"Bread from Heaven for Everybody" – John 6:35, 41-51
John 6:35, 41-51
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven." 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'?" Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, "And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
Over spring break my freshman year at Valparaiso University I toured with our college choir. One Sunday while on tour we sang as part of a worship service in a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church. When it came time for communion, our choir director invited those choir members who were members of a LCMS church to come forward for communion. I thought it was odd that they would segregate us into groups in order to escort us to the altar. What I soon learned was that I was not welcome to the altar at all because I did not belong to their church.
This was my first experience of being excluded from church, and it has had a remarkable and lasting impact on how I approach the Lord's Supper. The openness of our ELCA congregation and our insistence that all are welcome to celebrate communion is one of our most wonderful gifts to the world.
I tell that story as a way to invite you to think a little more deeply about what happens every Sunday when we gather at the altar and receive the body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
Perhaps you have wrestled with the underlying theology of the Lord’s Supper: this idea that flesh and blood is really present, and then really ingested. It all sounds so…weird.
In spite of the weirdness of the language and concept of flesh-eating, what I think is going on here–what I trust is going on here–is that Jesus is teaching us this truth: We show love by what we’re willing to give up and that God shows the depth of his love for creation by giving up God’s self, through Jesus, for the life of the world.
The sacrament of the Eucharist – Holy Communion – is a simple act of grace, trust, and faith composed of earthly elements infused with God’s promise. The complex truth that undergirds the simple act is that communion is an opportunity for us to receive God’s love so that we can go out and give God’s love to others.
The body of Christ is here, at the table, and here, in us, all of us, coursing through our veins, most notably after we have received Christ’s body and blood in the celebration of Holy Communion.
This table is a body of ideas, a statement really, to the rest of the world of just what God’s priorities are. At this table, everyone is invited forward, and no one leaves without something: bread, wine, a blessing.
And everyone leaves differently than when they first came up: fed, nourished, blessed.
You see, this table changes us so that we can be change in the world. And change happens all over the place, right? It happens in here, in our inner-selves. It happens in here; in our church community. It happens out there; in the world.
Jesus is inviting humanity into the life of God in a way that helps us to do what we cannot do alone – change ourselves and the world.
I think one of the best descriptions of a person coming to terms with that very notion is found in a book by Sara Miles titled Take This Bread. It’s her story of coming to faith and meeting a God she never thought was real, and certainly never expected to trust.
She tells the story of a time when she was taking care of a friend, named Millie, who was in the final stages of cancer; her body fighting with the radiation.
Millie was physically ill, bitter, upset. She wasn’t pleasant to be around, and taking care of her was taxing Sara to the point that she was physically and emotionally exhausted. Sara tells the story of how she went to prepare Millie some toast (the only thing that she could stomach), when she finally broke down.
“Help, I can’t do this alone,” Sara cried out. And in between her tears, as she’s breaking up the toast, she begins to imagine that what she was doing was sacred, like Holy Communion. She writes,
“What makes the bread into the body of Christ? What makes words more than words, mortal flesh more than mortal flesh; what makes a piece of toast into a sacrament? I broke the bread.
[‘It is indeed right, our duty and our joy, that we should at all times and all places give thanks and praise...’] the Great Thanksgiving prayer began. It was chanted every Sunday at the table, and I knew the words by heart now…and something was in the kitchen with me, like the sunlight falling on the braided rug, like the piece of bread in my hands, warm and uncompromisingly alive.
I wasn’t alone. This wasn’t the end. I took the toast back to the little room, where Millie had propped herself up with a couple of pillows. I could smell the wisteria, faintly, through the opened window, and hear the kids from the school next door yelling in the yard. I pushed away a box of Kleenex and sat down on her bed. ‘Millie,’ I said, ‘this is for you.’
In half an hour, I would tuck her in, and set out a glass of water, and drive home across the bridge, stunned and blinking and saying aloud to myself, ‘Oh my God, it’s real.’”
Oh my God, it’s real.
Strength where there is no more strength. Hope where there is no more hope. Life when life seems breathless.
This is the real mystery that God is offering at this table, the real assurance that we are hungering for in this world: God is real and we are not doing this alone.
We feed from Grace’s table so that we can go out with that love inside of us, into a world that needs it, into our homes that may need it, into our relationships that may need it.
Perhaps you are walking with someone through difficulty and you, like Sara, cry out, “I cannot take it anymore!”
Come to this table. Lay that all down. Fill up again with God’s love, and the love of this community, the body of Christ.
Perhaps you are that one in distress and pain, feeling dead inside in spite of having a beating heart and breathing lungs.
Come. Eat. Drink. Be blessed. Reconcile the opposites of feeling dead inside while still walking around with the love of God that brings you back to wholeness in time.
Perhaps you are in dire need of forgiveness, for reconciliation, within yourself or with someone else in your life, maybe someone in this room. Come. Be filled with the love of God, and then you have what you need to go to that person.
Perhaps you are in bliss at this very moment. Come, then, and feast in the love of a God who shares in your joy!
In this meal love provides the understanding that we don’t do this alone. That is communion. That is the bread of life–the living bread from heaven. That is the Lord’s Supper. And that’s why we celebrate it as often as we can with whomever we can.
Pray with me,
Sometimes, God, your word is a parable;
and we do not understand what it means
to be taught by God.
And so you have given us things to help us understand:
Wine, Water, Bread, Each other.
Jesus, the living bread, as you invite us to your table be our bread.
That we might feed the world in your love.