True bread Proverbs 9: 1-6 John 6: 51-58
Yet again the lectionary reading from John presents us with Jesus saying ‘I am the bread of life’. If we ask ‘what does the bread of life mean’, there is no simple answer – there are many answers, or many layers of answers, and it seems that John’s gospel wants to take our understanding deeper and deeper.
Alongside the listeners of Jesus wondering ‘how can Jesus be bread?’, we heard today from the book of Proverbs.
This contains a collection of wise sayings and also many exhortations to take time to listen to the words of the wise and to become wise. The passage we heard uses the image of wisdom personified as a lovely woman, inviting people into her house to eat and drink and learn how to make the right choices in life and live as wise people do.
Eating & drinking is used as a symbol of fellowship, of companionship – by ‘eating and drinking with Lady Wisdom’ people are committing themselves to seeking wisdom itself.
Similarly, by eating and drinking with the lost and the broken, Jesus has committed himself to them and to true friendship with them. In his teaching about bread, Jesus is offering life and he is offering friendship.
But there’s more… in today’s teaching in John, Jesus persists with the metaphor of bread & says ‘the bread which I shall give is my own flesh, given for the life of the world’. Not surprisingly, perhaps, those listening to Jesus have questions about what this means.
Jesus is speaking about bread as doing more than symbolising life or signifying companionship.
‘My flesh is real food; my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood dwells in me and I in him’.
You really can’t blame the people in the synagogue for not being able to grasp what Jesus is talking about that day. If John’s chronology is to be believed, this is very early in Jesus’ ministry. But it really only makes sense in the light of Jesus’ death on the cross. More than that, it only makes full sense in the context of the Last Supper, Jesus’ subsequent death and resurrection, and his continuing presence with his followers in the Eucharist.
This may only be the beginning of the disciples’ understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the bread of life, but it seems that Jesus wants his followers to understand that he is giving himself, his own life, to be broken like bread in order to feed the world.
Jesus tells them and tells us that if we want to share in the life that God offers his people, we must eat the living bread, we must accept the gift Jesus gives us, and take his life into our hands and into our very selves.
This is hard, deep stuff to understand and of course Jesus didn’t expect people to grasp it straight away, he spent his whole ministry trying to show people and teach people what God’s love with us really means.
Jesus is God’s gift of himself – given to the world. This is as necessary for us as daily bread, as healing as true friendship, it is a gift we are called upon only to accept.
God’s love for us knows no bounds: God is prepared to be broken for the world to be shared with the world. And so God’s presence with us and in us is as real as the bread we hold, and accept and eat.
At the service we’ve just had at Pampisford we have, straight after this sermon, shared communion.
This is the most easily understandable way of sharing in Jesus Christ, the living bread.
But as people in a Reformed tradition we know that Jesus is also present as the living Word, that Jesus is present when we break open God’s word as surely as he is when be break a loaf or a communion wafer.
God is present in this service of the Word, and feeds us as we remember that ‘humankind cannot live by bread alone, but by every word that comes out of the mouth of the Lord’.
So may we be fed by the bread of life and the Word of life, today and always.
‘The one who eats this bread will live forever’
To God’s praise and glory. Amen.