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Bread of Heaven, Bread of Life

Today I had the opportunity to speak from God’s word to God’s people today. What an awesome experience and responsibility. it’s one thing to read scripture and to discern meaning for myself and my life. It is totally different to discern and seek to bring truth to a community of people. Definitely not a responsibility to take lightly. Anyways, our community follows the lectionary so this reflection was mostly on the gospel (John 6: 35, 41-51 [I think…I may have to edit this post later]) and I tied in Ephesians 5:1-2 (the paragraph before was also read). Anyways people who weren’t able to make it to the service have asked me to share it so here’s the sermon. I have editted out any identifying information as I have taken steps to keep this blog from identifying those in my story who are not yet ready to be implicated in this story.

The Bread of Life: Christ as the Source and Sustainer of Life

Setting the stage

            In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand. Jesus sought some time alone with His disciples, but a great crowd had followed them. With a boy’s donation of five small barley loaves and two fish, Jesus fed the crowd of five thousand people. Each person was invited to eat their fill, and when all had had enough to eat, the disciples gathered the leftovers – twelve baskets full. Having seen this and other miraculous signs, the crowd was convinced that this was the great Prophet who was to come into the world. We read in John 6 verse 15 that the people intended to make Jesus their king by force. And who wouldn’t want to make Jesus king? He healed the sick and fed the crowds! But Jesus withdrew, not allowing himself to be swept by the passion of the crowds.

The crowds were persistent though. They travelled first to where Jesus fed the masses. And when they did not find Jesus there, they continued to search for him. And when they found Jesus in Capernaum, they had questions for him: Rabbi, when did you get here? What must we do to do the works God requires? What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What would you do?

For the Jewish people, this miraculous feeding had much meaning. In the Old Testament, the people relied daily on God’s providence of manna in the wilderness. Each day, they would go out and collect their fill. They were commanded to collect only what they needed for themselves and for their families. If they harboured more than what they needed for the day, the extra would be spoiled. Here we see an interesting twist in that Jesus invited the people to eat to their fill and they collect the extra so that it not be wasted, speaking perhaps of the abundant life that God offers through Jesus. The fact that the Jewish people were willing to ask Jesus for a sign in reference to how Moses provided to the ancestors seems to show that they were at least willing to put Jesus in the same camp as Moses. They held Moses in high esteem – and wanted to know if perhaps Jesus was the ‘Moses’ of their day.

But the answer that Jesus gave was not a popular one.

Jesus first corrected their understanding of the manna in the desert. It was not Moses, but God who gave the bread from heaven. And the true bread of God was not for just the Jews, but for the whole world. And the bread that God sends does not simply provide sustenance for the day, but gives life.

So far so good? The crowds respond, “Sir, always give us this bread!”

Jesus – the Bread of Heaven

Then Jesus makes what would have been an audacious-sounding claim: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” For the Jewish audience, ‘bread’ had a symbolic as well as literal meaning. Bread often referred to the Torah or the law that God had given through Moses. Jesus was not claiming to be on par with Moses, the agent through which God gives life-sustaining bread. Rather, Jesus was claiming to BE that bread – to be what gives and sustains life to not just the Jews but to the whole world.

It is no wonder that the crowds began to grumble amongst themselves. Who is this person who claims to be the bread that came down from heaven? The crowds knew Joseph and Mary – the carpenter and the young girl who got pregnant out of wedlock – how could their son Jesus claim to be from heaven? How could he equate himself with Torah?

But Jesus does not back down from making claims of truth that would surely offend his listeners. He tells them to quit their grumbling. 

No one can come to Jesus unless His Father who sent him draws them.

Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him, comes to Jesus.

No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God.

Jesus makes it very clear that relationship with God the Father comes through relationship with Jesus. And it is God who draws people to him, through Jesus.

And if that wasn’t enough, Jesus then says “whoever believes has eternal life”. Jesus, instead of giving the people some magical sign that legitimizes His authority and would satisfy their desire to crown him King, claims that He is the source of life – in this world and beyond. That he is the living bread that comes down from heaven. And the bread that he offers is far better than the manna in the dessert for all who eat of it will live forever.

