Saturday, August 18, 2012

I am the living bread...Words for Proper 15 B John 6:51-58

Over the past 4 weeks, we've heard Jesus saying a lot about bread...and it's very easy to hear his words through those special, church-friendly filters that we seem to have fitted at baptism...filters which can sometimes be so effective that we don't really hear at all

“I am the living bread”
"Ah yes," we say, calmly, "Jesus the living bread. Of course!"

But what is he actually saying...and what does it mean for us,as we try to live his way of Love today?

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day

It's outrageous...impossible....absurd
except that we believe that somehow, it means EVERYTHING...and we come together to eat this bread week after week after week.
It's a huge part of why we are here this morning.

Let's try, though, to jettison those church-friendly filters and engage again with the words that John gives us this morning as he sets out to demonstrate that Jesus is the One for whom Israel was waiting, and to do this aligns Jesus with Moses...This is to be another story of liberation and pilgrimage...a journey through hardship to the homeland that has been promised.
We need to remember that for the Jews, the Torah (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) provided a constant frame of reference. The contents of these books were not abstract concepts for the Jew - these were living words, pregnant with layers of meaning, and each new generation of Jews felt themselves part of the story in some way. 
And so John has Jesus evoke memories of the defining period in Jewish history, the Exodus from Egypt, and recall God’s provision of manna, “bread from heaven”. 
This was the freedom food, which enabled God’s people to travel onwards to their promised destination.
The food which sustained them, and made it possible for them to live as a people on the move, following wherever God lead them. 
But, though this food seemed miraculous, it had to be consumed on the day it appeared, or it rotted and became worthless. 
The Israelites were not allowed to build up supplies in case of crisis. They just had to trust God’s provision, day after day after day.

Now Jesus compares himself with that bread…in terms guaranteed to have any observant Jew sitting bolt upright on the edge of this seat
I am the bread of life.
I AM is the name God gives himself when he meets Moses, at the burning bush 
 Say I AM has sent you. 
And so Jesus identifies himself with God and urges the crowd 
“Stop looking only to your physical needs!
Your ancestors ate manna but they still died!
You who ate when I fed the 5000 will die in time!
But belief in me is ‘food’ that leads to eternal life.”
Jesus, the bread which now comes down from heaven sustains those who eat for ever. 
This is no less the food of pilgrimage, no less a food provided directly by God,- indeed this food represents God’s very life, available to be absorbed by all God’s people. 
Jesus is offering himself to his disciples…whoever eats me…
Imagine the impact of that, with Jesus himself standing beside you, on a hot day in Palestine, as the crowds press around, murmuring in doubt or disapproval. 
A living, breathing man inviting you to eat him.
Shocking, unthinkable words.
Frightening, unwelcome words – in the same way as those words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper
“This is my body…this is my blood...”

John wrote several decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, as part of a community that would have regularly celebrated the Lord’s supper together. For them, as for us, Jesus’ imagery - eating flesh and drinking blood - had come to life in a new way as the church shared the meal Jesus instituted.
So it is, week by week, when we gather and make Eucharist.
We bring ourselves, just as we are, broken, flawed, hungry for love and reassurance.
We bring the mess and muddle of our lives and lay them with our gifts upon the altar.
And as the bread and wine are consecrated and transformed, as Christ becomes truly present in those ordinary things made holy by the power of the Spirit, so we find ourselves joined with Christ and with one another.

No I don't understand what is happening – but I know with all that is in me that this is true.
As we eat this bread we encounter Christ and are changed by that encounter
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty”
Hear Christ speak these words to you as you make your way to the Communion rail.
Open your hands to receive your Lord
Here in this fragment of bread is Jesus himself, all we will ever need to sustain us on our pilgrimage. 
Bread is, we know, the staff of life, but the life that this bread represents is everlasting. 
It is the life of God himself…and we are invited to share it.

Thanks be to God!

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