“Bread of Life” a Sermon
by the Rev. Jay Lawlor
11th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 13, Year B – Aug 5, 2018
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – Richmond, IN
“So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.” (Jn 6:24) Remember last week’s reading ended with the disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee, seeing Jesus walking on the sea, and then arriving on shore at Capernaum. So here we have the crowds looking for Jesus. Realizing he is in Capernaum, they get into boats and cross the sea to find Jesus and the disciples.
What we might miss in all of this is they are seeking Jesus. Five thousand people had just been fed from Jesus’ miracle of five loaves and two fishes. They want to know more about Jesus. So they cross in boats to Capernaum.
The crowd seeks Jesus across the sea, asking him for a sign like Moses did (John 6:31). It seems strange for them to say this, since Jesus has just performed a sign like that in the feeding of the five thousand. Yet their words also confirm what Jesus commented on. They have not “seen signs” (John 6:26). Simply put, they did not understand the meaning of Jesus’ actions in the feeding miracle.
Jesus goes on to explain by interpreting the manna as a story about what God is doing in their lives. It is easy to read these verses in John in a way that distances the bread Jesus offers from the manna story. But Jesus is making an important connection about the manna God offered in the wilderness, as told in Exodus, and the bread which Jesus offers.
Bread was an important staple of diets in Jesus’ day. Daily bread was central to daily nourishment. “Give us this day our daily bread” in the Lord’s Prayer is as real as it gets in praying for basic needs. Without bread, meals would be lacking. Without bread, people went hungry. Bread played an important role in gathering people in table fellowship to encounter Christ.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Jesus in John’s gospel says “I am the bread of life.” The people of Jesus’ day understood how important bread was to sustaining life. They understood the place bread held on their tables, and in their lives.
Recall from our Gospel reading last week the miracle Jesus performed in feeding 5,000 with five loaves of bread. We only need to look to the Last Supper — and our weekly celebration of the Eucharist — to see how Jesus takes the most common of food and makes it holy.
In the Eucharist, Jesus feeds our spiritual hunger. Saint Augustine said “Christ is the bread, awaiting hunger.”
Richard Rohr in a presentation titled Eucharist as Touchstone offers the following reflection:
The mystery of Eucharist clarifies and delineates Christianity from the other religions of the world. We have many things in common, but Christianity is the only religion that says that God became a human body; God became flesh, as John’s Gospel puts it, (1:14). Our fancy theological word for that is the Incarnation, the enfleshment. It seems that it is much easier for God to convince bread of what it is than for God to convince us. Incarnation is scandalous, shocking – cannibalistic, intimate, sexual!
He did not say, “Think about this,” “Fight about this,” “Stare at this;” but He said “Eat this!”
A dynamic, interactive event that makes one out of two.
If we did not have the Eucharist, we would have to create it; sometimes it seems that outsiders can appreciate it more than Christians.
As Gandhi said, “There are so many hungry people in the world that God could only come into the world in the form of food.” It is marvelous, that God would enter our lives not just in the form of sermons or Bibles, but in food.
God comes to feed us more than just teach us. Lovers understand that.”
When we start making the Eucharistic meal something to define membership instead of to proclaim grace and gift, we always get in trouble; that’s been the temptation of every denomination that has the Eucharist.
Too often we use Eucharist to separate who’s in from who’s out, who’s worthy from who’s unworthy, instead of to declare that all of us are radically unworthy, and that worthiness is not even the issue. If worthiness is the issue, who can stand before God?
Are those who receive actually saying they are “worthy”? I hope not. It is an ego statement to begin with.
The issue is not worthiness; the issue is trust and surrender or, as Thérèse of Lisieux said, “It all comes down to confidence and gratitude.”
I think that explains the joyous character with which we so often celebrate the Eucharist. We are pulled into immense gratitude and joy for such constant and unearned grace.
It doesn’t get any better than this!
Eucharist is presence encountering presence – mutuality, vulnerability. There is nothing to prove, to protect, or to sell. It feels so empty, naked, and harmless, that all you can do is be present.
The Eucharist is telling us that God is the food and all we have to do is provide the hunger.
Somehow we have to make sure that each day we are hungry, that there’s room inside of us for another presence.
If you are filled with your own opinions, ideas, righteousness, superiority, or sufficiency, you are a world unto yourself and there is no room for “another.”
Despite all our attempts to define who is worthy and who is not worthy to receive communion, our only ticket or prerequisite for coming to Eucharist is hunger.
So come with your hunger and let Jesus feed you. Then go and feed the hunger of the world. Amen.