On Being Bread

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I should like to begin with a third reading from today’s lectionary, Ephesians 4:25-5:2.

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

“Live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” I am inclined to believe it is no mistake that the tradition handed down through the Gospel of John puts the crucifixion in a slightly different time frame than the three synoptic gospels. Mark, Mathew and Luke all record the crucifixion taking place the day after the Passover meal. Remember the last supper? In John, Christ’s crucifixion takes place on the afternoon before the Passover Meal, which is eaten at sundown. This is a key theological position of and for the Johannine community and any other descendent readers of these carefully reconstructed memories. John intentionally paints Jesus as the sacrificial lamb for all humanity – indeed, the whole of creation – once and for all, period. No other living sacrifices ever necessary again.

Paul instinctively knew this and recorded it in the Ephesians passage I just read. Paul, himself a Pharisee by training, was intimately familiar with the Hebrew traditions around Passover. He was also first among what I will call the “next generation” of believers – those who were not first hand eyewitnesses to God’s incarnation in Jesus of Nazareth.

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus tells us, “51 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.” Commentator O. Benjamin Sparks reminds us: the church-and any other hearers-are confronted with two offensive teachings in this text. 1. No one comes to God except through the bread of life, and 2. No one comes to Jesus unless God wants them to.[1]

Why are they potentially offensive? Today, these are unacceptable blanket statements for a globalizing humanity to swallow. So what can we do about it? Sparks reminds us,

According to Jesus, it is not our religious experience, our philosophical insight, the accident of our births, our economic status—nor most of all, God help us, our individual choice—that puts us within the realm of light that is the presence of Jesus within the community of faith.

We are saved by grace alone. It is grace that opens our eyes to see our need of the living God who is made known to the world in Jesus the Christ, the bread of life, the one who, when we come to him, will never leave us hungry again. When—invited—we turn to him, we have our thirst quenched from a living stream.

We do not save anyone—only God does that. And we who have been invited and eat the living bread and drink from the healing, life-giving stream can only bear witness.[2]

Jesus said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10), and so we bear witness to the One who lived and died and rose again for us. Yet for me, and I suspect for some of you, the question still remains: How do we bear witness to the Light? How do we share this offensive bread of heaven without being offensive? Especially since it has, by all accounts, returned to heaven anyway? How do we carry with us this life-giving water for all time? These same questions were asked of Jesus. He responds, as we know later in John’s gospel, with sending us the Holy Spirit after his ascension. Technically, then, the Spirit of God still dwells here on earth. We have no texts that claim the Holy Spirit has left! Which leaves me to conclude the Spirit of God will still speak within each of us if we but take the time to listen to our inner-most beings. That being said, we also have this ongoing challenge: Most of the time, the longings that well up from our innermost beings become expressed by

…insatiable need, rushing here and there in a vain attempt to assuage our emptiness. Our culture [has become] a vast supermarket of desire. [However], can it be that our bread, our wine, our fulfillment stands before us in the presence of this crucified, resurrected Jew? Can it be that many of our desires are, in the eternal scheme of things, pointless? Might it be true that he is the bread we need, even though he is rarely the bread we seek? Is it true that God has come to us, miraculously with, before us, like manna that is miraculously dropped into our wilderness?[3]

How, then, do we witness to the Holy Spirit that is within us? How, then, do we proclaim bread from heaven and life-giving water is still available to those who seek? Maybe, just maybe, we should return to Paul:

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… labor and work honestly with [your] own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, only what is useful for building up…so that your words may give grace to those who hear…31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us….

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Sparks, O. Benjamin. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).

[2] Ibid.

[3] Willimon, William H. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 3: Pentecost and Season After Pentecost 1 (Propers 3-16).

Feasting on the Word Commentary Lectionary aids:

Questions for Reflection and Prayers:

“Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:31–32). Have you ever experienced bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling, slander, or malice in yourself or from others? How do you overcome and find grace to forgive?

Household Prayer: Morning

God of the morning watches, my soul waits for you, and I hope in your word. Bread of life, nourish, strengthen, and accompany me throughout this day, that I may labor honestly, share with the needy, and imitate your love. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord Christ, you are the bread that has sustained me. Let me rest in peace, trusting that the grace you have given me for this day will be renewed like manna in the wilderness, nourishment for the challenge of tomorrow and confirmation of the promise of eternal life. Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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