Sermon preached by the Reverend Louise Kalemkerian
In the name of God who feeds us in ways beyond our understanding, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. AMEN.
Today’s Gospel follows on last week’s feeding of the five thousand, and is the second of five consecutive lessons we’ll get from the sixth chapter of John. John’s Gospel doesn’t have an account of the Last Supper, so this chapter contains all of Jesus’ teaching on the Eucharist. John is trying to show us that in the Eucharist, Jesus feeds us in more ways than one, spiritually, physically, emotionally. Also, as Fr. Lang said last week, Jesus feeds us with hope, with possibility, with hospitality, with reconciliation, with community, whatever it is that we need.
In last week’s reading and in this one, a picture of a beleaguered Jesus emerges: he can’t go anywhere without being mobbed. The crowds hunt him down; they even demand to know when he got where he is, as if they have the right to see his itinerary. Everyone has heard about the miraculous food— “Five Thousand Fed From Five Loaves!”—and everyone wants more. Maybe we want more too.
If the crowd is not clamoring for more, at least they wanted a repeat performance so that they could be sure they had seen what they thought they had seen. We, just like Jesus’ first hearers, are in search of food in wildernesses of our own.
People in our world are either desperate for food at all, hungry each night and hoping for relief, or else we have all the food that we can eat with leftovers, yet our lives are curiously unfilled, or unfulfilled. The rich say to the poor, “How can you still be hungry? There is more than enough food for everyone in the world!” The poor say to the rich, “How can you still be hungry? You have so much already!”
Jesus is bread, but he wants to fill the hunger of our hearts and not just our stomachs. He wants to fill the gnawing, aching emptiness that we try to fill with lesser things. He wants to satisfy the longing or the boredom that we use substances of all sorts to quiet, to put an end to the grasping, fretting, worrying about having enough of anything that will in the end possess us, rather than allowing ourselves to fall into the hands of the one for whom we were made.
The manna lessons from the wilderness were important for the people of Israel. They learned that God would give them the things they needed. They also learned not to hoard their bread (it would get moldy if they kept it for more than a day) and to share it with those who could not gather for themselves. It was the bread that God gave them as they were learning how to be the servant people they were called to be. In John’s Gospel, the chasers of Jesus remembered the manna, but not the lessons of the manna. So Jesus begins to teach them again about what the true bread from heaven does.
But then he makes a bold move. He says, “I AM the bread of life.” He identifies himself with Yahweh, the great I AM, God’s definition of himself in the Old Testament. He identifies Yahweh as the bread of life for the world. This is in contrast to the bread which feeds humans but does not satisfy. The question is how? How is Jesus the bread of life? How does Jesus satisfy hunger and thirst? How does Jesus provide life for the world?
Walt Wangerin in his book, Ragman and Other Cries of Faith, tells the story of a particular species of spider. While most spiders leave their eggs in a sac and wander off, one species does not leave them thus to chance, but stays to protect them and find food for them. Like all spiders, she doesn’t have a stomach, and when she eats, she injects her poison and digestive juices into her prey and the victim becomes her stomach as she sucks out the life and the food from the prey’s empty shell. Except when there are no victims. When she can’t find food for the little spiders, the mother of this species will inject her poison into her own body and give her young one last meal, herself. She dies and gives them life.
Wangerin sees in Jesus the one who gives himself for the life of all. When we feast at Christ’s table, it is his own life poured out for us that becomes our bread. It is in the giving of himself that he is most alive, even as he dies. And those of us who follow rather than chase Jesus learn the simple truth from his Living Word: we are only filled full when we empty ourselves. Jesus is the bread of life not for what he puts into our stomachs, but rather for how he teaches us to live, really LIVE. In the meal of communion he is shaping us into his body and preparing us to give ourselves to others in the same way as he gives himself.
When we share the Eucharist, the holy food and drink of bread and wine, as we will in a little while, Jesus is the One setting the table for us, and offering himself to us. Know that everyone is invited to Jesus’ Table. Jesus’ hospitality and welcome knows no bounds.
When giving the holy bread, the priest says to each of us, “The Body of Christ.” St. Paul uses the expression the Body of Christ as a metaphor for the Church; each person is a member of the Body of Christ. In the Eucharist, we are fed with the living bread come down from heaven to become the living bread, the body of Christ in the world. As little Christs, we are to proclaim by our words and deeds the Good News of God in Christ, to speak the truth in love, to stand for justice and peace, to be agents of reconciliation and love.
The hunger that Jesus satisfies for purpose and meaning beyond ourselves, awakens in us other hungers, for peace, justice, loving kindness, and a humble walk with our God. No matter how often we feast at God’s table, these hungers never leave us. That is why the offering at worship is gathered as part of the celebration of the meal. We are offering ourselves into the service of the one who gives himself as food for us. We are allowing our lives to be reshaped by Christ into his own body for the world. We become bread like his bread. And all of this not by getting something, but by giving everything as Christ has given to us. Come hungry for life, leave hungry to give life, full of Jesus, the bread of life.