In the last week, we’ve heard that terrorist leaders in Indonesia and in Pakistan have been killed. Some people will be glad because the terrorist group will be leaderless, and their attacks will be reduced for a while. The terrorists will be enraged and looking for revenge, or they might be disheartened by the loss of their leader. But there will also be people who will mourn. The family and friends of these killed people will weep because they have lost someone they loved. Terrorists or not, Noordin Top and Baitullah Mehsud were people whom other people cared about.
The reading from the second book of Samuel is particularly appropriate then. It is the story of King David, when his son Absalom rebelled against him. You could almost say that Absalom set up a terrorist group against his father David.
David called out the army to deal with the problem. The leaders of the army were Joab, Abishai and Ittai and when David sent them out he asked them to spare his son’s life. “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” The scribe writing the story says that all the people heard David saying this.
The battle went against Absalom and he was chased through the forest. But his head caught in a tree and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And we hear that Joab ignored David’s orders and killed Absalom. Joab considered that Absalom was no more than a terrorist and deserved to die. Joab was the king’s soldier and the king’s soldiers’ task is to kill the king’s enemies. So Absalom was killed.
The messenger thought that he was taking good news to David because the chief terrorist was now dead, but David wept and mourned because Absalom was his son. David loved his son, whether he was a terrorist or not. David wept for Absalom like their families wept for Noordin Top and Baitullah Mehsud.
Now the whole point of the story is not Absalom’s wickedness, or Joab’s disobedience, the point is that David loved his son and would rather have died instead of him. If Absalom had not been killed, David would have forgiven him a thousand times. No loving parent would want their children to be killed, no matter what the children had done. David was a loving parent and did not want his children killed.
We call God a loving parent. We usually call God “Our Father in heaven” but it doesn’t matter if you call God father or mother – the point is that God is a loving parent to all of us and does not want any of us to be killed, no matter what we have done.
King David said, “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son.”
I think that this thought is in the heart of God, too. St John in his gospel teaches us that Jesus, God’s Word in human form, was God coming into the world, not to kill or condemn, but to give life. Where King David said, “If only I could have died instead of you, my son.” God has come to us in Jesus Christ to share our death so that we can share God’s life.
This is a really hard thing to understand and it’s even more difficult to explain. I have just been reading a book which says we only know God is true through our experience of God.
In John’s gospel, Jesus uses a piece of everyday life, a piece of everyday experience so that people will know what God means to us.
Jesus said, “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread that came down from heaven, so that you may eat of it and not die. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
We all know that the bread that came down from heaven is nothing like a loaf of Wonderwhite dropping out of the clouds. We all know that however much bread of any kind that we eat we will eventually die; of old age, we hope. And we all know that the bread that Jesus is talking about has got nothing to do with eating human flesh. And the eternal life that Jesus promises to those who believe is to be enjoyed today, now, as much as it will be enjoyed when we are raised up on the last day.
What Jesus is talking about is a feast, a banquet, an ordinary meal shared with friends. It can be a fifteen course banquet with cake and sweets or it can be a tiny scrap of dry bread dipped in wine. The whole purpose of this feast is to bring people together in community. The whole purpose of Jesus Christ is to bring people together in community. The community is to be lifegiving, wholesome, exciting, wonderful, kind, loving, generous, supportive and unifying, making people one in Christ. When Jesus describes himself as heavenly bread he means that he is the community, he is the conversation, he is the host, he is the feast itself, he is the laughter and tears that we share, he is the life which we have and he is the death which we will die one day.
What we do on Sunday or at any Eucharist is to remind ourselves what Jesus means to us. The rest of the time we should be living that meaning. Jesus says to us, “Here, I am the bread of heaven, I am the way and the truth and the life. Now, just as God and I are one in life and love, you go out and be one with all the world in life and love.
Poor King David! He would have died instead of Absalom. But nobody can live someone else’s life or die their death. Not even God. God can’t live our lives for us, but even better. God is already part of our lives and yearns for us to part of the life of God. And not just life, but life, death and everything else.