Sermon – Proper 14 Year B 2021

John’s Gospel has no account of the Last Supper. Instead it is conveyed through passages like the one we’ve just heard – but they are very dense and hard to grasp.

 

Today I’m going to focus on the bits about bread. These are:

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

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.”

Let’s voice these problems. (read each sentence and ask what the problem is.)

 

We start with bread : is an important food for most of the world. It’s what everyone eats.

In this passage Jesus is telling us that he is giving himself as bread for the world to be broken and shared for the life of the world. (You can almost hear the disciples saying ‘You want us to EAT you?’)

You’ll remember that Jesus’ action of breaking bread at Emmaus was how the disciples recognised him. Jesus was very identified with breaking and sharing bread.

After Jesus’ ascension, his followers kept his memory alive by breaking and sharing bread – it was how they remembered Jesus. 

They slowly became aware that when they shared bread they somehow brought Jesus out of the past into the present with them – they literally kept his memory alive. 

Somehow, as this happened it enabled them to live as Jesus had taught them – sharing and eating pointed them out into the world and onward to the future, spreading his message of God’s love. That’s why we’re here.

 

Slowly they began to understand that this bread they shared was something to do with Jesus’ death on the cross. The breaking of the bread reminded them of Jesus’ broken body on the cross. As they shared bread they understood that Jesus’ broken body was not just a terrible thing to happen (although it was that) – it was a way of putting himself into our hands, and a way of changing the world. 

The cross and the bread change everything.

The cross is a truly horrid thing. It is a cruel instrument of torture, humiliation and pain.

Bread is bread – common as muck, ordinary, boring. But good too.

So this horrid thing and this ordinary thing are the things that changed the world. How weird is that? Wouldn’t you have thought that it would have taken lots of money, hundreds of committees, and several international treaties to change the world.

 

For me it’s about transformation and how you see things. There have been endless theological debates over the centuries about the nature of the bread that we receive – does it change, is it REALLY the body of Christ or is it just bread. NO doubt someone will have done a chemical analysis to prove it is the same before and after. 

I think this entirely misses the point, because its us that change, or rather the bread changes us. Here in our hand is this tiny scrap of wafer. Here on our table is a loaf of bread. With faith, we see these things charged with the glory and grandeur of God. Here is the cross – certainly in John’s Gospel the cross is a thing of Glory from whence Jesus reigns in triumph. 

 

We see this in Jesus’ life. How the poor people, the ragged people, the despised and rejected people were treated as the most precious. How the lilly was as beautiful as a King’s clothes. How a stable was the birthplace of God. How a mere woman was the first witness to the resurrection. How a child’s gift fed 5000 people. Jesus’ enemies were the ones who refused to see God’s glory in anyone but themselves. 

 

Others have seen this too. An English, Mother Julian of Norwich saint saw the whole world in a hazelnut. William Blake wrote this:

 

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand 

And Eternity in an hour.

GLORY be to God for dappled things

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

I went to Auschwitz and found it both a terrible place and a holy place. Perhaps the most frightening thing was that it was also a very ordinary place – in countryside, just outside a town, with trees and grass and birds singing. Like the cross – terrible and holy. Like bread – ordinary and holy.

 

If we look with the eyes of faith, and especially with the eyes of love, we see the world full of precious things, all charged with God’s grandeur. Of course, if we do this then our brothers and sisters who have no bread, and those who suffer terribly, are also charged with God’s glory. We see God there. And we let them go hungry? And we let the suffering go on unnoticed? 

 

We are in such a hurry now. We rush around and fail to stop and look. We become careless with things. We throw things away without considering their worth. 

But here, in Church, just for a second, we stop to look at a scrap of bread, placed into our hand, and we are asked to see God in it. We share a cup of wine that is everything that exists – our life, our world, eternity, love

We hold infinity in the palm of our hand.

 

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

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.”

 

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