Jesus says, in the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel, that he is the Bread from Heaven, bringing
life to those who believe and who eat the Bread, and he will sustain them on their journey through this life and into the next. We are all on this same journey but we are at different points on the path. In the introduction to her book, Every Eye Beholds You, Karen Armstrong points out that we tend to think of “faith” as believing certain things about God or the sacred, and that religious people in general are called “believers”. Having faith in something is that first and essential step that each of us needs to be begin our spiritual journey.
Embarking on a spiritual journey is like getting into a very small boat and setting out on
the ocean in search for land. Along the way, as we row, row, row our boat, we are given insights and inspiration. The further along we move with the currents, as we approach a new horizon, we may encounter fear. We’re afraid that we might lose everything
we’ve ever held as certain, we’re afraid of losing a part of ourselves. Invariably, however, we find that if we simply release our fears and apprehensions and need to control the outcome, God will bring us to the place we need to find in order to reach our highest good.
The Hebrew Scriptures tell us that the people of Israel had fled from a Pharaoh’s
persecution across the Red Sea. They traveled through the Sinai peninsula, which is an arid, desert land, and when they ran out of water and life got challenging, they wanted to go back to a life of slavery—a life they knew—instead of pushing ahead through their challenges to a new life that they didn’t know. They begged Moses to take them back, forgetting all that God had done to show that He had indeed been journeying right alongside them. So Our God said to Moses: “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the
Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by a rock at Horeb. Strike the rock,
and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” Much later, St. Paul would write to the Corinthian Church: “They drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from a spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.” Within us…..within you, within me, there is an abiding promise that whenever we turn our consciousness and awareness to the Presence of God, we will receive miracles and signs and wonders and we will know that God is in all things because the Divine Presence undergirds and supports all things.
Robert Test has written what I consider a perfect funeral elegy, and I know you
will appreciate the deeply spiritual nature of his words:
“The day will come when my body will lie upon a white sheet neatly tucked under four corners of a mattress located in a hospital busily occupied with the living and the dying. At a certain moment, a doctor will determine that my brain has ceased to function and that, for all intents and purposes, my life has stopped. When that happens, do not attempt to
instill artificial life into my body by the use of a machine. And don’t call this my deathbed. Let it be called the “Bed of Life”, and let my body be taken from it to help others lead fuller lives.
Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby’s face or love in the
eyes of a woman. Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing
but endless days of pain. Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the
wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play. Give
my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist. Take my bones, every
muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled
child walk. Explore every corner of my brain. Take my cells, if necessary, and
let them grow so that someday a speechless boy will shout at the crack of a bat
and a deaf girl will hear the sound of rain against her window. Burn what is
left of me and scatter the ashes to the winds to help flowers grow. If you must
bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses and all prejudice against my
If by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who
needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.”
In preparation for this Feast of the Body and Blood of Christ, the summer study
group met this past week to discuss what it meant for each of them to realize
that they are the Body of Christ. Jesus himself has, in a spiritual sense, become the ultimate donor: he has given us himself as living Bread from heaven. When we eat this Bread and drink this Cup, we find that we are suddenly not as blind as we were before. Our ears are opened and we can hear the voice of God reassuring us that we are
loved. Our minds are opened and our hearts are unshackled, and although we continue to row, row, row our boat in a vast sea without a clear horizon in sight, we are not afraid. We see clearly that this journey we have been on, as challenging and miserable as it has been at times, has always been guided and sustained by the Love of God.
I met with someone recently who asked me what I thought the afterlife was like and if I
believed in Heaven and Hell. I knew she meant the Heaven and Hell of my childhood, so I said no, I didn’t believe in either of those things as they had been presented to me. At first she seemed relieved, but then she asked, “So, what happens after death?” I’ve thought about this a lot since my son, Chris, died, so I had an answer that my own journey has brought me to know and accept as true. “I don’t know what happens to us after death,” I replied, “but when I review the events of my life, the ups and downs, the joys and triumphs, the disappointments and despair, I see clearly that God has always held me close and taken care of me. I honestly don’t know why death would change anything. I simply trust that God will take care of me then just as he does right now.”
Jesus said to his disciples “I AM 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.” Because he insisted that this teaching was to be taken literally, many of those who had been following him, decided to turn back and no longer be his disciples. It was too mind-boggling to even consider that Jesus would find a way to give himself as Bread for the life of the world. At that point, Jesus asked the Twelve, “So, what about you guys? Do you want to leave, too?” And it is Simon Peter, the future first bishop of Rome, who utters the words that even now echo in your heart and mine, “Lord, where are we going to go? Where else can we turn? You have the words of eternal life.”