Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; John 6:51-58
There is a law below the Mason-Dixon Line that says if you sit down for dinner, you must have bread. Seriously, at least two or three southern states have in their constitutions that you must, under penalty of death or possible imprisonment, serve bread at the dinner table. Well, maybe not, but it was certainly a hard and fast rule at my mother’s house growing up. She was a wonderful cook and made biscuits and bread from scratch. But when there was not enough flour or something she would have those Pillsbury canned biscuits, you know, the one’s you hit on the edge of the counter to pop it open ... or even plain Wonder bread with butter … .but there would be bread.
Living bread ... bread has been a staple of civilizations for thousands, tens of thousands of years. And even the poorest folk, if they have any access to grains can make bread, tortillas, etc. and subsist, as least, be sustained by it. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, is challenging the people who have been fed by the fish and the loaves that were mysteriously multiplied to see Him as something more than a feeder of people. Jesus does more than simply nourish. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Jesus taps into the people’s everyday mindset and says, Yes, I came to feed you.” But he goes radically further by saying, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Jesus is laying claim to not only nourishing us and feeding us with the good news of His ministry He is saying, “I am offering my very self to you and for you; my flesh and blood. And in this offering, you will find more than sustenance; you will find life, unity, and communion with God the Father. With my offering of my body for the life, as bread for the world, you will live.” Jesus offers us more than we could have ever hoped for: not just nourishment, but the saving life of His own life, and offers us to enter into His life by accepting His sacrifice and taking part in it.
No worries, we are not going to get into the deep recesses of Eucharistic theology. But Jesus is being pretty clear, regardless of the radical nature of His message. Jesus tells those around him: you are not coming to me because of the miracles I am performing, the healings, the teachings. You are coming because your bellies were filled and you seek that kind of nourishment. Okay, I do these things – heal, teach, feed – because I love you and you are like sheep without a shepherd. But are you ready to accept my whole self as nourishment, a new kind of food for the journey in life? The new bread that I offer is myself, my body and blood.
Jesus’ words are important to those of us who desire to have a closer relationship with God in Christ. Jesus is telling us in no uncertain terms, I want that, too. Jesus wants us to consume Him, to be a part of His sacrifice, to take it all in because that is why He came among us. Jesus offered himself, a life offering, a blood offering, a love offering, for the life the world. Jesus’ sacrifice becomes the bread that gives life to the world. Jesus often, in John, refers to himself as “living water” or “living bread” or the true bread … like the baskets during the feeding of the five thousand the bread of life that Jesus asks us to partake of never runs out, never fails – because it is bread made with the life of Jesus himself.
What that means is that Jesus wants us to be apart of Him in every way but in this special way, too. So, as you come up to Holy Communion, imagine the short walk you make to the altar as your life. And you are moving toward God in Christ and offering your life there, to God, all that you are, your faults, your challenges, your loves, your joy – giving it all to God. And God, in His love, grace, and mercy, gives you Jesus back – His whole self, in living and loving sacrifice and resurrection. We are in commUNION with God in Christ, we are in Union with each other as we come together, one community, many needs, but one voice, one life, one hope…and Jesus invites us to His dinner where He himself will be offered to us, life for the world.
But what of those who, as Jesus says, have no part of him because they do not eat His flesh or drink His blood? What of those who are outside the belief that Christ is the way and the truth and life, the living bread, the living water? Many have used passages such as these to demonize non-Christians or even Christians who do not hold Eucharist, the Body and Blood in the bread and wine, as central to being a follower of Jesus? Well, elsewhere in John, we must remember that Jesus says, “there are sheep who are not part of my fold. I must call them, and bring them also, so there may be one shepherd, one flock.”
It is not for us to judge who is in or who is out. It is not up to us to look down upon or demonize a person who does not understand or believe in Jesus as Messiah. Jesus’ invitation is to all and, through the mystery, patience, and love of God, we will, I believe, all be brought to God in Christ one day, someway, somehow. Jesus says, also in John, “And when I am lifted up I will gather all people to myself.” We need to leave some of the mystery of calling in God’s capable hands.
We must also be willing and equipped to proclaim our understanding of God’s love for us in Christ to the world, without anger, highhandedness or pride. Our Christ is not only the bread of life but of humility. We cannot boast of God’s goodness, Paul warned, proclaim the goodness of God in Christ in love. We must not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the living bread that came down from heaven and offers himself for us. But we must not be too proud to learn from others who believe differently, to open our hearts to our fellow creatures whom God made and loves without restriction.
Christians are empowered with a remarkably clear and hopeful message of a God who loved us so much that He became completely vulnerable and allowed herself to be known by us in Christ. We are invited to the banquet of Jesus’ sacrifice which is filled with grace, truth, and love. Now, isn’t that a message that resonates and lifts, good news that we can share, and a love that commands us to love, without filters or exceptions, all of God’s wonderful creatures, be they Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or animal. God in Christ desires unity, with Him and with the world. Let it be so.