There’s something about calamity that brings out the best in us. When disaster falls from the heavens we all rally round, pitch in, and do what we can with a focus and an energy that we look back on with amazement. Amazed at our own resources we didn’t know we had, or amazed at the hidden strength we muster from nowhere in one last ditch effort to move the immovable object. Yep: we are great in an emergency. Where we are lousy is in the long haul. When the crisis loses it’s glamour and becomes another circumstance and the once-in-a-lifetime Herculean effort becomes a daily grind.
Have you been watching “Survivor”? Have you seen how the exciting challenge of surviving the first nights has shifted into the struggle to endure another day of rice and rat and each other?
This is Elijah’s problem and it is ours. Standing up to Ahab and Jezebel, and the prophets of Ba’al, in an acute confrontation brought out all his nerve and all his showmanship and all his fervour but when the price is on his head and all he can do is run for his life then his feet in the desert sand slow from run to walk to lie down and die. Just one day’s trudging to nowhere and the thought of forty more are enough to ruin him.
Don’t we all have out moments when with Elijah our only prayer is “This is enough, God! This is enough! Just let it be over. Let it end. Let me die.” Whether it’s a thankless job, a chronic sickness, an abusive relationship, the desert of depression, or just one damned thing after another—we’ve known it, we know it. “Enough God! Let it be over!”
I don’t think God gets the response right. Remember Elijah’s God can pour down flame on a soaking pile of wood when it suits him, can humiliate the prophets of Ba’al, has been known to part the water of the sea into a wall on left and right. What about a bit of that now?
Nothing doing. All Elijah gets is a kick in the ribs from an angel. That and a loaf of bread. A loaf of bread, a jug of water, and an unwelcome word—”get up and eat and get on with it.” Not even a night’s fine dining on a cruise ship—bread and water.
Fast forward! There’s an heroic quality to the last supper as the other three gospels tell it. It’s Passover, the crisis is upon Jesus and his followers. There are enemies all around, a price on each head and choices to be made. In the middle of that Jesus takes bread and breaks it and shares it, makes the bread his body, makes himself the Passover offering and in one terrifying effort faces the hours of agony to come. It’s all done in a hurry. But it’s only done once.
When John tells the last supper story, though, he doesn’t mention bread broken at all. But here today and for Sundays to come he can’t shut up about bread; bread of life, living bread, bread from heaven. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” Jesus says, “and the bread that I give is my flesh for the life of the world.” But is it a good deal? Who wants bread except those Survivors? Who wouldn’t rather have miracles? Why can’t Elijah have be magically protected from his evil enemies? Why does he just get bread to keep him trudging through desert? Why don’t we find the end we pray for? Why is it all we get is eucharist?
“Enough God!” we pray, we plead, “End it!” but what we get is bread enough to go on. And that’s an awful test of faith. There’s a question posed every time we walk up to the table for bread and wine. And it’s not an easy one to answer. It’s this: in all your need and hope, in all your suffering and joy, in all of your hunger and thirst, is this enough? Enough. Is it? Is he?
And if that isn’t question and challenge enough for us there’s another one. The bread comes into our hands with words. “The body of Christ.” And those words name the bread but they also name us. Not as individuals but as the community who says Amen and eats. “This is my flesh for the life of the world.” We are his flesh for the life of the world. Are we enough? Enough for each other. Enough for the hungry, the hurt, the empty. Enough for another day. We don’t have to work miracles we just have to keep the world fed for another day. We just have to be enough.
August 10th, 2000