For almost twenty years, our family has had camping holidays. It has been both an enjoyable and an affordable way of having time away from the demands of parish duties with a growing family. We prefer dry weather, but have camped in all seasons - making ourselves comfortable, whatever the weather. We tell ourselves that this tent is our own bit of real estate, our own home.
Near us at Bulimba was a family who exchanged their suburban home for a boat. Its draught was too great to enable them to get shelter in many places up and down the coast in stormy weather - they just had to ride out the rough weather at sea. During their first year the boat capsized on four occasions. Clothes, food everything was wet. They couldn't "go home". This was their home - they had nowhere else to go.
When the modern state of Israel was formed in 1948, the surrounding Arab nations attacked to drive the Jews into the sea. The fledgling state survived with an increased area. The same result has ensued on each successive occasion when they have been attacked. The most notable example was the Six-Day War in June 1967 during which Israel gained Jerusalem and the West Bank, the strategic Golan Heights, the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula (since given back to Egypt). Asked the secret of their success, an Israeli official replied, "We have a secret weapon - we have nowhere else to go!"
I recall a conversation with a bright young Hindu law student. "There are many ways to God," he was insisting. He was quite willing to acknowledge Jesus as one of those ways - but only one of many.
Jesus, of course, made exclusive claims. He said, on a later occasion, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one goes to the Father except by me" (Jn 14.6).
In today's reading, the disciples themselves were coming to this realisation. Many of his followers "turned back and would not go with him any more" (6.66). They found his teaching "too hard" - in the sense of what he was expecting of them. So Jesus said to the twelve, "And you - would you also like to leave?" Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God" (vv. 67-69).
"The words that give eternal life" - nowhere else to go! No need to search any further! Here is the one to believe in, the one to trust our life to, the one to "rest our whole weight on".
Here is the true Bread of life. But - have you noticed? - a loaf of bread, not matter how wonderful it looks and smells, only fulfils its purpose when it is broken. This Bread of life too will be broken. Jesus makes it graphically clear that the Bread is not his miracles, his teaching or even his lifestyle. He himself is the Bread and his physical life will be given for them - his very flesh and blood. They will have to receive into their very being what he is going to do for them.
This is what was such an offence to them. They understood well enough that Jesus wasn't calling them to cannibalism. He was giving himself to them, his very life to them. He wasn't talking about the sacrament of Holy Communion either, though that sacrament sets out very graphically our need to receive the redemptive work of Christ into our very being. It is Christ himself whom we are to "feed upon in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving," as one of the old orders expressed it. Then we live in Christ and he lives in us (v. 56).
Today is Palm Sunday. As we move towards Good Friday and Easter, it is good that we reflect on "the life of Christ - uniquely lived, given for you".
Who is this Jesus, for whose birth the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!" (Lk. 2.14)?
Who is this Jesus, who taught as no one else had taught, who lived out a life of love and care for others?
Who is the Jesus, who called the four fishermen, "Come with me, and I will teach you to catch people" (Mt. 4.19)?
Who is this Jesus, who invites all who hear him, "Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11.28)?
Who is this Jesus, whom the crowds welcomed into Jerusalem, "Hosanna! God bless him who comes in the name of the Lord! God bless the King of Israel!" (Jn 12.13)?
Who is this Jesus, rejected, yet, even as he suffered the slow and painful death by crucifixion, could pray, "Forgive them, Father! They don't know what they are doing" (Lk. 23.34)?
Who is this Jesus, whose body is no longer in the grave, of whom the angels said, "He is not here; he has risen!" (Lk. 24.6 NIV)?
The unique life of Christ was given for us and he is alive for us! The real Bread of life - broken, available for our deepest need!
How do we respond to him? "A loaf of bread, not matter how wonderful it looks and smells, only fulfils its purpose when it is broken". Jesus did not come to be a divine decoration in our human history. The real Bread of life was broken for us. But a loaf of bread can only fulfil its purpose when it is eaten.
The living Christ invites us to believe in him, to welcome him and to live for him. Receive him now - and offer him to others in our hungry world!