When I go to church communications conferences they tell us that, if you want to get people to remember something important, you need to say it five different times … preferably five different ways. So, you use the newsletter, e-mail, slow-mail, the pulpit, and the bulletin board. Jesus had something important to tell the people, so he said it five different times. As I mentioned last Sunday, we are into the second of the five “bread-of-life” Sundays in which Jesus talks about himself using the imagery of life-giving bread.
Last week we saw him using bread as a sign of the kingdom as he fed five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. That was a big job and when he was done he and his disciples got into a boat and went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, possibly to rest. But the crowds found him out and, once again, Jesus found himself facing a hoard of folk who discovered, as you and I do, that you might eat one day but are hungry the next. “Give us another sign!” they pleaded. Were they asking from faith or empty stomachs. It is hard to tell.
Whichever – Jesus took it as a teaching opportunity. As they pleaded for more bread, Jesus told them, “The bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” Yes, they said. We want it. Give us that. Jesus said, to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
So, what does this mean, anyway. While we believe that Jesus is truly present in the bread at communion, we don’t pretend that the historic Jesus was a loaf of bread. What does it mean that Jesus is the “bread of life.”
Well, just as bread is necessary for us to live physically, Jesus is necessary for us to live spiritually. Just as food is the most important thing for our physical selves, Jesus is the most important thing for our spiritual selves. And if Jesus is the most important thing, then other things are not as important … or shouldn’t be.
Thing is, there are many things we make more important. There used to be a board game out called, The Game of Life. Kind of like Monopoly In The Game of Life you could progress around the board making basic life decisions: Go to college or not. Get married or not. What kind of a house to buy. Work at something you like but doesn’t pay much as opposed at working at something you don’t like but pays a lot. But the object of The Game of Life was to see who could get to the end of the board with the most money. That person “won.” But did they? Is that really the object of our time together on this planet … to see who can die with the most money? Is that really what counts.
If you think about it, building possessions is a denial of deatj. We are so afraid of dying that we build up wealth to fortify ourselves against it. And when we do that, we are denying the really important things in life. When my parents died we took what few things had value to us: family heirlooms, letters, and photos – and all the rest of it went to the estate sale. When I saw what a small portion of physical things we had taken I was once again reminded what things are really important in life.
There is a religious movement afoot in the United States which preaches just exactly the opposite of what Jesus had to say about the true bread which comes down from Heaven. It is called The Prosperity Gospel which says that God wants us to be rich and the purpose of living, just as with the board game, The Game of Life, is to accumulate wealth and, thus, be happy. It arises from a perversion of John Calvin’s teaching about considering good fortune to be a sign of God’s abundant blessing. It has come down through pulpits occupied by the likes of Norman Vincent Peale and Robert Schuler. The current P.T. Barnum of this circus is Joel Osteen who, in his slick smiling way, will have you believe that God wants you to have yachts and expensive Italian cars. The implication is that those who are not prosperous are not in God’s favor. One of the preachers of The Gospel of Prosperity actually wrote this: I quote, “There can be no compassion for those who are not prosperous, for clearly they have not followed the rules and thus live in failure and are not loved by God.” This is the gospel??
But if these things are not truly “the bread of life,” then just what does Jesus mean when he says that he is. One answer is to be found at the baptismal font where we pour with the promise. We pour water over the person’s head as we announce the promise that this person now enters God’s eternal kingdom … that baptismal day is the first day of the rest of her eternal life, a life that cannot be interrupted even by death. As we pour water over her head we announce the promise that God will never let go of her, that there is never ever anything she can do which will earn God’s eternal damnation and punishment – but instead we announce the promise of forgiveness of sins and life eternal. That is what the Bread of Life is all about … the true bread which comes down from heaven.
So, too, at Holy Communion we experience Jesus in the bread. For each of these five bread Sundays we are getting our communion bread from five different Hunter’s Woods restaurants. Last week our bread came from Pista House, the Indian Restaurant. Today the bread comes from King Pollo, the Hispanic chicken place on the plaza. It is tortilla. These breads are reminders that we have a special calling as “the church in the shopping center” and serve the public along with the multicultural rainbow of others in this corner of the kingdom. Maybe the Mexican bread can also remind us of the need for justice at our border with Mexico as hundreds of parents are still not reunited with the children separated from them by our own governmental agents.
The bread of holy communion gives us life and health. Jesus gives us life and health.
I will close with an analogy to the way Jesus gives us life. It was written by Walter Wangerin whom some of you may remember from his column in The Lutheran magazine. This is from his book, “Ragman and Other Cries of Faith.” Is is a striking analogy and a big disturbing as it uses spiders to make his point. So, if you are queasy about spiders you might want to put your hands over your ears and say, “la, la, la,” for a minute.
The analogy to Jesus as the bread of life, Wangerin says, “is to be found in a particular species of spider. While most spiders leave their eggs in a sac and wander off, one species does not leave them, but stays to protect them and find food for them. Like all spiders, when this one eats, she injects her poison and digestive juices into her prey and, then as the prey is digested, it become food for her developing “children.” Except when there are no more victims to be found for food. When there is no food for the little spiders, the mother of this species will inject her poison into her own body and give her young one last meal, herself. She dies and gives them life.” We are God’s children. He gave himself that we might live.
You can uncover your ears now!
That is an edgy image. Edgy. But so is eating and drinking Jesus edgy. We eat and drink Jesus.
As we work our way through the five Bread of Life Sundays we will find comfort in those words. I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. We will find comfort. But comfort isn’t the point of the whole thing. This bread is Jesus. That’s edgy. The wine is his blood. That’s edgy. He gave his life for us. That’s edgy. It may be food, but it’s not always comfort food!
Text: John 6:24-35