Listen and Eat
Nineteenth Sunday of the Year. Fr Colin Carr finds in today’s readings a key to the relationship between the scriptures and the Eucharist.
Elijah was a brave prophet who tried to get the people of Israel, and their faithless king Ahab, to come back to worship of the true God. Single-handedly he had staged a contest with 400 prophets of Ba’al to see whose God would produce fire to burn up a sacrificial bull. He had won – or at least the true God of Israel had won. It was a great triumph. But afterwards his morale slumped, because Jezebel the queen, who was a Ba’al supporter, threatened him with revenge.
So he fled to the south of the country where it borders on the wilderness, and that is where we pick him up in today’s reading, wishing he were dead. Everything is hopeless, he has no energy and no hope; and that is where God meets him. An angel – a creature out of the ordinary scheme of things – wakes him up to eat a scone which wasn’t there before. It’s baked on the hot stones beside him, and in the strength of that food he goes all the way to Horeb, which is another name for Sinai, the place where God originally made a covenant with the people of Israel. He took forty days and forty nights for the journey, which reminds us of the forty years that the people of Israel, escaping from Egypt, took to reach their promised land.
The faithful God, who has not forgotten his covenant, even though everything seems to have gone pear-shaped, meets his loyal servant Elijah when he’s down and hopeless, and gives him the strength, with a heavenly scone, to go back to the source of his faith, the mountain of Horeb where God had taught Israel what God is like and how to live as God’s people.
Jesus too was the teacher who fed his people with miraculous bread, and taught them about the Father. Jesus is the teacher who not only teaches us the truth but gives us himself as the bread which takes us to the truth.
No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me.
To hear the teaching of the Father and learn from it, is to come to me.
He is willing to teach the truth to those who are willing to be drawn to him – to be moved from where they are to where they will find truth. Sometimes we can only be moved if we are, like Elijah, deeply unhappy with the way things are, and are longing for a change.
When we come to Mass, we both hear God’s word and are fed with the bread of Christ’s flesh – and those are not two separate events, such that we can say, “The important part of the Mass is the Eucharistic liturgy, and it doesn’t matter if you miss the readings and the sermon.” Both the hearing and the communion are the Eucharistic liturgy, and it is plain wrong to say that one is more important than the other. We begin Mass with the penitential rite, and unless we are in the frame of mind that says “I want to be changed”, we will not be ready to hear Christ and receive him. The bread he gives us is the food of travellers, the food of those willing to move, to be changed by him.
Because, in the end, the God by whom we are taught is the God who gives us, not just words which are accurate, but his own self. When a really truthful person talks to us we know that they are not just speaking words, they are sharing their very selves with us. Their word is their bond; they stand by what they say, they are what they say. And that is what God is like. To receive communion without listening to his word is superstition; to hear his word without desiring communion is mere brain-games. To hear him and to be fed by him is life – eternal life.
When I was looking up something in my Bible while preparing this sermon, I came across a card with the following prayer on it:
Look graciously upon us, Holy Spirit
And send us for our hallowing
Thoughts which pass into prayer,
Prayer which passes into love,
And love which passes into life with you for ever.