Once again, this weekend the liturgy centres on the image of the Bread of Life, the Eucharist.
Slowly, those who heard Jesus began to get beyond the immediacy of physical hunger for physical bread, and began to realise that what was being offered to them was indeed from Heaven, the Bread of Life. It is such a truly powerful, consistent theme in Christian revelation, really, God gives life.
The first reading pictures the prophet Elijah as running for his life through the desert. Elijah had been very public in his criticism of the reigning queen in Israel, Jezebel. For that, he had been literally run out of the city, under threat of death. So, the reading pictures a broken man flat on his face in the desert sand, exhausted, discouraged, begging God to let him die.
But God doesn’t try to convince Elijah of the point of life, the value of it. Rather, God simply feeds Elijah.
In the Gospel, Christ claims to literally be the food, the life-giving nourishment for his people. In Christ’s own words, “I am the living bread which has come down from Heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I shall give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”
It is at this point in the Gospels, with statements such as this, that puzzlement, suspicion, become active hostility. The word that is used here is one that in the original language does not admit of a symbolic or abstract interpretation. He meant “eat.”
More than that, it was part of the Hebrew tradition that manna, bread from heaven, would be given again, and when it was, it would be a sign of the Day of the Lords when Israel would be returned to the glory of David and Solomon. But Christ told them that the glory of David and Solomon simply is not what it means to be alive.
He told them, rather, that to be alive means to do what I do, be what I am. The virtues, the qualities of life are those underlined in the Second Reading, from St Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: kindness, compassion, mutual forgiveness, emptied of bitterness and anger, harsh words, malice of any kind.
So, to the extent that all of that is a portrait of each of us, we take the Eucharist as it is offered, as the bread of life. For us, as for Elijah, the message of the angel is the same “Get up and eat, you have a long way to go.