“Eucharist and Bread of Life”
The Rev. Jay Lawlor
12th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 14, Year B – Aug 12, 2018
Church of the Nativity – Indianapolis, IN
John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” (John 6:35)
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.
Nonetheless, the crowd has difficulty understanding the metaphor of Jesus as the bread of their spiritual lives. They are missing the relationship Jesus is trying to establish. Just as the Israelites complained to Moses in the Exodus story, so also the crowd here complains about Jesus. They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41).
Jesus does not want them complaining. Rather, he wants them to enter into relationship. With God. With each other. With those in need.
Life centered on knowing and following Jesus is intended to change us for the better. Life centered on knowing and following Jesus is intended to change the world for the better.
So Jesus connects this to one of the most common and necessary things in the lives of the people. They needed bread to survive; to provide for their sustenance. Jesus said “I am the bread of life.” And this is bread to feed our souls. Our spiritual sustenance so we can grow in relationship with Christ, each other, and be the heart and hands of Jesus in the world.
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.”
Franciscan priest and author 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 – […] intimate […]!
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.
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.
In the Confirmation class I sat in on two weeks ago we had a conversation on the Eucharist and the Anglican theological understanding of Real Presence. How Christ, through the Holy Spirit, is spiritually present in consecrated bread and wine. How Eucharistic bread is where we receive Jesus the bread of life.
As Richard Rohr reminds us, all we need to approach and receive the Eucharist is hunger. A hunger to know Jesus. A hunger for peace. A hunger for justice. A hunger for reconciliation.
So come with your hunger and let Jesus feed you. Then go and feed the hunger of the world. Amen.