Click here to view the full sermon video for August 15, 2021 entitled, "Living Bread."
51 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.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
One of the first accusations against the persecuted early church was that they practiced cannibalism. And I guess when Jesus says things like “eat my flesh,” it’s an understandable misunderstanding for someone on the outside to make.
There’s no getting around the fact that this is a very strange passage.
We hear words like these every time we’re invited to the Lord’s table when we’re invited to eat the bread and drink the cup – the body and blood of Christ, but I’m not sure we really stop to think about how strange these words are until we spend some time in our passage this morning when Jesus references the eating of his flesh seven times in seven verses.
Perhaps, we wonder if the Greek word for ‘eat’ might mean something more… palatable? But actually, the Greek word used here is more like “to gnaw” or “to chew” – so that might make it worse.
But what about the word for “flesh?” This might be your next question. And again, you’d strike out because the word used here is referring to, well, exactly what it sounds like.
Perhaps you’re thinking that there’s a cultural misunderstanding here since this was written over 2,000 year ago.
It’s a good thought, but the original audience was just as offended by Jesus’ words. “How can this man give us flesh to eat?” they ask, and I can hear their exasperated tone.
Of course, you can bury the weirdness of Jesus’ words here under centuries of theological debate about what happens when we celebrate the Eucharist: Transubstantiation? Consubstantiation? Memorial feast? Fancy theological words that people throughout history have argued over, even lost their lives over.
So this morning, let us acknowledge that this is a strange, fraught passage with a layered history. Let us acknowledge that there is a mystery here which we cannot explain any better than those first disciples could. But let us also have ears to hear the promise within these words, the delicious good news of living bread - hope that we can taste even when we cannot understand.
At the end of the day, the context of this passage isn’t even the Lord’s Supper. John does not include the Last Supper like the other Gospels do. The context here in John is simply the feeding of hungry people.
At the beginning of chapter 6, Jesus had compassion on the crowd which had followed him to the mountainside, and he directs the disciples to feed all 5,000 of them from the five loaves and two fish which miraculously end up being more than enough… You know the story.
If we zoom out even more, the wider context of this passage lands us back in Exodus where hungry Israel, newly freed from Egypt, was fed with manna which fell from the sky in the wilderness.
In both cases of miraculous feedings, we see that God is a God who feeds hungry people, a God who is attuned to even our most basic needs.
Also in both cases, we see that humanity is, unsurprisingly, always the same – quick to complain – even on the heels of such a miracle.
Israel grumbled about the manna and wanted to return to Egypt,
Jesus’ followers looked for more bread and complained about how difficult his teaching was.
I wonder, then, if this passage is less about feeding, and perhaps more about which kind of hunger Jesus is feeding in the first place and the ways in which we misunderstand.
Every morning when I drive to the church, I pass under a pedestrian bridge over I-40 where, without fail, a lady is standing with a big sign that proudly announces, “Jesus is the answer!”
And if I’m being honest, every morning, also without fail, I spend the next part of my drive thinking about why I’m so annoyed with her sign. I don’t see how it’s helpful to say Jesus is the answer if you’re not also addressing what the question is. If Jesus is the answer, what is the question?
It’s the same question I see raised in this passage: Which hunger is Jesus feeding with the bread of life?
Like Israel grumbling in the wilderness and confused disciples trying to find more bread, it’s so easy for us to spend our days seeking after the kind of bread that perishes – consuming at will and feeding our hunger for everything but the bread of life. Hunger for power, praise, control, wealth, and all manner of things we know will never be enough.
This past week 200 of the world’s leading climate scientists released a frightening new report about how quickly our planet is warming up, leading to catastrophic damage from fires, floods, storms, and destroyed ecosystems. In this report, it is clear that humans are to blame.
And I can’t help but think about all the insatiable human hungers that lead us to extract, consume, exploit, and pollute the earth. All the consuming we do that leads to death instead of life.
Jesus offers us a different kind of bread. The hunger he feeds is more than physical. This living bread offers us eternal life – not immortality after we die per se, but abundant life right now.
Life that is marked by love, compassion, and forgiveness.
Life that washes the feet of the stranger and pours itself out for love of neighbor.
Life that sees the image of God in every human being and is willing to do the hard work of caring for all of God’s creation.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them” Jesus says
Whatever Jesus meant by the offer of his flesh as food, the promise behind it is the promise of his presence in a real and tangible way, feeding the hunger at the core of the human heart to be known, to be loved, to belong.
The Gospel of John begins with the famous words, “in the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God….and this Word became flesh and lived among us”
Flesh, Word, God, all inextricably connected. This flesh is the living bread that Jesus offers us, equal parts mystery and promise.
So, friends, may we taste and see that the Lord is good and may we be part of God’s work to feed a hungry and hurting world.