Ask the average American kid what his favorite food is, and he’s likely to say, “pizza.” Ask Fr. Charles what his favorite food is, and he’s likely to say the same. Actually, I do have other favorite foods. I love sautéed mushrooms, which, providentially, I discovered while consuming a pizza topped with mushrooms. And, under the tutelage of my wife I’ve learned the pleasures of garlic (which is often served as garlic bread – along with pizza).
But my favorite food of all time is none of these. My favorite food, and the only one I never get tired of eating, is Jesus Christ, my daily bread. Though we have no continuing city here (verse 14) and we are pilgrims in this life, as we wander through the Wilderness of Sin, God faithfully feeds us with Jesus Christ every day. Jesus Christ is our daily bread, our manna, which God miraculously provides every day, but like the Israelites in the wilderness, we must go out and seek the manna, gather enough of it, and eat it if we are to survive.
Sometimes, like the Israelites, we don’t like the food God gives us, and we shove our plates away and turn up our noses (I think this is why they were called the children of God). Actually, we’ve been doing this ever since the Garden of Eden. We get tired of the food that God gives us, and we want what we want, being ungrateful for what He has faithfully and lovingly provided. We ought to never tire of eating Jesus Christ faithfully every day, and yet we do.
There was one brief, moment, where I actually did reach the point where I had almost had enough of pizza, after working a summer at Pizza Hut and having a personal pizza every day. But I should never tire of eating Jesus Christ. And yet I do. I think one of the reasons we do is that we don’t realize that He offers Himself to us in many ways every day, but we only want Him when He comes in certain forms. We will gladly have Him when He comes with whatever pleases us, but when He comes lowly, and carrying a Cross that He is delivering for us today, we act like we’re not home.
Sometimes, we need to be more imaginative in seeing the number of ways that we can eat Jesus Christ every day. When the Israelites ate manna in the wilderness every day for 40 years, I’ll bet they got pretty creative in the ways they prepared the manna, just like the inhabitants of Gilligan’s Island did with their coconuts. They probably had baked manna, boiled manna, raw manna, and fried manna; manna soup, manna stew, and manna mush; and no doubt they discovered manna bread, mannacakes, and manna cream pie.
In Hebrews 13, the writer of Hebrews reminds us that all Christians are the priests of God. We have a Temple in which we serve, which is Jesus Christ Himself and His Body, the Church. We have an Altar at which we serve, which is Jesus Christ Himself, and we have a holy sacrifice of which we are commanded to partake or eat, and that, too, is Jesus Christ. And we must faithfully be participants of Jesus Christ by faithfully partaking of His sacrifice at His table or altar.
If we want to have access to our High Priest and to heaven, then we need to partake of His heavenly sacrifice, which is our spiritual food. And that food is Jesus Christ Himself. How is it that we, as priests of God, can partake of the sacrifice of the altar?
I, personally, don’t go out in the backyard every morning and evening or every time I sin and slaughter a lamb or bull or goat (actually, my family would probably be below the sacrificial poverty line and qualify for the special discount and only have to offer a bird instead). But we partake of the altar of Christ when we partake of the sacrifice, which is Jesus Christ Himself.
Jesus Christ offers Himself to us every day as our heavenly food, by which we are strengthened and encouraged so that we remain faithful and do not forsake Him. There are many ways to eat Jesus Christ every day, and we must learn to see and use them all, for we are to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8). We are, of course, to eat Jesus Christ every time that we come to His Word. Too often, when we read the Word of God, we come to study and examine, as if we are window shopping. But God wants us to eat Him by ingesting His Word. My favorite collect from the Book of Common Prayer is the one for the 2nd Sunday in Advent in which we are encouraged to “hear, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s Word.
Jesus Christ offers Himself to us as our heavenly food most dramatically and powerfully in His Supper, in which He is the Host, the House, and the Food. We must carefully feed off Him in this way. And, of course, we feed off Jesus Christ every time we come before Him with faith in prayer. Every time we pray, we are petitioning our High Priest and are, in essence, asking permission to partake of His sacrifice that He has offered for us.
By Jesus Christ, we are to continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God (verse 15). Isn’t it astounding to know that something so joyful and delightful as singing the praises of God is a way of sacrificing to Him and a way of eating Jesus Christ! If this is the food of God, I’ll have another helping!
By Jesus Christ we are also to continually offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving (verse 15). Most of us know that when we receive our earthly food, we are to thank God for it. But God is continually feeding us in many ways throughout the day, but we refuse to give thanks. Far from giving thanks for the life that God has given us, and all that is in our lives, we refuse the food of God and turn our noses up in disgust. We take our spiritual forks and carefully pick out the mushrooms and broccoli and onions that God has served us, and eat only what pleases us. We are glad to receive the things that bring happiness in our lives, but anything that displeases our taste we feel free to reject.
For this reason, the writer of Hebrews reminds us to “be content with such things as you have” (13:5), for godliness with contentment is great gain (I Timothy 6:6). Thanksgiving is a sacrifice to God, but discontent and grumbling (imitating the Israelites) is a sacrifice only to ourselves and will lead us away from God and into famine and death.
Love itself is also a sacrifice and participation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (verse 16). Love brings us back to the sacrifice of obedience, for love is the whole of the Law and Prophets, and if we love God, we will obey Him. By loving, we are also potentially feeding others Jesus Christ.
Though the writer of Hebrews doesn’t mention suffering in Chapter 13, it is another excellent way of partaking of Jesus Christ and therefore eating Him and being united with Him. When we accept our suffering from God and are content with it and use it as a means to be united to Jesus Christ and His suffering, then it is food indeed.
These, then, are some of the ways that you, as a priest of God, have a right to partake of the altar and sacrifice of Jesus Christ: hearing and obeying His Word, eating His Body and drinking His Blood, obeying the will of the Father and loving, praising God, giving thanks to Him and being content, and suffering with Him.
God has spread out a daily feast for you, which is Jesus Christ Himself. Come: all has been made ready!
Prayer: Father, I earnestly desire Your fatherly goodness, mercifully to accept my sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving today. By the merits and death of Your Son Jesus Christ, and through faith in His Blood, may I obtain remission of my sins and all other benefits of His Passion. Here I offer myself to you as a holy and living sacrifice, humbly begging You to make me a worthy partaker of Jesus Christ today, in all of the ways He offers Himself to me. Through Jesus Christ my Lord, Amen.
Point for Meditation:
1. Sing “Father, We Thank Thee Who Hast Planted” (195), “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” (197), “My God, Thy Table Now is Spread” (203) “Shepherd of Souls, Refresh and Bless” (213) or some other suitable hymn. [These numbers refer to page numbers in the 1940 Episcopal Hymnal.]
2. Meditate on one way in which you have a deficient spiritual diet of eating Jesus Christ. What is one way of partaking of Him that you are not as faithfully seeking as you should?
Resolution: I resolve to order one item from God’s menu of how to feed off His Son (refer to the list in the 2nd to last paragraph).
© 2013 Fr. Charles Erlandson