We are what we eat —- it’s true isn’t it…every cell in our body is created by the food we eat, water we drink, the air we breathe. We can be a little preoccupied/sometimes obsessed with food in our culture. What to eat. When to eat. Where to eat. We have millions of books about food. And of the seven books on Amazon with titles referencing this phrase in some way, two titles caught my eye— Devoured: How What We Eat Defines Who We Are and You Are What You Eat: The Plan That Will Change Your Life. Titles with quite auspicious claims it seems. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – I have wonderful memories as a kid of sitting with my mom eating lunch, perusing cookbooks to plan our next meal; cooking with my kids – having conversations as we plan, prep, and chop – conversations that might not have happened otherwise. And being thoughtful about what’s in our food, how it’s produced, where it comes from – are all good things. Yet our obsession/concern with food has its shadow side, doesn’t it. While most of us enjoy an overwhelming myriad of food choices with all of our desired particularities -locavore, low-carb or no-carb, vegan, paleo, vegetarian, raw, the list of our options goes on and on – more than 35 million men, women, and children in our nation struggle with hunger. They are not worried about choosing what to eat, but trying to figure out how to eat.
And our gospel reading today, the fourth in the five part bread of life series, seems also a bit preoccupied with food. Our reading begins with the verse where we ended last week. “I am the living bread. …The bread that I give is my very flesh .” And concludes with “the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Bread that is my very body
It is no wonder that those hearing these words complained and grumbled among themselves and questioned what Jesus meant.
The late Bishop Tom Shaw notes in his book Conversations with Scripture and Each Other – that many of these early followers of Jesus were poor, frequently the victims of decisions made in Rome about grain distribution or some new tax, and likely struggled mightily to feed a family. The words, come to me, believe in me and you will not be hungry or thirsty, you will live forever, I imagine, would be at the same time startling, comforting, and even a little terrifying. Over these past four weeks, Jesus is drawing these skeptical followers (and us) deeper and deeper into the reality of the living bread, the bread that will fill all our desires, the bread that is the very flesh of Jesus.
Come, believe, eat…. These three words are the invitation to a meal that can change our life, that indeed can define who we are. And this is not a meal where we sit back, comfortably sitting back, disengaged, cooly observing. No, this is a meal in which we must viscerally engage – with our whole selves, our entire being.
And it can be hard to fathom that in a culture that is a “vast supermarket of desire” (Will Willimon, Feasting on the Word) where we are constantly rushing here and there, bundles of insatiable need, seeking to fill our emptiness, that what we most need, is the bread that Jesus gives – his very self given for each of us- crucified and resurrected. There are many days I can scarcely believe this to be true. As I find myself over scheduled, over eating, over committed – seeking to fill the places in my life that feel empty or afraid with activities, food, busy-ness. what if I just paused to breathe, to reflect on what I am truly seeking, to ask myself, what am I really hungry for. And it’s often here at this table, where my eyes are opened, where I encounter Jesus in food and in drink, in bread and wine, in all of you, all of us gathered where we become what we eat. Through sharing with us his body and blood, Jesus invites us into as intimate a relationship and communion with him as we can imagine, perhaps a communion and relationship that is even closer than we want.
And we are called as well to be in this relationship with each other. The Christian faith is not a singular endeavor; it is one that demands being in community. Come, believe, eat. We eat together – it is the community gathered that transforms the bread and the wine. The living bread broken and shared strengthens, challenges, and builds us up to be Christ for the world. As Eucharistic prayer C exhorts us, “deliver us from the presumption of coming to this table for solace only and not for strength; for pardon only and not for renewal.” By feeding on the living bread, we can be filled and renewed so that we might address the hunger of others – both spiritual and physical.. And Jesus’s promise to us in today’s gospel is that by eating of this bread, we will have real life, abundant life.
We are what we eat. Augustine, father of the church, wrote, “If you receive the Eucharist well, you are what you eat. Since you are the Body of Christ and his members, it is your mystery which you receive. As you come to communion, you hear the words ‘The Body of Christ’ and you answer ‘Amen’. Be, therefore, members of Christ that your ‘Amen’ may be true. Be what you see. Receive what you already are.” As we come to the table today, as we share in the bread and wine – Christ’s body and blood broken and shed for us, may we become what we eat – the Body of Christ for a world yearning to hear good news.