Just as “Lady Liberty” is a powerful image for the USA, so in the reading from Proverbs 9:1-6, there is the vivid image of divine wisdom as a woman who calls to us to eat her bread and drink her wine. It is striking that there is a strong feminine element in this picture of divine wisdom. The feminine is also used in the word for Holy Spirit in the Hebrew. God is described as motherly at points both in the Hebrew and in the words of Jesus. So we can see that the description of God ranges between male and female in the Holy Scriptures.
Life, like love, does not reside in the isolated particular and individual, but in the corporate and the union. Life and love can be found in a special understanding of “eating” each other; of cherishing and being nourishing of the other and being nourished by one another.
Feminine leaders appeared throughout the Christian Calendar, including this very week. We had St Clare (the contemporary of St Francis of Assisi) who founded the Order of the Poor Clares. Furthermore, there was Florence Nightingale who was so influential in promoting health care. Also, yesterday we celebrated the feast of St Mary the Virgin, the woman whose faith provided the avenue for God to give to us the living bread of Jesus Christ.
There are good women in our lives that have given us “living bread”, are there not? The strong figure of Ursula Iguaran battles to hold the Buendia family together in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ great book One Hundred Years of Solitude. Perhaps for us she or they may be a mother, a sibling, a daughter, a teacher, or a spouse. We may have been nourished in different ways by them, including in love, in education, in health care, or at their table inter alia. Take a moment to think of an example in your own life.
Just as there are good men and wicked men, so of course there are wicked women other than the good ones. In the Bible for example we find Queen Jezebel (who persecuted the Prophet Elijah) and also Herodias (who executed John the Baptist). In Shakespeare’s play there is Queen Macbeth who murdered the king. We sometimes see sad cases on the TV. So the female (like the male) can be either positive or negative, corresponding to the tradition of “Two Ways”. In Proverbs chapter 9 we are urged to follow not the wicked woman (or person), but rather, to eat the bread and drink the wine of the divine and nourishing woman (or person).
These words are taken up and repeated by Jesus in John 6:51-58 – where he says that eating his flesh is the living, divine bread, the channel of God’s grace. Eating the bread of Holy Communion is therefore a literal and concrete avenue of us receiving God’s grace. That’s what we mean by a sacrament. We receive the sacrament of Holy Communion daily or weekly because of the words of Jesus, as in the prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread.” There is an ambiguity in the vertical and the horizontal. Is the sense of (life giving daily) communion as divine communion? Or is communion as human communion? Or is it both divine and human communion?
Certainly, the action of the bread of the Holy Communion is not mechanical. Baptism may be the other one of the two chief sacraments, but forcible baptism in history is surely not an avenue of God’s grace. The sacraments require a certain attitude within our hearts to become effective channels of God’s grace. In receiving the Holy Communion, we are told to receive it while (a) remembering the story of Jesus, (b) resting in him in faith, and (c) filled with an attitude of thanksgiving. Some similar attitude must be present in our human attitudes too — remembering, believing, and being grateful.
When we see a doctor, and receive medicine, we must not leave the medicine in the bathroom cabinet. For the medicine to be effective, we must take it and receive trustingly. A mother may prepare wonderful food, but for it to be effective the family must respond to her call to the table, and take and receive the food with gratitude.
So we must not ignore but respond to the call of Jesus; must know and remember his story receive this bread as the body of Christ in faith and gratitude… Then our gospel text says that we have eternal life within us, God’s healing power within us, which is a wonderful, wonderful thing. It is food that unites us with God (and other people) just as Jesus himself was in union with God and the world.