Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2006
The Gospel: John 6:53-59
Sermon: "The Bread of the World"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
John 6: 53-59
The Bread of the World
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - August 20, 2006
Before you there are two tables. On one table we have grapes, bread, water, four and yeast. On the other table we have wine, water, and bread. One could easily say that the second table is the result of processes worked on the elements of the other table. That assumption would be right.
If we take flour, water and yeast and mix them together in the proper proportions we get dough. Then the dough is kneaded and worked. The raw dough is allowed to rise and then it is baked. The result is bread. Have you ever been in a house where home made bread is baking? The aroma fills the house and the whole house smells good and fresh. I don't about you but that smell is captivating for me. I can't wait to taste that bread and have my mouth filled with that wonderful flavor. I guess Pavlov could have used bread and me in his experiment instead of dogs and a bell.
Like the bread, the grapes go through a different process but the result is similar. The grapes are picked and processed for the flavorful juice. Several ingredients are added to enhance the fermenting process and then the placed in casks for a certain time. At the end of that time the cask is opened and the new wine is produced. The taste of the flavorful wine enhances many meals and evening gatherings.
Yes, these simple products of flour, grapes, water and yeast can produce wonderful food and drink. They are transformed into food and drink that nourish our body. They provide us with physical refreshment and energy.
Today, we are going to see another transformation of sorts. This transformation involves our bodies, minds and spirits. This transformation involves bread, wine and water. More importantly, it involves Jesus Christ and the actions of a loving God.
In this morning's Gospel, Jesus proclaims that a person must "eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of his blood" in order to have life in themselves. He proclaims that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink. If we were to read this without the rest of the Gospel one might think we were discussing some form of cannibalism. To a first century, faithful Hebrew man or woman, they might perceive these words in that manner. At that time and even today in the Jewish faith there are strict guidelines concerning food and drink. It would have been absolutely impossible for a devout Jewish person to consume blood of any kind. So these words must have been difficult to understand then, for they are often difficult to understand now.
However, we have something they didn't have at the time. We have the capacity to see the whole story. We get to see the full teaching of Jesus. As a result we can see that we are not dealing with a new dietary teaching. Jesus is teaching something new and different.
The teaching he brings now is reflective of the history of the Exodus and it looks forward to the enhancing of our relationship with God. We all know the story of the Exodus. God saved the people from slavery and took them into the desert. They had little food and God provided them with manna from heaven. Do we really comprehend what God did here? God brought these people out of slavery. They were beaten, defeated and hungry. Most of all, they felt deserted. They felt deserted by God. They were hurting physically and emotionally and dead spiritually. But God came to them and claimed them for God's own. They were rescued from slavery and removed from their oppressors. As a result they were offered hope to replace spiritual despair. And when they were hungry and thirsty, God gave them food and water. A loving God provided for their needs.
Even though God did all of these things, they still didn't understand what had happened. They began to teach about a God that was vengeful. If one didn't follow the Law, God would get you. The problem was that God didn't want that teaching. It did not teach the true nature of God. Therefore, Jesus comes. Jesus teaches about a caring and compassionate God. God heals the sick. God cares for the poor. God feeds the hungry. Jesus showed them how much God cared through his actions of healing and feeding. These actions are only the beginning of the teaching. The feeding of the five thousand is only one sign of what is to come. Jesus shows that God still takes care of our bodies by feeding the people. There is more to learn.
So on the night before he dies. He has a meal with his disciples. At this meal he teaches them about servanthood through foot-washing. He offers them the bread and the wine of life, his body and blood. The bread and the wine are transformed into real symbols of the body and blood of Jesus. They eat the bread and they drink the wine but they still don't understand.
Then Jesus goes to the cross. He offers himself. His body is broken by slaps and fists and whips. His blood is shed. Even his brow is pierced by a crown of thorns. Jesus offers all he is, body and soul, for their understanding of the depth of the love of God. When he is raised on that third day, the understanding comes. They see and feel the depth of God's love for them. They begin to understand the care and compassion of a present and loving God. For them the bread and the wine become an everlasting symbol of God's love for them. Bread and wine, simple food and drink, now become the symbols physically and spiritually of the presence of God in their lives.
They are symbols for us today too. They are real symbols of a loving God. They are transformed by God to strengthen us in our daily walk in mind, body and spirit. Oh, they might not look like much to the naked eye. Yet to those who believe in the wonder and power of God, they offer strength to walk each day in a troubling world. They bring guidance to minds that often get lost in the worries of the world. They offer spiritual hope in a world that at times feel full of despair. As we are strengthened in body, guided in mind and spiritually fed with hope, we too become transformed. We become transformed daily into the image of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. We become the witnesses of God's love in the world.
Today, we come forward to be fed in the same holy mysteries with which Jesus fed the disciples so long ago. We are fed with Body and Blood of our Savior. We are fed in order for us to share the love of God through Christ with the world around us. Jesus calls us to come to the table, to taste and see the goodness of a loving and caring God.