Filed under: Sermons, Uncategorized | Tags: bread, bread of life, communion, discipleship, Jesus, john 6
Good bread. This is my favorite. The best of what bread can be.
Uncovered, the smell wafts up to fill my nose and make my mouth water. Held, it feels substantial. The crust crackles as it is broken. Inside is soft and tender. A rich, buttery flavor that melts in my mouth, with a chew and a crunch that forces me to take time to process the experience.
There’s a time and a place for other breads. Soft wheat sandwich bread for peanut butter and jelly. Grandma’s potato rolls for Christmas dinner. Tortillas and lefse and pitas for ethnic cuisine.
But for the experience of plain bread, this loaf is my favorite.
The Bible talks about things as real as this loaf of bread. We continue to read in chapter six of the Gospel of John this morning. Jesus had performed miracles of healing, and a crowd followed him up a mountain to continue hearing his teaching and see more miracles. Jesus didn’t disappoint them. Seeing the hungry crowd, he used a boy’s gift of five loaves of bread and two fish, and transformed this meager gift into abundance. Jesus fed 5000 men, women and children. Once everyone was satisfied, twelve baskets of leftovers were collected.
During the night, Jesus travels with his disciples to Capernaum. The next day, the crowd finds him, hoping to receive more bread and witness more miracles. Jesus doesn’t do much more than speak, but that’s enough to get a reaction from the crowd. Jesus declares, “I am the bread of life.” By saying this, Jesus identifies himself with the one God, whose name is “I am.” Jesus continues to identify himself as the bread from heaven.
Then Jesus’ teachings turns too graphic for his audience. Jesus declares, “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” (6:51). When the listening Jews begin to dispute this, Jesus responds, “Very truly, I tell you, 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; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” (6:53-56).
Maybe some think Jesus is sick, confused, or disturbed. Why would anyone insist that followers must eat the teacher? The connections Jesus makes as he identifies himself as the messianic Son of Man, and between his body and blood and life-giving food and drink offend those listening. This teaching is so difficult that many of Jesus’ disciples, not just a curious crowd, but those who were seriously following Jesus, turn away from him. They cannot handle the language of flesh and blood, or Jesus’ insistence that he is the Son of Man, come to earth from heaven, or Jesus’ declaration that some of his followers do not believe, and will not, because the Father has not allowed it. Something Jesus has said is too much.
It’s surprising to hear the shift of John’s language as he describes those following and listening to Jesus throughout this chapter. At first, it’s a “large crowd” following “because they saw the signs that (Jesus) was doing for the sick” (6:2). As they eat and even the next day when they search for Jesus, hoping for more bread, the continue to be “the crowd.” Once Jesus starts proclaiming “I am the bread that came down from heaven” (6:41) and “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (6:51), then they become “the Jews” (6:41, 52). It’s the last descriptor that is most powerful. By verse 60, they are “his disciples.” It is “his disciples” who declare, “this teaching is difficult” (6:60) and who “were complaining about it” (6:61).
From the crowd of 5000, those willing to accept Jesus are very few. By the end of the chapter, only the twelve are left.
Jesus fed the thousands with real bread. Bread they could hold and smell and taste. Jesus invites them- and us- to take into our hands true bread, more real than any other loaf. Jesus feeds you his flesh. His is a real body, broken, to sustain and give life to real people, you and me.
There’s a table in our midst today. We’ve gathered around it. Twice a month we gather around a table, but today, things look different. Of course, things are a little different with us outside. But I’m hoping that this table looks a little more normal than churchy. We’ve gathered around an ordinary table, set with my every day dishes. Instead of our shiny brass chalice, my glass milk cups. Instead of an altar rail, two chairs.
Is it too normal for you? Not special enough? Not holy? Maybe blasphemous or difficult or offensive?
I think what was so difficult for the crowd and the Jews and the disciples to accept was Jesus’ juxtaposition of the ordinary and the holy. What was most sacred Jesus revealed in the most commonplace of things. When Jesus claims he has come from heaven, the people protest that they know his mother and father. When Jesus connects bread and the flesh of the Son of Man and his body, even his disciples reject him.
I’m surprised more people today don’t reject Jesus and Christian teachings for the same reason. Our central confession claims, “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried” (Apostles’ Creed, ELW 105). We also confess, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… of one Being with the Father, through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary and became truly human” (Nicene Creed, ELW 104).
We believe that God became a human person just like each of us. We believe Jesus was birthed into this world in a gush of very real human experience. We believe that Jesus bled and hurt and died. That Jesus was laid in a tomb with the expectation that his body would decay and decompose just like any other body. We believe that because Jesus is truly God united with real humanity, Jesus was raised to new life and it is through his real flesh that we are given eternal life and resurrection.
We live in a much more sanitized culture than the crowd of John 6 did. For the most part, we don’t touch blood, we don’t see birth, we don’t see our food alive and we don’t kill it, we don’t even wash poopy diapers. The sick and the dying occupy spaces apart from the healthy.
Yet every other week, we gather for a meal and eat and drink in response to the promise: the body of Christ, the blood of Christ, given for you. This was too scandalous for many of Jesus’ followers. I don’t want you to be pushed away by this offense, even as I want us to reclaim some of what is so scandalous. The promise is made greater when we truly recognize its extraordinary nature.
Jesus- God- comes into what is ordinary. Jesus- God- experiences the dirtiness of human life that we try to avoid or scrub away. Jesus- God- is in real flesh, with real blood so that our real fleshly selves can live fully today and forever.
By Jesus’ promise, Jesus is here among us. As Jesus is proclaimed, Jesus is here, in real bread, fresh bread, good bread: bread you can break open and smell. Jesus is here, in wine, strong and heady, fragrant and sweet.
We eat from this table, remembering that what Jesus does here is not removed from real food and real drink. Jesus is so deeply here in these elements that wine and bread are transformed, the familiar act of eating together is changed, and those who partake in this meal are never the same again.
Jesus comes into your ordinary, everyday, dirty and messy lives. Jesus is with you, sustaining you through your hectic schedule, holding you through the heartaches and headaches, and revealing to you God’s great love for you in what are sometimes the shortest glimpses of grace. The Jesus who compares his flesh to simple bread is not distant from you, not offended by your real imperfections. Jesus enters you as real-ly and truly as a good, chewy, crunchy, mouthful of bread. Eat, and be filled.