August 9th, 2015
“The Bread of Life that Comes to Us”
Today we continue hearing from Jesus in John chapter 6, this great “bread of life” discourse. In John's Gospel there are 8 great “I AM” statements:
I am the bread of life
I am the light of the world
Before Abraham was, I am
I am the door
I am the good shepherd
I am the resurrection and the life
I am the way, the truth, and the life
I am the true vine
This is the first of those statements, and the one that Jesus spends the most time in the Gospel unpacking. These grand statements are far more than simple metaphors, though there are points of comparison to note.
When Jesus uses the image of bread – it's quite intentional. Bread is the staff of life. It is the most basic form of food and sustenance we humans know. We pray for daily bread in the Lord's prayer, meaning, all that we need to support this body and life. We work to put bread on the table, that is, to earn money and pay for all our family's needs.
When Jesus claims for himself the title, “Bread of Life”, he's doing far more than making a simple comparison. In a way, Jesus is more bread than bread itself. He is more universal. He is more basic and necessary. He is more of what we need to be sustained than any earthly bread. Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God. And Jesus Christ, the Bread from Heaven is the Word of God made flesh.
And there is contrast here, too. Earthly bread must be earned, but the Bread of Life from Heaven is a gift. Earthly bread may spoil, but this bread endures. Earthly bread may leave you hungry again soon. But the Bread of Life promises – you'll never hunger or thirst again. Earthly bread – you can eat it, and die the next day. But the bread of life – you eat that and you'll live forever, be raised on the last day.
In our Old Testament reading, Elijah was facing death. He was under threat of death from the wicked queen Jezebel. She called for his death, and fast, for he had beaten the false prophets of her false gods at Mt. Carmel. When their sacrifice was ignored, but Elijah's sacrifice to the true God was consumed in fire from heaven – and Elijah had those 450 false prophets put to death. Queen Jezebel would have her revenge, and put the word out that Elijah was at the top of her list. So he ran into the wilderness. And found his refuge under a broom tree. And he was so exhausted from all this that he prayed to die. “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”
But the Angel of the Lord appeared and fed him. He provided him with a simple meal, not once but twice, to strengthen and sustain Elijah, whose work was not quite done yet. Nothing fancy, mind you. No army appeared for Elijah to lead into battle with Jezebel. No magical thunderbolt to zap his enemies to smithereens. No more fire from heaven. Just a simple meal. And Elijah was strengthened for his journey.
This Angel of the Lord that appeared to him, appears to be a bit more than a mere created angel. But throughout the Old Testament this particular messenger of God is identified with God himself – and appears to be a pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity. The Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses and Abraham and Hagar and Gideon and so many others. The same Person who in some 800 years would take on human flesh and be born of a virgin. The same one who would proclaim himself the Bread of Life.
The Bread of Life – we need this bread, for we too face death all day long. We try to push death out of the picture, relegate it to hospitals and nursing homes, dress it up with softer words like “passed away”. Or we make a game and joke of death, turn it into a cartoon. You can go on the internet, plug in a few personal details, and the “death clock” will give you an approximation of how long it thinks you have on this earth. This is how we face our enemy?
Or better yet, just live in denial that each of us will one day face our last day. Plod through life like nothing's wrong, everything is puppies and daffodils, and everyone is and will be just fine. Well this just lets death sneak up on you, and smack you while you're not looking. And sooner or later, it will happen. No one is immune.
No, none of these methods deal with death. They only seek to hide from it or make it less terrible. But make no mistake. Death and sin walk hand in hand. No matter what fig leaf we try to use to cover up the wages of our sin. We can't do it. It's too much for us.
We may not have a wicked Jezebel out for our head, but we have a more wicked enemy who would take our life if he could. The devil's schemes are never-ending, his temptations do not let up. Moreover, we have our own sinful nature to contend with – a nature that would eagerly dance to the devil's tune. And the world – if you don't believe the world has embraced a culture of death look no further than the latest weekly video and see the gruesomeness of the violence done to the least of these among us.
Sometimes the journey seems too great for us. This life exhausts us and overwhelms us and even if we sometimes live in denial of death, other days we like Elijah, “Lord, it is enough. Take me now.” And it seems like the only thing to do with death is to give in.
But the same Lord who fed Elijah for his journey is the same Lord who sends the Bread of Life from heaven. And just as Elijah's simple meal was nothing outwardly spectacular, but just what he needed – so does the Bread of Life feed us. He gives his flesh, his body, for the life of the world.
Elijah found his rest under a broom tree. But you and I find our rest under a different tree- the tree of the cross. There, at the cross, Jesus sweeps away all our sin and even death itself.
It is from the cross that Jesus feeds the world just what it needs. Not a savior who brings armies or magic wands, no fireworks or winning lottery tickets. But in the lowly, the humble, the suffering – his power is made perfect in weakness. He sheds his blood, suffers the wrath of God for sin, and gives up his Spirit – thus fulfilling the will of his Father, thus completing his mission from heaven, and winning for you – eternal life.
This is how he, the Bread of Heaven feeds us with the gifts of the Father. This is how he, the Bread of life, brings us eternal life.
And it is from the altar, that he feeds you today. It may not seem like much. You have all these sins and troubles and fears and then there's death... and Jesus says take and eat, this little, simple wafer of bread. Take and drink, just a sip of wine – and nothing fancy at that. But in this Holy Sacrament of his body and blood, he feeds you the fruits of his cross – and sustains you with the Bread of Life. And it is enough for the journey. He feeds you and sustains you with exactly what you need. He gives you himself, and that's always enough.
So come and eat and drink. Come bearing your sins. Come with whatever weariness life in a fallen world has laid on you. Come even though your enemies would have your life. Come with your hurts, your hungers, your yearning to do better. Come to Jesus, for he has come from heaven, from the Father, for you. And whoever comes to Jesus, the Father will not cast out. Whoever believes will have eternal life. In Jesus' Name. Amen.