The Gospel, two weeks ago, ended with these words: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Last week, the Gospel began with these words: “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Today, the Gospel begins with these words: “Jesus said, ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” Are we detecting a pattern? Two weeks ago, I talked about the “bread of life” as Jesus’ eternal love, always right in front of us, known through one another: healing and inspiring. Last week, Jessie talked about the “bread of life” in terms of the Eucharist. She encouraged us to consider the action of the Eucharist, not dwelling on Jesus’ death, but on the new life born through the breaking of the bread. New life, always available to us…. I think we’ve covered this “bread of life” thing! All right, let’s take one more look.
As I was sitting outside here at St. Paul’s a couple of weeks ago, listening to the University Heights Symphonic Band, I realized, once again, how music moves my soul. Music elicits a feeling beyond any words that we might be singing. St. Augustine captured this experience when he said, “To sing is to pray twice.” A tune itself can elicit an emotion, perhaps peace, perhaps joy. The tune might recall another time, or place or event. Or, purely, just as artwork inspires us in unique ways, a tune might touch our unique heartstring. Right now, think about how music moves you; how music awakens, enkindles, comforts, remembers, inspires. The experience is intangible, and so real. Perhaps, recalling intangible feelings helps us understand how we experience the bread of life, the living bread.
Let’s talk about peace. Fifteen plus years ago, my family took a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa – we visited Kenya and Tanzania. In the months leading up to the trip, I found myself worrying. My children were young and I thought I was worrying about safety issues, though logically, I knew that the travel advisories for those countries were no different at that time than the advisories for large cities in the U.S. After some weeks of worrying, rather strikingly, I came to a place of great peace about the trip, that all would be well. Do I believe that God was intervening and assuring me that nothing bad would happen to my family on this trip? No. What I do believe is that Jesus inspired me to let go of my fear of the stranger and open my heart to the experience of embracing a culture entirely different then my own.
I visited a dear friend of mine in the hospital just after her child had undergone transplant surgery. I will always remember walking into that room and seeing this little girl attached to an overwhelming number of life-saving machines. Even more so, what I remember about this moment is her mom, my dear friend, saying to me, “Whatever happens, she will be okay” – such peace in a moment of such heartache.
About a year after I moved to Cleveland, I needed to call a woman to ask her a question related to St. Paul’s, though this woman is not a parishioner. Then, a couple of months later, I ran into her at a party and enjoyed getting to know her better. Being still relatively new to the area, I was pleased when she called and asked if I’d like to meet for lunch. We hit it off. I distinctly remember driving back to the church after that lunch and saying, “Thank you, God.” I value my relationships with all of you, staff and parishioners, and I know the importance of having friendships outside of the parish. Do I believe that God made sure that both of us ended up at that party and that our encounter would lead to the lunch? No. What I do believe is that God desires us to be in relationship with one another and that Jesus teaches us about this gift. Connecting with another person, sharing life with one another…therein, lies peace.
Let’s talk about joy. Both of my boys love to play soccer. In the community where we lived when they were young, the local club team held tryouts in the spring every year for the coming season. My son tried out the first year he was eligible, but he didn’t make the team. The next year, he wanted to try out again, and he did, but, again, he didn’t make the team. The next year, he told me he wanted to try out again. I didn’t want him to go through the heartache again, and tried to coach him into considering another sport. Getting on the team only gets harder with each year, because most of the boys already on the team will get a spot again. But he was determined. He told me, in no uncertain terms, that he was trying out again. He made the team. I will never forget that phone call. I was out of town when he got the news, so he called me. The delight in his voice still makes me smile. What joy we experience when a friend or family member realizes a dream. Do I think Jesus used telepathy with the coaches to get my son on the team? No. I do believe that Jesus teaches us to live for one another and that joy in another’s happiness is a gift. Getting to experience joy is a gift from God.
Experiencing joy and peace is the living bread. Being able to give joy and peace is the living bread. We know these intangible feelings. Jesus is comforting, and healing, and nurturing our souls. Let us break open and recognize these intangible feelings and say, ah yes, the Living Bread. Let us desire the Living Bread, and pray for the Living Bread, and share our stories of the Living Bread with each other. Let us break open and allow the Spirit to move. The Living Bread will become our way of life. Amen.