Bread (August 12, 2018)
I love bread. All kinds of bread. White bread, multi–grain, sourdough, kaiser buns, rye bread, French bread, raisin bread, the list goes on and on. While I was on vacation in Quebec, I had some thick slices of an amazing homemade bread which still makes my mouth water. Honestly, I love bread.
Bread’s an important part of every culture. Our language reflects it. Bread has become a synonym for food. “Bread is the staff of life” means we can’t survive without food. We need “our daily bread”.
But bread is about more than food. It’s a nickname for money. Something new is called “the best thing since sliced bread”. And this preaching gig? Well “it’s my bread and butter”. And when we live generously and long to do the right thing, we “cast our bread upon the waters.”
Our language shows how important bread is. Way back in our history, when we learned to make bread, it was a game–changer. We learned how to cultivate grains grasses and manage fields, how to harvest and mill and bake—and the result was that instead of having to chase herds of animals for meat, we could settle in communities to farm and have enough to eat.
In John 6, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
I’ll get back to that in a minute. First, let me tell you some important things about John’s gospel.
It was written very late—about the year 110, some 80 years after the crucifixion. John paints a very different picture of Jesus than the other three gospels. None of the gospels is a biography of Jesus, but John is even less so. All the gospels are theological reflections on the life of Jesus, and what Jesus means for the world, and that’s particularly true of the 4th Gospel. John is an extended meditation on what Jesus means for the world.
John does that by using metaphors: Jesus is light; Jesus is the good shepherd; Jesus is resurrection and life; Jesus is bread.
The second thing to know is that John was written in the midst of severe conflict with the synagogue. Like Jesus, the first Christians were all Jews. Christianity only became a separate religion about fifty years or so after Jesus’ death. These early Christians would worship on the Sabbath in the synagogue with fellow Jews, and the next day, on Sunday, the day of resurrection, they would gather to celebrate Eucharist.
But now, the synagogue leaders were kicking Jesus–followers out of the synagogues. It became a family fight … and you know what those are like. There is no fight nastier than a family fight. When the author of John’s gospel blames “the Jews” for everything, it comes in the context of this kind of family fight. One group of Jews is calling other Jewish leaders names. It’s kind of like “oh yeah? …. Well, pfffffttttttt to you” (with the thumb to the nose).
So keep those two things in mind when you read John. 1) It’s not a biography of Jesus, but rather a sustained reflection on what Jesus means for the world. And 2) while John’s gospel often appears to be anti–Semitic, and has been used that way, that’s not a legitimate way to read this gospel.
The community to which John writes came to understand that Jesus is the bread of life.
Bread is an important image in the Bible for abundance. God gives the gift of manna in the wilderness so that everyone could eat. The story of Joseph is, in part, a story of Egypt trying to control bread, creating a culture of scarcity so that the pharaoh could become richer and more powerful. That’s partly why Deuteronomy reminds us that we do not live by bread alone, but by the word of life which God speaks. That’s why Jesus quotes Deuteronomy in his own wilderness testing.
Bread is meant for all. it’s a sign of abundance, and we can’t dole it out so that it becomes a sign of scarcity.
When Jesus says “I am the bread of life,” he aligns himself with Israel’s story. Jesus is the gift of bread, the gift of abundance, the gift of grace in our wilderness. God sustains us. God provides for us. God cultivates a relationship with all God’s people. We see God’s abundance and love in Jesus.
Jesus is how we are in relationship with God. Jesus is God’s gift of grace. Jesus is bread for all who come, and no one can control this gift, no one can limit this gift, no one can withhold this gift.
And just as bread feeds our physical hungers, so Jesus feeds our deepest and most powerful hungers. Too often, we settle for so little when we feed our bodily appetites. So often, we are satisfied with so little.
Jesus, who is the bread of life, invites us to consider our deeper hungers. Jesus invites us to be nourished in spirit and heart by God’s love.
I am the bread of life. There are two realities here. This is about God’s gift of sustenance and provision as we pray to give us each day our daily bread. This is also about our deeper needs and being always aware of God’s presence in life.
Bread is the staff of life, both physical and spiritual. We need bread to feed our physical hunger. We need the bread of life to feed our spiritual hunger.
But it’s also important to note that bread is just plain, ordinary stuff. We don’t see Jesus in spectacular and magnificent spectacles. God’s love isn’t written in the stars in the night sky. God’s love touches us in all the ordinary moments of our lives, every day, every night, in every act of kindness and compassion and grace.
Jesus is part of our ordinary, everyday lives. John emphasizes that Jesus is the very presence of God with us in every moment of our lives. There is nowhere we can go where God is absent. There is no time when God is not present. Our whole lives are embraced within the love of God.
This is what Jesus means for the church. This is what Jesus means for the world.
I am the bread of life. Jesus is at the heart of the very stuff of life, the basic necessity of life. Jesus isn’t an option. Jesus isn’t a dinner roll on a side plate. Jesus is the basic bread of life, part of the very ordinary stuff of life.
In the power of Jesus’ love, we “break bread together”. We deepen relationships. We form community. We eat and drink together as friends—and Jesus calls us his friends. So we form community together around this table as we eat and drink. We remember here that Jesus is with us, that Jesus is part of the ordinary stuff of life.
When Jesus invites us, “This is my body. Take and eat”, Jesus says to us, “Let your simple bread become me.” Don’t let a single thing in your life, however ordinary, remain untouched by my love for you. Everything in your life is touched by my new life flowing in and through you. There is nothing ordinary in your life, for it is all changed by my life as it flows through you.
That’s what eternal life means in John. It’s not about life stretching out endlessly into the future, which begins after we die. Eternal life has to do with the kind of life we live in Christ here and now. “Eternal life” literally means “the life of the age to come”. It means that we live in this time and place according to the hope of the age to come.
It means living in relationship with God here, now, in every ordinary, grace–filled moment of our lives. It is a relationship with God which happens through seeing and trusting, through eating and drinking, and it fills our lives with hope and grace, with love and life and joy.
“I am the bread of life.” Just as bread is life, so our life in Christ is life in all its fullness, all its abundance, all its joy, all its hope. Bread is real food. Bread is also spiritual food, birthing the life of the age to come within us.
And when we live this life, then we will be filled. We will live life abundantly. We will live in deep joy. We will not be hungry. We will not be thirsty.
Come. Eat. Drink. Be filled with the life of God in Christ.
Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Yme Woensdregt
August 12, 2018 (12th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19)
John 6: 35, 41–51
2 Samuel 18: 5–9, 15, 31–33