by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow. This sermon is based on John 6:51-58.
Many years ago, when my children were still at home, we spent many family summer vacations in the town of Eagle Harbor, Michigan. That was one of our favorite family places. It is a little summer resort town way up in the northernmost parts of Michigan, on the shores of Lake Superior, where there was copper mining in the 1840s, and warehouses and breweries all along the waterfront, and since the 1950s a little Episcopal summer chapel, where they used to give my family a cottage to stay in, in exchange for me giving them Sunday services during vacation. Some of you have heard my Eagle Harbor stories before.
Just outside of town, a couple of miles down the road, there is a waterfall. The stream there has cut a whole series of stair-step cascades into a gorge in the rock, and you can climb way up past pools and cliffs and rock-cuts into the heart of the hillside. There is a little pull-out on the highway where you can stop and look at the last of those cascades.
And right beside the pull-out there is a little shop, called The Jam Pot, which is run by, of all things, a community of Eastern Orthodox monks who have a little monastery right there on the lakeshore, where they pray and study and support themselves by making jams and jellies and fruitcakes and breads and muffins and brownies and selling them in their Jam Pot shop.
And during all those summer vacations, it was one of our family traditions to climb up that waterfall, past all the pools and cascades, as far as we could go to a sheer wall of rock, and then climb back down, and go to the Jam Pot for muffins and brownies, and sit down at the base of the last cascade and commemorate our climb with a really big snack.
And I remember one year in particular: We’d made our climb, we’d gotten our snack, I was eating a peanut butter and jelly brownie, and in the middle of a bite I looked up at my kids and I thought to myself “This must be the best snack I have ever had.”
Of course, what made that snack so satisfying was not just the food – as good as the food was. What made it satisfying was that we’d just climbed the falls, and it was a gorgeous day, and the sun was shining, and the breeze was cool, and the falls were beautiful to look at, and we were together, and we were enjoying each other’s company, and we were sharing a moment of friendship and love.
What made our snack so satisfying was that our food was a symbol of the gift of joy and beauty and love that the Holy Spirit of God was giving us at that very moment. That food nourished us because in feeding our bodies, it also fed something far deeper in our souls.
In our Gospel reading this morning Jesus uses food as precisely that sort of image for something that feeds us deeply in our souls.
Jesus says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.” Now at first this phrase is a little shocking, and we are likely to get kind of hung up on the fact that Jesus is calling flesh and blood “food.” That’s what the people in the story get hung up on. And if it’s the food Jesus is focusing on, then this passage would be about cannibalism, and it would be morally repellent, it would be disgusting.
But I suspect that the word Jesus really wants us to hear in this is not so much food as true. Jesus in this teaching is trying to draw our attention to the thing that will truly feed us, truly nourish us, truly fill us – that will feed our souls, not just feed our stomachs but feed our souls – and make us whole. And the only thing that can truly nourish us in this way is Jesus himself.
When Jesus says “flesh and blood” here, I suspect that he is using an Aramaic colloquialism, a shortcut phrase that means his entire self, his whole life. Sharing his flesh and blood means sharing his concrete way of living, sharing the way Jesus always lived out his faith in God. He didn’t just talk about God: he showed with his life, with his own body, what God is like. The way Jesus broke down the barriers that separated people, the way Jesus forgave people, the way Jesus healed people of the things that constrained them and made their lives less, the way Jesus punctured the self-righteousness of people who thought they always knew exactly what God wanted and always did exactly what was right, the way Jesus measured everyone according to mercy and reached out to everyone with love, the way Jesus put his trust in God’s grace and then did what was right there in front of him to do – that was Jesus’ flesh and blood, Jesus’ whole self, showing forth the very life of God.
And that is what Jesus invites people to share with him: by partaking of his way of living, by showing forth in concrete ways mercy and compassion and faithfulness and love, we become alive with God’s life, we are nourished in God’s love, we are sustained by God’s incarnate Word, just like Jesus. The true food, the true drink, is to do as Jesus does, and to be fed deeply in our souls by the living love of Christ.
And that soul-nourishing participation in the life of Christ comes to us in all sorts of ways. Sometimes even through food. Sharing a peanut butter and jelly brownie at the foot of a waterfall. Coming to Mass on the Grass on a summer Wednesday evening. Volunteering at Noon Lunch to serve – and to sit down and eat – with guests from the street. Sending money for rice and beans for the children at St Marc’s School in Cerca la Source, our Haiti Collaborative partner — and having been to St Marc’s, and having tasted those rice and beans, I can tell you how good that food is. Sharing bread and wine at this communion rail this morning. All these things become true food when through them we can partake the flesh and blood, the whole self, the living presence of Jesus our Lord.
What is true food for you? What truly nourishes you by bringing you into relationship with the living presence of Jesus? What feeds your soul, and thereby strengthens you, nourishes you, for mission and love and mercy and joy in your life? Where does Jesus reach out to you, right in the middle of your ordinary everyday down-to-earth concrete experience, and say to you, “This is your true food, this is how I abide in you and you in me, this is how you do the love of God”?
My prayer for you today is that you will be nourished and sustained and given life by the true food of Jesus. Amen.