Bread of Life

Bread of Life – February 16, 2014                 John 6:35-59

1 brdogvinI think it was in December at one of our 5:30 worship services.  Even though we are in a windowless room here, I distinctly remember it being bitterly cold and impossibly dark outside. The gathered congregation that night was small but mighty.  I finished blessing the bread and wine and as I was saying, “The table has been set – you are welcome” little Alex Scotting, held by his dad who was standing in the back, piped up, his little voice ringing throughout this room, “Are you gonna drink the blood, daddy?”  The room burst into laughter.


Of course we laughed.  It’s like laughing at a funeral or something terribly sad: it lets the air out. It exposes and yetdoes something with the fear and uncertainty bursting out of our mouths, straight from our hearts. Because, I mean, right?!  It’s bread and wine.  It’s not really flesh and blood.  I mean, c’mon. That’s why we laughed, right?


Which is sort of the reaction of the crowd from today’s scripture reading. And they burst out with their questions and laughter well before Jesus ever gets around to mentioning flesh.  He’s still talking bread.  A much safer metaphor. But it’s bread from heaven and it’s straight from God, not to mention the promise of eternal life.

So it’s the crowd’s turn to burst into laughter after Jesus has waxed poetic about being the bread of life. Ha! Isn’t that Mary and Joseph’s boy?  Who does he think he is, holier-than-though?  Heaven sent?  I don’t think so. 

It’s laughable to them, just as we laugh.  How ridiculous is this promise of eternal life through bread and wine?

feeding_five_thousand_tissot_largeNow, we need to back up a bit.  What has just happened before this part in the book of John is the feeding of the 5,000, which is the miraculous story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people with a few loaves of bread and 2 fish.  This story is in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  All 4 gospels included this story.  Plus, Mark and Matthew also both have feeding of the 4000 stories. It’s like food is important.  That feeding people is critical.  But you need to know that this crowd of 5,000 that had been fed is the same crowd now listening to Jesus talk about being the bread come down from heaven.  They had been fed and yet they wanted something more.


And now, these folks, this crowd who wants something more are pushing back.  Because Jesus is suggesting a radical shift in how to identify and experience God.


Not only by the Passover, when people put the blood of the lamb on their doorposts so the angel of death would pass them over.  They passover1were no longer to be only defined as people eating manna in the wilderness, a pretty awesome gift from God.  Because, as Jesus so plainly says two times in today’s reading, their relatives ate that manna and died.  Now, Jesus is saying, God sent him to be bread from heaven.  You’ll never be hungry again. You’ll never be thirsty again.



CommunionBreadWineSo we can get our heads and hands around bread and wine.  We can touch and taste and smell these earthy things.  And, as a Lutheran, I can tell you what we believe to be true is that there is real presence of Jesus in this bread and wine.  There isn’t a magical time when this bread or wine turns into Jesus.  We believe Jesus is present in it.


But to never be hungry again?  To never thirst again?  Well, we can’t get our heads around this, can we?  We can’t imagine what that is like.


take-this-bread-194x300Sara Miles puts words to this mystery in her book Take This Bread. Here is an excerpt:


One early, cloudy morning when I was forty-six, I walked into a church, ate a piece of bread, and took a sip of wine. A routine Sunday activity for tens of millions of Americans—except that up until that moment I’d led a thoroughly secular life, at best indifferent to religion, more often appalled by its fundamentalist crusades. On my walks in the neighborhood, I’d passed the wood-shingled building with its sign: ST GREGORY OF NYSSA EPISCOPAL CHURCH. Now with no more than a reporter’s habitual curiosity—or so I thought—I opened the door.

What happened a few minutes later is a mystery. I still can’t explain my first Communion; it made no sense. I was in tears and physically unbalanced: I felt as if I had just stepped off a curb, or been knocked over, painlessly, from behind. The disconnect between what I thought was happening—I was eating a piece of bread; what I heard someone else say was happening—the piece of bread was the “body” of “Christ,” a patently untrue, or at best metaphorical statement; and what I knew was happening—God, named “Christ” or “Jesus,” was real, and in my mouth—utterly short-circuited my ability to do anything but cry.

All the way home, shocked, I scrambled for explanations. Maybe I was hyper-suggestible, and being surrounded by believers had been enough to push me, momentarily, into accepting their superstitions: what I’d felt was a sort of contact high. My tears were probably just pent-up sadness, accumulated over a long hard decade, and spilling out, unsurprisingly, because I was in a place where I could cry anonymously. In fact, the whole thing must have been about emotion: the music, the movement and the light in the room had evoked feelings, much as if I’d been uplifted by a particularly glorious concert or seen a natural wonder.

Yet that impossible word, “Jesus,” lodged in me like a crumb. I said it over and over to myself, as if repetition would help me understand. I had no idea what it meant, I didn’t know what to do with it. But it was realer than any thought of mine, or even any subjective emotion: it was as real as the actual taste of the bread and the wine. And the word was indisputably in my body now, as if I’d swallowed a radioactive pellet that would outlive my own flesh.

Much later on, I read what Jesus’ disciples said about the idea of eating a body and drinking blood. “This is intolerable,” they declared. Many of them, shocked, “could not accept it and went away and followed him no more.” Well, it was intolerable.

The gory physicality of the language wasn’t what bothered me, the way it must have bothered the disciples, who lived surrounded by religious rules about blood, animal slaughter and eating. I didn’t share those taboos: I’d understood the world first, and best, by putting it in my mouth.

altar_burnt_offeringWe come to a table each week that has its origins in the blood sacrifice from the Old Testament.  These altars would be literally dripping with blood.  Jesus is the last, the final sacrifice.  Jesus is the one who unburdens our hands from bringing sacrifice to worship each and every week, paying for doves at the door on the way in. 



bread-and-wine-300x200Jesus points to God and then points to his own body and points to the cross, not lifting a finger to blame anyone, to take anyone down, to defend himself.  No, he lifts us up. He gives us life.


Sara Miles wandered into that church.  She had no credentials to share.  She had no knowledge of Jesus.  She hadn’t been raised in the church.  Yet the table was open for her to taste and see, and it literally transformed her life.

Each of us has our own experience with a first communion, or communion every week, or being denied communion. Many of us have not had the same experience as Sara Miles.  We haven’t had that profound reaction.  And yet we are changed. We are transformed. Because the body of Jesus isn’t make believe or magic. His flesh and blood is as real as they come.  His broken body and spilled blood heal our broken bodies. So real we dare to eat and drink it.

The table we gather at each week is not ours.  It is Christ’s table. It is a wonder we don’t laugh and skip — or cry and crawl our way to the meal each week.  Because it is a meal of forgiveness and overflowing grace, and sometimes it makes us giddy and other times we weep. It is a meal that says you are hungry no more.  Your burdens are no longer your own.  It’s the most offensive thing we do to claim that we eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood.  And then we have the nerve to ask kids to set the table each week. Joyfully, sloshily, we stagger up together, dirtying up the altar, just as it should be. 

But we know better – it is Christ who sets the table.  It is Christ who comes to us in bread and wine.  In large chunks and desperate gulps.  It is offensive.  It is enough to make you laugh.

Reflect:  What does Christ’s flesh and blood look like out in the world?

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