Hard words for a crowd who was obviously looking for completely different answers! Indeed, we are told that the Jews immediately began to argue sharply amongst themselves and that many of those who were following Jesus turned back at this moment and no longer followed him.

The Bread of Life – grace and response

            Here in this passage, we see the tension between God’s grace and our response. Just as God gave bread in the wilderness and fed the crowds only days before, Jesus makes it clear that God offers us abundant life through the bread of Heaven, the body of Christ. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus claims to have come that they may have life – and have it to the full (John 10:10)! The beauty of this passage is that Jesus freely offers this life to all of us. I think it is key to notice that the crowds never came to Jesus for this bread of life – they wanted a sign, they wanted Jesus to fit into the box of who they wanted Him to be. But they weren’t coming to Jesus because they were hungry, or recognized that God alone through Jesus could satisfy their hunger. And yet, this life-giving bread has come down from heaven for all who are hungry. This gift of abundant life is lavished upon us and this gift – freely given – is not dependent on our own knowing that we need this bread.

And yet, simply seeking out this bread of life is not enough – we must also eat of it. Indeed, the crowds had gone to great lengths to find Jesus after being fed from the loaves and fishes. And yet, ultimately, the left Jesus spiritually empty because they could not fathom that Jesus was the bread that would give them life. We must recognize that our deepest longings and hunger is for God alone. And just as our physical bodies need continued replenishing, so must our hearts be continuously fed by God. We must continually meet God in the quiet, in the Scriptures and in community. The table is set, the bread is prepared – and we must come and eat. May we come hungry, and falling on our knees, offering all we are. May we – though broken and empty – eat of the bread that restores our lives echoing the words of the songs we sang earlier – “Jesus, you’re all this heart is living for” and “All I want is You”.

Today, as we celebrate the Eucharist, we break bread to share in the body of Christ. We look each other in the eye and say “the Body of Christ, broken for you”. We come, and we eat, and we are filled. But what is this abundant life to which we are called through feasting on the bread of Heaven? The life that Jesus offers is not merely a perpetual feasting. Rather, it is a life in which we are sent – sent to follow the example of Christ, to give ourselves as a fragrant offering and sacrifice.

As mentioned earlier, bread had a double meaning for the Jews – a very practical one as the sustenance of their life but also it held a link to Torah, the law given to the Jews. Our epistle reading reminds us of the ‘new Torah’ so to speak to which we are called: “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice” (Ephesians 5:2). The Greek word used in this passage is a lot stronger than merely follow – it means to imitate Christ in every aspect of our lives. We are invited not to just partake in a meal, but to partake in way of life. John later describes this life as a life in which Jesus’ joy may be in us and that our joy may be complete in Him (John 15:11).

The disciples may not have understood the full meaning of Jesus’ teaching at the time. But at the end of John’s gospel, we are given another story that involves feeding. Jesus appeared to some of his disciples after He had risen from the dead and invited them to eat breakfast with him. Through that meal, their eyes were opened to the fact that they were eating with Jesus, their Lord. And after they have finished eating, Jesus turns to Peter and calls him to care for his people.

I believe the call given to Peter at the end of John’s gospel is for us today as we come to eat at the table and to be filled with the love, grace and peace that is so lavishly and freely poured out into our lives. It is a call not only to be fed through the Bread of Heaven but also to be sent out into the world. The words of Christ speak to us – right here, right now:

My friends – do you love me? Feed my lambs.

My friends – do you love me? Take care of my sheep.

My friends – do you love me? Feed my sheep.

 And so, today, as we come to the table hungry and yearning, may we eat of the bread that sustains us and gives us eternal life. May we go from this table into a world that is hungry and broken, offering our lives in response to God’s love and sharing this life-giving bread with all whom God brings us into our lives.

 Amen.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Erin
    August 13, 2012 at 7:24 am

    Well done!

  2. Gretchen
    August 13, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    Nice one Elizabeth. Thank you for sharing.

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