Your friend has not returned your call for three days. You know they are going through a difficult time, but now you are worried. Finally, you go to their house, but they do not come when you knock. You use the hidden key to enter the house, where you call your friends name. You are greeted with a muffled sob from the bedroom. You enter; the room is dark. There is your friend curled in a fetal position on the bed. Is this really your friend? What happened to the robust, jolly, hopeful person you knew? What do you say? What do you do?
Do you know this room? Have you been there to see a friend, or have you lived in that room yourself? This is a large room, large enough to hold many of us at one time or another. The name of the room is depression.
What do you do when you stumble into the room called depression? Our Old Testament reading offers some help. Listen to the remarkable story from the life of the prophet Elijah. Here are insights into that dark room. Depression can strike anyone. The stereotype that depressed people are old or poor is simply not true. In fact, some of the most powerful and successful people struggle with depression: Abraham Lincoln, Michelangelo, and Winston Churchill all suffered from depression.
One of depression’s most clever ambushes is to sneak attack, sometimes right after a great triumph or success. This was the case with Elijah. He had just experienced a high moment of success prompting a great revival of worship to God. It was a hero moment. Precisely at that moment of victory, he receives threats over his life causing him to collapse in fear and depression and begs God to let him die. So God found Elijah in his room of depression, and what does God do? God did not give him a blistering sermon, or a don’t worry-be happy pep talk. God sends an angel to offer Elijah something to eat. No sermon, no scolding, no guilt trips: just something to eat. Elijah ate and fell asleep.
Once again, God sends an angel to minister to him. Elijah felt strength return to make the final small step away from the gravitational pull of depression. Note how simple all of this is, no thunder or lightning. It’s the divine equivalent of a hug or a cup of soup. That’s the way God deals with us most of the time. It all seemed too ordinary, every day.
In the Gospel today we discover a similar situation. Those people following Jesus had prayed for a messiah. Now He stands in the midst of them and we hear them murmuring at the answers He is giving them. They have asked Him the significant question: so that we can put faith in you, what sign are you going to perform for us to see? They want to see miracles and wonders.
Jesus responds by telling them that He will perform the ultimate sign so that they can put their faith totally in Him. He will give them his own flesh and blood to eat so that they will have strength not only for the journey of this life, but for the journey of the life to come. Their response was rejection and outrage. They knew His parents, they knew his background, how can He make such a claim? So they walk away.
Their prayers for the Messiah had been answered, but they reject the response. The messiah they wanted had to come in a certain way, doing specific things for specific people. Jesus violated the expectations of His people. His words, I am the bread of life was too much for them, too strange. His manner of consorting with outcasts, sinners, and lepers was too repulsive. His background too lowly.
So they kept repeating their doubt rather than their faith. How can He claim to have come down from Heaven? How could they accept Him as He stood in the midst? After all, He is an ordinary carpenter’s son. Getting a free meal was alright and they were willing to follow Him for that, but, to claim to be God?! To give us His body, His blood: where were the mighty winds, the fires, the earthquakes?!
How hard it was for them, and perhaps for us, to accept a God who is not outside of us, but rather a God who is among us, and with us and in us. With Jesus, God bound Himself to us forever, in a new and permanent way. No more silences, no more distances, no more speaking to us from thunder or burning bushes. No more might or splendor, God now waits for us under simple signs of bread and wine.
At the end of His life, Jesus had a problem. He had to go, but He did not want to leave us alone. The solution could only come from the mind of God. He takes bread and wine and gives it to us as His body and blood. Now we can begin to understand some of the meaning, what He meant when He said, I am with you until the end of the world. Not over and above you, but with you and in you.
Do not look for God merely in the extraordinary. He is in our everyday life and comes to us in simplicity: bread and wine. But the Eucharist is not my private party, not just for Jesus and me, it is meant to build community so that we all become what we receive, the Body of Christ.
We who receive the Body of Christ should ask ourselves a question every now and again: does it make a difference? Does everyone who seeks the Lord find Him in you, or do they have to turn away and look for another?