Bread of life (2): Fill up on Bread

Reading
John 6.41–51

 

The ingredients for bread were always the same: flour, yeast, water, and salt. But the difficulty was that there were ten thousand ways of combining these simple elements. — Julia Child, My Life in France, 2006

A dog fed on fine white bread flour and water does not live beyond the fiftieth day. A dog fed on the coarse bread of the military lives and keeps his health. — François Magendie, The Lancet, 1826 

Note: I enjoyed dipping into 52 Loaves by William Alexander as I prepared this sermon.

______________________

I can still remember my mother saying to me: ‘Fill up on bread!’

She said it to me often, as I frequently complained that I was still hungry after dinner was finished.

Fill up on bread. I didn’t like a lot of the bread I was given to fill up on though.

I do like good white bread—crusty loaves from the bakery are great—but the white bread I knew as a child was pretty insipid. You know, that tasteless, stick-to-the-roof-of-the-mouth white fluff that has passed for ‘bread’ since before I was born.

That was the only white bread I knew in my childhood, so it’s not surprising that I always preferred brown bread to this so-called bread.

I’m not the only one who thinks a lot of bread tastes awful. This quotation is attributed to the American celebrity cook Julia Child:

How can a country be great if its bread tastes like Kleenex?

Indeed.

I didn’t avoid tasteless white bread for health reasons. But did you know that The Scotsman—a newspaper from, you guessed it, Scotland—had the following piece:

Wildlife experts in Scotland have urged the public to help save swans by feeding them brown loaves instead of white. A lack of nutrients in white bread is leaving the birds crippled with a condition similar to rickets in humans.

This article wasn’t written in the 1890s or the 1930s. It was in 2008, only ten years ago.

Fill up on bread? It depends what kind of bread you’re talking about.

Jesus says,

I am the bread of life.

And not the Kleenex-tasting bland white variety! Jesus is good bread, satisfying bread. He goes on to say:

Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

That’s not what his hearers wanted though. And it may not be what some of his people want today.

The crowd wanted bread alright. They wanted bread from Jesus, they wanted him to keep them in bread. (And why not? Hunger is no fun at all.) But they didn’t want Jesus to be bread.

Perhaps we rather Jesus just gave us bread too. We want ethical teaching from Jesus to support our political biases. We want Jesus to praise the things we approve, and condemn the things we hate.

Jesus’ teachings are indispensable if we’re going to follow him. But when Jesus says ‘I am the bread of life’, he means more than his teachings. He means himself. He is the Bread of Life.

If we centre our lives around him as Lord and Saviour, if we ‘feed on him’, we will neither hunger nor thirst for he himself is our daily bread. Jesus said (John 10.10)

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

If we centre our lives around him, if we ‘feed on him’ daily, that promise in is ours:

You know, John’s Gospel is full of images of abundance. There is

  • Light that overcomes darkness
  • Water that becomes wine
  • Living waters that flow for ever
  • Bread given freely in the wilderness
  • Life that conquers death

Jesus has come to bring abundant life, eternal life. When Jesus comes to us as the Bread of Life, we receive him. We need never hunger again. And it’s not just about us. No one else should hunger, whether that hunger is spiritual or physical—any and every hunger is our concern.

This has a lot to do with the Holy Meal we shall come to, that is, Holy Communion. In the last verse of today’s lectionary reading, Jesus says:

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.

These words are not a long way from the Words of Institution that we’ve heard so many times as we come to Holy Communion. We take these words from the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 11:

For I received from the Lord
what I also delivered to you,
that the Lord Jesus,
on the night when he was betrayed,
took bread,
and when he had given thanks,
he broke it and said:
This is my body which is for you.
Do this for the remembrance of me.

In the same way also the cup,
after supper, saying:
This cup is the new covenant in my blood.
Do this, as often as you drink it,
for the remembrance of me.

Paul says the bread is the body of Jesus, John says it is the flesh of Jesus.

So is this passage only about the Lord’s Supper? It’s about the Lord’s Supper, and more. It’s about an abundant life centred on Jesus our Lord and Saviour, a life which would be less abundant if the Lord’s Supper were removed from it.

Fill up on bread? It depends what kind of bread you’re talking about.

Jesus says,

I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Fill up on the Bread of Life. Come to him. Come to him daily, so that as you come to him in Holy Communion, in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, you may come in expectant and hopeful faith.

 

Preached at Wellington Point Uniting Church, 12 August 2018

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