Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus does not say, “I am the pickled pigs feet of life,” or “the head cheese of life,” or “the cod liver oil of life.” Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.”
But neither does Jesus say, “I am the rich semisweet dark chocolate of life,” or “the medium rare standing rib roast of life,” or “the escargot of life.” No, Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.”
Not something we’d turn our noses up at and not something fancy either. Common ordinary bread. Every culture has bread in one or many forms. As a staple of life, bread is common and yet uncommon because it does have so many different forms. There’s white bread, wheat bread, pumpernickel, French, Italian, pita, tortilla, sour dough, and the list goes on and on. Say the word “bread” and chances are some good image, or taste, or smell, or texture is bound to pop up in our heads.
But Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life.” All of those other breads will grow stale and inedible in a fairly short period of time. Even the manna from heaven that fed the Hebrews in the wilderness was temporary. No, Jesus came offering a new kind of bread, one that doesn’t go bad, one that isn’t temporary, one that nourishes perpetually and lasts forever, one that sustains relationships and bolsters hope.
So very many people live, or rather exist, without the food of hope. So very many people today live hope_deficient lives. They are pale and gaunt from lack of sustenance. Some suffer from obesity in their malnourishment as they try to fill the hole within themselves with food that doesn’t last. Others search hopelessly for prince/princess charming to come with the food of romantic love that will make all their loneliness and troubles disappear. Still others gorge themselves on material goods only to discover their hunger is never satisfied. Like starving children with swollen bellies many people live as if they were simply waiting to die. They live lives of malnourished estrangement: estranged from themselves; estranged from family and loved ones — estranged from their parents, or children, or spouse; estranged from an old friend after an ages old argument; estranged especially from God. Hopelessness breeds such estrangement and estrangement inevitably starves the souls of human beings.
In our text from John, we pick up on the heels of Jesus just having fed the 5000 and now they were sticking to him like glue. The miracle of the loaves reminded the people of the manna in the wilderness. “Could this man be the new Moses? Could this guy work wonders for us?”
So they demanded that Jesus prove himself by making some bread from heaven rise up on the spot. Jesus knew they needed more than that, so he gave them himself instead (Barbara Brown Taylor, Bread of Angels, page 11).
But this wasn’t exactly what they had in mind. A relationship with this traveling preacher? No, they were thinking more along the lines of escargot, prime rib, and semisweet dark chocolate. They wanted good food and great wonders, they wanted miracles at their beck and call.
Jesus corrects them even as he feeds them: It was God, not Moses, who gave the manna in the wilderness and it’s God who gives the true bread from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world.”
“Give us some of that bread!” the people clamored.
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6:35).
This was undoubtedly confusing to the people. And maybe we’re confused too. How exactly is Jesus the Bread of Life? And how is Jesus like and not like the manna in the wilderness?
Well, for starters, Jesus is like manna in that through Jesus God reminds us that we live because God provides not what we want, necessarily, but exactly what we need: some food, some love, some breath, some water, and a relationship with the One who is the Bread from heaven. But Jesus is markedly different from the manna in the wilderness in that Jesus feeds us through a relationship.
There are all kinds of reasons people become estranged from one another and from God. Sin is certainly the biggest reason, but the point is none of us are immune to broken relationships. And yet relationships are as necessary for life as is bread. That’s how we have been created. We need to be in relationship to be fully human. Having said that, however, we also know that the fabric of most relationships is tissue paper.
God knows how fragile our relationships are, how fragile our very lives are, and God knows that we need to be continually fed. That’s why God sends the bread from heaven in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ God comes as the Bread of Life: as sustenance for the sickly and sequestered, a banquet for the bereaved and bottomed_out, a feast for the forlorn and forsaken. In Jesus Christ God leaves a trail of bread crumbs out of the wilderness of hopelessness and estrangement and into relationship, into community, into communion; a trail of bread crumbs to lead us Home.
You see, something inexplicable happens when we start picking up and eating those seemingly small and insignificant bread crumbs of life. When we come to ingest the hope, and peace, and unconditional love that is Jesus Christ, we come to realize, maybe for the first time, that the very presence of this bread means that there is no disagreement, no argument, no sin big enough to keep God from loving us.
This bread is not only an invitation to life, it is life. This bread gives us life because it is our hope, it is the very life of God enfleshed in our human world. Wherever there is humility, wherever there is gentleness, wherever there is patience, wherever there is unity in the Spirit, wherever there is peace, wherever there is truth spoken in love — there we are fed on the Bread of Life (Ephesians 4:1-3).
Wherever love triumphs over human sinfulness, estrangement, hopelessness — there is the Bread of Life, there is God’s own life given to us and for us.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Thanks for doing such a good job on yesterday’s sermon information. After a very large funeral and several crises with families, I used a good portion of your sermon and got an A+ from many folks. People needed to hear that God is near to them in their times of grieving, crisis, etc. It touched many hearts yesterday.”
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And if that’s what God has done for us in Christ, if that’s how God feels about us — if God is truly unwilling to let sin and estrangement be the focus of our existence but instead chooses to feed us bread for life then what shall our response be?
How shall we live differently from the world? Just look at our world!
Will we let our differences define our relationships? Will we let our disagreements be cause for separation and estrangement? Will we coddle conflict and chew upon controversy like so much endless gristle?
Or will we live lives worthy of our calling, imitating the One who’s overcoming love rises like bread?
In Jesus Christ the bread also rises to overcome all that would keep us apart from our God and one another, to overcome even death itself.
The smell of freshly baked bread is coming from the kitchen Table. And soon a bread crumb trail will lead us out into the world.
May we all be nourished and empowered by this gift of bread, this Bread of Life.
May we rise up and live out the unconditional love God bakes within us through relationship in Jesus Christ..
For in Jesus Christ, God has proclaimed a feast of the heart, and given us the Bread of Life to nourish and sustain us in all our relationships, at all times and in all places, in this world and the next.Amen.
Copyright 2006, Jeffrey K. London. Used by permission.