‘Oh, come to the water all you who are thirsty; though you have no money, come! Buy corn without money, and eat, and, at no cost, wine and milk.” This joyful proclamation of salvation – in effect, an invitation to a feast – was in stark contrast to the devastation visited on Israel at the fall of Jerusalem and the consequent years of Babylonian exile. For the second time in their long history God’s People had become strangers in a foreign land. They had lost all sense of belonging. As they sat by the Rivers of Babylon and wept, God’s sustaining presence had become a fading memory.
There will be times when we, like the Israelites of old, will feel like strangers in a foreign land. Sometimes this will be due to changing circumstances. At other times it will be an inexplicable emptiness of heart, a nameless hunger longing for satisfaction.
For the Prophet Isaiah, this hunger became the door to salvation. His invitation speaks to the unresolved emptiness in every life: “Listen, listen to me and you will have good things to eat and rich food to enjoy. Pay attention, come to me; listen, and your soul will live.”
The invitation comes with a gentle warning: “Why spend money on what is not bread, your wages on what fails to satisfy?” Sadly, we can squander something more important than wages or money. We can surrender our very selves, the energy of heart and soul, to what can never last and which satisfies no more than the passing moment.
Christ came as the fulfilment of Isaiah’s promised banquet. He seeks us out in the loneliness and emptiness of our hearts. “When evening came, the disciples went to him and said, ‘This is a lonely place, and the time has slipped by; so send the people away and they can go to the villages to buy themselves some food.”
The disciples recognised both the hunger of the multitude and their own inability to feed that hunger. They were resigned to both, failing to realise that they stood in the presence of the Christ who alone could satisfy the hunger of the multitude. Where Christ had wished to gather the people to himself, they had wished to dismiss them unfed.
Despite the disciples’ protests, Jesus took the little they had raised his eyes to heaven, and blessed the five loaves and two fish. What had been blessed and broken was distributed to the crowd. They all ate as much as they wanted. The banquet of Christ’s presence had begun.
Day by day we come to the Eucharist from the loneliness of fractured and divided lives. We come as the poor in spirit. In Christ, despite our many differences, we become one. His presence sustains and feeds us, and, in that Eucharistic Communion, we begin to feed each other. We are no longer strangers in a foreign land.
In the simplicity of bread and wine, blessed, broken and poured out, we celebrate that communion with Christ so beautifully described by St Paul: “For I am certain of this: neither life nor death, nothing that exists, nothing still to come, can ever come between us and the love of God made visible in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
In the Eucharist we hear afresh Isaiah’s invitation: “Come to the water all you who are thirsty.”