Jesus, Bread of Life
A French proverb says, "A good meal ought to begin with hunger." Not only that, but "A good meal makes a man feel more charitable toward the whole world than any sermon."
We have deep hungers, you and I, hungers which can only be fed by the bread which fills and satisfies.
I know very few people who do not enjoy a good piece of bread. Bread is a basic food. When we eat bread, we are back in touch with the basic stuff of life, the "staple of life." Food can get fancy, beautifully prepared, but it never gets more basic than bread.
We are confronted by pictures of hunger, malnutrition and slow starvation almost every day. We see the programs where a mission worker holds a little child that is nothing more than bones. For many of you that surely brings back memories from your childhood in war-torn Europe.
Before we rush too quickly from the physical to the spiritual meanings of hunger, let us pause to reflect upon the millions of our fellow human beings for whom hunger is not a metaphor, not a symbol or a word-picture of something else. It is their daily life. And death.
When Jesus spoke, "I am bread," he spoke to those who knew hunger, real hunger. And even though most of us are far removed from the real physical starvation in our world, spiritual and emotional malnutrition and starvation is never far away.
For example, I've heard people say that, "We are not really being fed at this church." They didn't mean that the church was not providing enough pot-luck suppers. They meant that their souls were not being nourished. There was not enough substance in the preaching, or the music, or the worship, or the fellowship with other Christians to sustain them through the week and the daily demands of discipleship.
The daily expectations that meet us in our families and homes, in our workplace and school, in our everyday interactions with others, and with life circumstances, can overwhelm us, discourage us and even paralyze us. In the midst of these demands we have a deep-seated need to know that we will be alright, that we will have the necessary strength to meet the challenges before us.
But, where do we get the source of our strength? Where do we find the power to not only keep us going, but to also soar like an Eagle? To succeed in everything good that we set our hearts to?
John 6:25-35 tells us about the source of our strength. We have this encounter with Jesus shortly after the feeding of the Five thousand.
25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” 26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”
28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”
30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”
35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.
John loves to speak in word-pictures. In this Gospel, Jesus is the exalted, reigning Lord. He speaks words that are pregnant and loaded with power, like, "I am the way, the truth and the life"; "I am the light of the world." "I am the true vine", "I am the resurrection and the life."
This passage speaks of Bread, the most common, most essential, most necessary of foods. In the hands of Jesus, bread is more than bread. Bread is life. Jesus takes something from our daily human experience and changes it, sheds new light on it. Jesus compares himself to "living bread that came down from heaven."
Here we see Jesus, the risen Christ as the most essential element of our daily lives. Jesus not only saves us. But he also feeds us, he nurtures us in our relationship to God and the world around us. He becomes for us the very bread of life that sustains us, that gives us strength for the coming day.
The risen Christ not only raises us from death to life, during our conversion, but he stays with us, nourishes us, cares for us, feeds us, giving us what we need to be faithful disciples.
All the word-pictures of John's Gospel serve the purpose of strengthening our life of discipleship - that we might have "life in his name" (John 20:31).
John's Gospel has no story of the Last Supper, no mention of "this is my body" as in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark & Luke). John 6:51 is John's substitute for those words: 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” This is the wondrous offering of Jesus to us. He is bread in the wilderness. He is the source of our strength when we are down. He feeds our hungry souls.
When all is said and done, Jesus is to be received like bread, savored, received as a gift for life, indeed life eternal. It is a gift ready for the taking, ready to be eaten and enjoyed to the fullest.
We may not know much about some of John favorite word-pictures, but we do know about hunger. We know that gnawing feeling in the pit of the stomach when we go without food. We also know that gnawing pain in the heart of the soul when we are starving for belonging, acceptance, and love.
When we are hungry, it's a reminder that we are creatures who need nourishment or we die. But there is another kind of death among us. It is the death of the soul, that wasting away which comes when we lose our lust for life, and when our eyes seem dull to the world, and when we don't know if we can go on. This death, that comes day by day, drop by drop, is known to us.
I know lots of people today who are hungry, but not just for bread. People who feel betrayed by friends, family, and their faith community. People who are empty and bitter inside. People who long to hear a word of forgiveness for something that happened too long ago. People who long to experience the healing of their body, mind and spirit.
Maybe you came to church today because you are hungry. Maybe you are among those, who in the past have left the church hungrier than when you came. I'd love to tell you that we've got the answer to all your needs, and that we can satisfy your every longing. But that would be a lie. Jesus alone can make that claim. He promises that he is bread. He is the bread come down from heaven, just like the Israelites had manna in the wilderness to sustain them on the exodus from Egypt. Jesus says he is like that bread, come down from heaven to sustain us in the dryness of our daily lives. He is that bread which satisfies when nothing else can.
Like his followers, you may be asking, "What must we do to do the works that God requires?" Believe! Believe in the One who was sent by the Father. It is the Father you gives us the true Bread that satisfies every longing. He sent his Son, that we may chew on him, bit by bit, take our time and savor each bite. Take time to enjoy him, to let him become part of your life and thereby give you life.
If you are here to get nourished to make it through the week, Jesus offers himself to you as Bread from Heaven. For you and me, a living relationship with Jesus is that which enables us be his disciples. He nourishes us. He feeds our hungry souls and gives us life. Jesus invites us to feed on him, to take his being into our lives, to let him nourish us unto life.
Jesus is the bread that comes down from heaven, as a gift. But, it is a gift not to be received and selfishly kept for ourselves. Like the manna in the desert: you cannot store it up as a reserve for a week from now. It is a gift that must be freely shared with others who are hungry.
Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. I am bread come down from heaven to nourish you forever." Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.
Lord, we come before you this day as those who are empty. Some of us have tried to satisfy our hungers in all the wrong places. Some of us have attempted to act as if we were self-sufficient unto ourselves.
Bread of heaven, feed us until we want no more. Fill us with your Spirit, feed us in your love. Nourish us with that food that forever satisfies. Give us also thankful hearts, that we may remember those who are still searching for the bread of life. Amen.