Step by Step
May 6, 2017
An exploration of John 6
By Rev. John W. Nupp
The Appalachian Trail runs for 2200 miles, from Georgia to Maine. Only a small sliver of the AT cuts through our Annual Conference, just about 45 miles of trail winding through Harpers Ferry across the Potomac then heading along South Mountain. This distance may sound small to those living in the DC area, whose average daily commute may exceed 50 miles per day. But consider crossing 50 miles with all the supplies that you need in a backpack. Using the typical rules of hiking, you should allow for 3 mph, or 2 mph with a pack. At that speed, maybe it’s not that different from commuting around DC after all!
And when we cannot take another step, when we have come to the end of ourselves, let this be the blood of Christ, flowing through us. When our single life is too weak, too insufficient, too limited to carry on, let this become the body of Christ, alive around us.
Whether we are hiking up the trail or driving down the road of life, the real issue is not our speed but our intention. There is a real difference between those traveling through life as tourists and those who take to the trail as pilgrims, between the day hikers enjoying the scenery and those truly committed — the “through-hikers” who are in for the long haul. That Trail Mix for sale at the gas station is not just for snacking while you are stuck in traffic. You will need that—and a lot more—if you are dedicated to the journey.
Some people see themselves as spiritual tourists, seeking a glimpse of God or just a taste of Jesus, maybe a selfie with the Spirit along the road. But some have come to rely on God for more, for the very essence of life itself.
By the time crowds have come to Jesus to hear him speak about the offer of Bread from Heaven, he has already fed more than 5,000 people. Jesus accurately points out that many have come seeking another fast food meal. Who could blame them? But Jesus encourages them (and us) to hunger for more — “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…” (see John 6:27). How do we interpret this command?
This is not an easy word to hear, to understand, or to practice. By the time Jesus gets to the end of this message, he has alienated most of the crowd. Only the most desperate disciples remain. They know they will need provisions like food and water, yes, but they are learning from Jesus to rely on something even more substantive, something somehow even more reliable and eternal: his words. Peter confesses that these are the words of eternal life (John 6:68).
At one level, this sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? I mean, does Jesus really expect us to live on his words? But just think about this: the bread eaten by the 5,000 is long gone, but we are still digesting what Jesus said that day. The fresh fish from the Sea of Galilee is gone, but we simply open up our Bibles (or our phones or tablets) and find an eternally life-giving word from our Savior, ready to nourish us for this day, this moment! Amazing, isn’t it?
Our Savior is so amazing that, even when those through-hikers could not reach the end of the trail; when they turned him in, when they turned away and ran, when they denied even knowing who he was, he was faithful to the very end. Through the trials, through the cross, through the tomb, Jesus persevered for us. On that very night he was betrayed, he offered the Bread, broken. On the eve of his persecution and death, he offered the fruit of the Vine, crushed.
Take it in. Take it all in. This is our food, this is our sustenance, this is our source of life for the long haul. And when we cannot take another step, when we have come to the end of ourselves, let this be the blood of Christ, flowing through us. When our single life is too weak, too insufficient, too limited to carry on, let this become the body of Christ, alive around us.
We are not alone. We are One. One with God through the gift of life in Christ; one with each other through new life in the Spirit; one in ministry, in self-less service to all the world, to all in this world, for the sake of Christ. Take it in. Take in Jesus’ life, his body, this Bread of Life. Not just for yourself, but for the sake of that one next to you, who needs to hear the eternal words again.
Let this be the mark of Jesus’ life in you: the Intake of his word. If prayer gives feet to our faith — causing us to walk after Christ — then it is through the Word of Christ that we are nourished. Those who hunger after Christ find strength in the written word of Scripture and in the fleshed-out word of the Sacrament. We feast on Christ, so that we may take in the life of Christ for the journey he calls us to take with him.