Several years ago my mom and dad went to a reunion of some of their military friends. It was a gathering of the old soldiers and their wives. The men had served together in the same unit. It was a time of catching up, reminiscing, and telling stories. Shortly after arriving my parents noticed that often someone would begin talking and someone else, without saying a word, would hold up two or sometimes three fingers. I think that probably happened to my parents.
They asked what the two or three fingers meant and were told that it was a signal to the speaker that he or she was being repetitious and telling the same story for the second or third time.
When I hear today’s gospel (John 6:51-58) I want to look at Jesus and hold up six fingers.
- “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
- “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”
- “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
- “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
- “Whoever eats me will live because of me.”
- “The one who eats this bread will live forever.”
I’ve heard all this before, so have you. We heard some of this last week, and some of it the week before. We know the words Jesus speaks, but do we have the life of which speaks?
Is there Life within you and me? That’s the question.
That’s the question behind today’s gospel. And it’s important enough that Jesus asks it six times. That question is the thread that runs through each of Jesus’ six statements. He isn’t forgetful of what he has said. He’s mindful of our hunger. He’s not repeating himself, he’s repeatedly calling us into life. He’s trying to get our attention, to wake us up, to disturb us, to get us to look at the life we are living.
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Hold up two fingers if you want but I’m going to ask you again: Is there Life within you?
It’s not a question about physical or biological life. It’s more than that. It’s about Life with a capital L. It’s beyond words, indescribable, and yet we know it when we taste it. Think about those experiences when you feel larger than life, not because you’ve done or accomplished something but because you feel connected to and a part of something larger than yourself. Haven’t there been moments when you thought or said to yourself, “This moment is perfect and I never want it to end?” When was the last time you took a bite of life and it tasted good and you wanted more?
That’s the life Jesus is talking about in each of those six statements. And I wonder if that’s the life you are living today. Is there Life within you? That’s number three
At some level we all know that kind of life is available and we hunger for it. It’s a holy hunger that causes us to ask ourselves, “What am I doing with my life?” We wonder if this is all there is or ever will be. Is this as good as it gets? We’re sure there is more to life than this. What we really want to know is if there is Life within us. Well, is there? That’s the fourth time I’ve asked that question.
It’s such an important question because my guess is that all of us at some point live less than fully alive. We go through the motions. We put life on auto-pilot. And we hunger for more life.
When have you felt that holy hunger? Are you feeling it today and, if so, what are you feeding it?
How would you describe your life today? What would you say about it?
It seems to me that most of the time we describe our lives in terms of history and circumstances. We focus more on what we do than what really matters to and enlivens us. We talk about where we are from, where we live, our marital status, and with whom we live. We talk about our work, roles, and busy schedules. We talk about what we have and what we want. We talk about our age, health, and the struggles or difficulties of our lives. We express our political or religious beliefs and talk about the way things used to be, the way they are, and they way they should be. We talk about who is with us and who is against us. We talk about what’s going on in our life, our town our country.
All of that may be a true and accurate description of our lives but the question remains: Is there Life within you? Yes, that’s number five.
The circumstances of our lives are not unimportant. They matter and they make a difference. They’re not, however, the way Jesus thinks of and looks at Life. “Therefore I tell you,” Jesus said, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” (Matthew 6:25)
He could just as well have said, “Is not life more than your circumstances?” If Jesus sees life as more than our circumstances and what’s happening maybe we should too.
What is that “more” for you today?
- What if eating the flesh and blood of Jesus, ingesting and digesting his life in ours, is about being connected to something larger than and beyond ourselves?
- What if we really knew ourselves to be connected to each other in such a way that we began speaking more about we, us, and ours, and less about me, my, and mine?
- What if we truly believed and acted on the belief that each other’s life, hope, joys, needs, hurts, losses, and sorrow are as valid and important as our own?
- What if we created a place where everyone belonged – not that they were just tolerated or put up with – but that they really belonged and had a place, not just a place in the building but a place in our heart? And that we had a place in their heart?
- What if life really isn’t about you and me but we are to be about Life?
Maybe that’s what it means to eat and drink the bread and wine of communion. Sometimes that happen around the altar rail. Other times it happens at the dinner table, in our prayers, our reaching out in compassion to another, our acts of justice, our weeping for the pain of the world, our recognition of another human being as a child of God and our brother or sister in Christ.
Every time we live that communion life we are living large and larger than life – not because we individually did or accomplished something, and not because life is all about us, but because in that moment we were all about Life.
That’s how I want to live, don’t you?
There is no shortage of bread. Let’s not convince or deceive ourselves into believing that we’re just not hungry. (Adaptation of a quotation from Simone Weil)
So, hold up six finger because I’m going to ask it again. Is there Life within you? Is there Life within me?
Beautiful. Obviously the text is Eucharistic but your sermon helped expand on what Eucharistic translates into in our whole life, not just a weekly “snack”.
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You said it well, the Eucharist must be more than “a weekly ‘snack.'” Thank you for that.
Peace be with you,
Six times, or 6×6 times, It can never be too many times asking that essential question! Thank you for sharpening our focus and leading us gently into the truth and the light
It seems to me the biggest challenge these days is overcoming the multiple distractions thrown at us, which often feel urgent, and maintaining mindfulness of what is truly important.
For four questions I like to ask myself:
Who am I?
Why am I here?
What matters most?
What matters least?
Now I can ask a fifth question “is there Life in me right now?”
Thanks Mike! God bless and guide you!
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Jeff, thanks for sharing your questions. There are, as you note, many distractions and your questions keep us focused and, hopefully, hungry.
God’s peace be with you,
Fr. Mike: I always get so much from your writings, and this one, along with the other opinions, surely does make me appreciate TRUTH and all the different ways we find it. Thanks so much for your continued ministry with your church and all of us out here in ours! Pastor Helen
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Pastor Helen, thank you for reading my blog and for your encouraging words.
May God bless you and your ministry.
Peace be with you,