John 6. 35, 41-51 Eph 4.25 – 5.2 BREAD FROM HEAVEN / IMITATORS OF GOD
Last week was LGBT Liberation Sunday so we had special readings which meant we missed the normal readings including the feeding of the five thousand – so to briefly bring us up to speed…
Jesus has fed the five thousand and come back from the other side of the lake in mysterious circumstances – (the crowd know he didn’t get in the boat with the disciples so wonder how he got back to Capernaum); when they find Jesus they ask what they must do to perform the works of God. Jesus’ answer is simply “Believe in him who he has sent. They ask for a sign that they “might see it and believe … our ancestors ate manna in the desert – as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ ” Jesus replies “It’s my Father who gives the true bread from heaven”
“Sir, give us this bread always!” (They seems to recognise the importance of the true bread – they want to have it, but not, it transpires, in the form in which it is offered to them – in Jesus) – and that’s where today’s gospel starts – Jesus says: I AM the bread life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
And in verse 51 – “I AM the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” – [in each case, his ‘”I AM” echoing the words of God to Moses, “I am who I am” (Ex 3.14)] In John 6 v 41 they complain because Jesus said “I am the bread that came down from heaven” … “This is just Jesus – we know his mum and dad…” forgetting that God’s gifts frequently come in the form of the ordinary, the everyday, the mundane, the familiar – that’s why we overlook them so often. And God’s greatest gift coming in the form of a human being who they knew, was too much for the crowds and they ended up arguing like children (“how can he give us his flesh to eat?”) (v52)
Speaking of familiarity, we’re all familiar with what bread is like – everyday stuff, an unremarkable food item to most people – but at the Eucharist we take bread, we ask God to bless it, we break it and we share it out. We do this specifically to bring to mind, to remembrance, the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
SO BREAD IS: TAKEN BLESSED BROKEN GIVEN
For Jesus these weren’t just words – this is what his whole earthly life was about. He himself was taken, as it were, and made flesh;
He was blessed – obviously he was blessed! Think of the Holy Spirit descending on him at his baptism and the words from heaven “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased- listen to him”
He was broken, certainly at his crucifixion; but so often through the gospels we read of his being in need of solitude and prayer…
And he was given – in the manger, on the mount, by the lake, in the temple, in the garden, at Pentecost, at the Eucharist, at every moment of every day, his very flesh, [his everything, in other words], for the life of the world… given. Shared out, generously.
I was very moved by the generous nature of some the Olympic gold medal winners – especially Jessica Ennis who after the race she won, got all the other runners together and they all joined hands and bowed together to the crowds – a lovely display of selflessness and generosity in victory…
When we Christians speak of giving and generosity, the benchmark, the standard by which we need to measure ourselves is what we are exhorted to do in today’s New Testament reading from Ephesians 5.1, – if, that is, we have the willingness, the commitment – the bottle – to dare to become imitators of God: living in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us… allowing ourselves to become like Christ: to actually be nourishment, goodness, welcome news, life-giving grace, unconditional compassion and love – a community of self-giving love, living in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us; allowing ourselves to be taken, blessed, broken and given.
Of course in a world that’s all about competition and getting what you want, or at least what you think you need before anyone else gets it, it’s very hard not to be drawn into a selfish, competitive mentality. But for the Christian that is at odds with the mentality and the gift of God.
I was reading recently about examples in the natural world, where we all have been brought up to believe everything hinges on competition and the survival of the fittest and strongest …
1. Plants behave in a way that is not competitive but is cooperative, Mycorrhizas, – associations between fungus in soil and the roots of plants – most plants form these associations, and most plants grow poorly without them!
2. The bird’s nest orchid is found in beech woodlands and has no chlorophyll, and in fact its leaves are reduced to colourless scales. Its roots are associated with mycorrhizal fungi that themselves feed on decaying vegetation and pass some of the nutrients to the orchid. In return, the orchid synthesizes certain complex organic chemicals for its fungal partner.
3. Even trees help each other. The roots of neighbouring trees, especially trees of the same species, often
naturally graft together beneath the soil, in such a way that xylem can flow from one tree to another and carry water and mineral nutrients with it. It has been shown that nutrients tend to flow from the stronger trees to the weaker ones!.
4. We need to learn some of the lessons nature has to teach us – how in giving, we receive – and vice-versa – in receiving it is possible to be giving… Flying Squirrels’ in the forest need to eat – and what they eat is truffles and in doing so they spread the truffles’ spores. Truffles, being fungi, play an important part in supporting the plants of the forest in all sorts of ways, including the nutrient take-up and general health of plants, in particular the trees that form the forest that form the home for the squirrels. The act of eating, for the squirrels, has benefits on the whole forest that the squirrels know nothing about…
And we, at the Eucharist … we take, bless, break and give bread – but the most important thing we do with it is… Eat it – in order to be nourished by bread it needs to be eaten! – that’s precisely why Jesus was using bread to describe himself – we take bread into ourselves, chew it up and swallow it and digest it and it becomes part of us, giving us strength and health; so that’s what we need to do with Jesus – meaning ‘eating’, [taking into ourselves] the things of Jesus, his teachings, his values, his characteristics; his way of approaching the world, his way of thinking and feeling; his way of responding to one another and to the issues problems and challenges that affect us all – his way…. not ours. Our eating the bread of the Eucharist symbolises this and so doing, like flying squirrels, we may be benefiting the world in ways we may never know anything about…
A final thought about bread from the story of the feeding of the five thousand… At the end of the episode, when everyone had eaten, Jesus got them to gather up the fragments… the left-overs. I’ve been thinking a lot about this recently and I keep thinking of people who are considered the left-overs in life; the forgotten ones – the ones considered unimportant in our communities; and those of us who tend to see ourselves as just ‘left-overs’ – for whatever reason.
So… ever feel not so much like a nourishing farmhouse loaf or an appetising-looking baguette or a wholesome soda-bread or one of those shiny plaited loaves? If you, like many of us, sometimes feel more like a stale half-eaten sandwich or a pile of crumbs, if you feel you belong with the left-overs, then take heart! In the story of the feeding of the five thousand it’s not recorded what happened to the left-overs, but one thing is clear – they were carefully gathered up on the express orders of Jesus himself because to Jesus, the left-overs are a vital part of the story… they speak of the overwhelming generosity of God that is involved in taking, blessing, breaking and sharing – a ludicrous, wasteful generosity it may appear but it is a generosity that means everyone gets enough to eat – and even more than we need.
Such is the grace of God. The thing about grace is that all you need to do, like eating bread and trusting it to do you good, is just to accept it and trust it to get on and do what it does….