All we have to do is accept Jesus’ invitation to have a relationship with him. Taste and see the goodness of God by enjoying the bread of life today.
So, how do we enjoy the bread of life? We show up! We show up at worship. We show up at service projects. We show up with our money. We show up at prayer during the week. We show up when the community gathers for fun. We show up to help each other.
We enjoy the bread of life when we show up to the altar and enjoy a taste of the bread each week in Holy Communion. This, by the way, is why I love to use real bread for communion instead of wafers. I want us all to have a sizable chunk of Jesus to chew on.
Mostly, we enjoy the bread of life by taking time to be with God and God’s people. Norm showed up at Cheers bar and people greeted him by shouting his name. That is in a way what I see happening before worship, the way each person is welcomed with a hug on Sunday mornings.
I encourage you to try this at home: Each day when you pray, imagine hearing Jesus saying your own name with joy as you call on God in prayer or praise. This is one way to enjoy the bread of life each day. God does indeed know your name and is delighted to spend time with you whenever you wish. It is this relationship that is the bread of life.
Please pray with me. Jesus, you are our bread of life. Lead us to taste your goodness often. Amen