March 25, 2020 by Tim O’Connor
“I am the bread of life…For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.” John 6:48, 55-56
My twenty-something year-old children, temporarily apartment-bound, are suddenly enthusiastic about bread. With people everywhere in ‘lockdown’ mode, they are learning the art of making good bread and delighting in consuming it. So this text from today’s Gospel reading naturally caught my eye.
Jesus’s teaching in John’s Gospel is suffused with signs and symbols. Jesus turns vital material realities for his agrarian society – water, bread, light, gates, shepherds, and vines – into symbols of his relation to us. “The bread of life” is an especially intimate depiction of how we must relate to him. It tells us that eternal life is a dynamic process akin to metabolism. Just as we must take in food each day to replenish our biological needs, so we must regularly take in Jesus – the Word of God, God with us – in order that we might be spiritually replenished. As we cannot be biologically alive for very long without continued food, we cannot be eternally alive without feeding anew on Jesus.
Here we immediately think of times of individual and corporate worship and prayer, shaped by the understanding that comes from reading and reflecting on God’s word – and these are indeed of first importance. But in this time of disrupted life rhythms, we have an opportunity to consider also that saints of old have testified that a more continuous nourishment is possible while we go about the tasks and other activities of life, through ‘practicing the presence of God.’ God is present to us wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Because we are bound by our bodies to particular times and locations, when we think of God as being with us, it is natural to vaguely imagine God as hovering somewhere over our shoulder, accompanying us as we explore our material world. But the reality is that as we go, He is already there to meet us: He is present everywhere, sustaining all things at every moment. “You hem me in, behind and before…” (Ps 139:5) And so we should consider that when we act on our world in any way – doing the dishes, clearing yard debris, fixing a clogged drain, processing a client’s work order over a computer – we are in reality co-acting with God. He was there before us, holding together those things we act upon along with all other things.
These mundane chores can also be means of God’s life-giving power to us if done receptively, acknowledging his life-sustaining presence in them and completing them in a desire to do His will. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote that ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ He went on to prod us, as poets do, to notice particular things, each of which expresses that grandeur. In that, Hopkins was echoing our Lord: many material things readily symbolize our life in Him. In the days ahead, when we look at a loaf of fresh-baked bread with eager anticipation, or even a tired bit of leftover casserole in the back of the fridge, let our thoughts be reflexively drawn to the real food Jesus is offering us, at that very moment.