2 Kings 4.42-44; John 6.1-21
I’m sure everyone is sick of me talking about, but I love to do it. I have lost about 75 pounds in the last two years. The reason I talk about it so much is the simple fact that it is quite a feat to do so. It takes some hard work and some concentrated determination to hunker down and lose weight, not to mention good old-fashioned discipline.
What has been particular enlightening for me however has not only been what has gone on in me physically by my weight loss, but mentally and spiritually as well. Mentally, I have had to reexamine everything I understood about that simple, vital act of eating. I realized that most of us eat not when we’re hungry, but simply out of habit. Yes, we find that when have missed our habitual time to eat, our stomachs start to grumble and we find ourselves thinking inordinately about food, but that isn’t hunger necessarily. In fact, few, if any, of us know what real hunger is. Few of us have actually ever starved. And that’s a good thing. I am happy about that fact.
The point I’m making, however, is that most of us simply eat because we are scheduled to eat at certain times. It’s sort of wired into us. But we very rarely eat just because we’re hungry. As a result, I’ve learned, that most of us probably could survive very well and very healthily from less food than we actually consume.
The spiritual perspective I’ve gained from losing weight has been even more enlightening. To be honest, I had never given much thought to the fact that eating is a spiritual act.
For me, the best way to look at spiritual eating is in the light of that one event that holds us together here at St. Stephen’s, that sustains us and that, in many ways, defines us. I am, of course, speaking of the Holy Eucharist.
You have heard me say it many times before and you will hear me say it many times again, no doubt, but I am very firm believer in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist. I truly believe that Jesus is present in a very real and potent way in this Bread we eat and in this Wine we drink. Like any good Anglican, I am uncomfortable pinpointing exactly how this happens; I simply say that I believe it and that my belief sustains me.
With this view of the Eucharist in mind, it does cast a new light on our view of spiritual eating. Just as I said that we often eat food each day without thinking much about why we are eating, so too I think we often come to the table without much thought of what we are partaking of here at the altar. I have found, in my own spiritual life, that preparing for this meal we share is very helpful. It helps to remind me of the beauty and importance of this event we share.
One of the things I do is I fast before Holy Communion. Sometimes, especially on Wednesdays, I can’t fast all day before our 6:00 Mass, but in those instances, I do fast at least one hour beforehand. Even that one hour of fasting—of making sure that I don’t eat anything and don’t drink anything but water, really does help put me in mind of the importance of the Eucharist we share.
On Sundays, my fast begins the night before. For some of us, this wouldn’t be a wise thing to do, but I think even keeping to a simplified fast of eating less in the morning and nothing at least an hour before coming to Mass is helpful for most.
If nothing else, these fasts are great, intentional ways of making us more spiritually mindful of what we doing here at the altar.
In today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, we find Elisha feeding the people. We hear this wonderful passage, “”He set it before them,. they ate and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.”
In our Gospel reading, we find almost the same event, Jesus—in a sense the new Elisha—feeding miraculously the multitude.
What we partake of here at this altar is essentially the same event. Here Jesus feeds us as well. Here there is a miracle. here, we find Jesus—the new Elisha—in our midst, feeding us. And we eat. And there is some left over. The miracle, however, isn’t that there is some left over. The miracle for us is that what we eat is in fact Jesus himself. Jesus feeds us himself at this altar.
In this meal we share, we are sustained. We our strengthened. We are upheld. We are fed in ways regular food does not feed us.
In these last few years, as I shed the weight I carried with me, as I learned new ways to understand and appreciate food, I also found myself growing in my appreciation and devotion of the Holy Eucharist. This beautifully basic act—of eating and drinking—is so vital to us. But having Jesus sustain us in such a way is beyond beautiful or basic. It is miraculous. And as with any miracle, we find ourselves oftentimes either humbled or blind to its impact in our lives.
Let us be aware of this beauty that comes so miraculous to us each time we gather together here at this altar. At we approach this wonderful event, to feed of Jesus, whom we follow, let us listen to his voice speaking to us. Let us hear him say to us what he said in today’s Gospel: “It is I; do not be afraid.”