John 6.35, 41-51 / Ephesians 4.25-5.2
11th Sunday after Trinity / Proper 24 / Year B
In our reading today Jesus speaks of himself in these words:
“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry; whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
During our lifetime we will probably spend over 35,000 hours eating – that’s the equivalent of 8 years of nonstop meals, 12 hours a day.
Imagine having to cook that amount of food, never mind consuming it!
Many of these meals will include bread.
It’s a common staple found in homes all round the world, and many of us love the distinctive aroma, good taste and soft texture of freshly baked warm bread, just out of the oven.
It’s also vital to many people’s survival in some countries and is a symbol of all our daily physical needs in the Lord’s Prayer.
The problem of course is that even after a big meal we sooner or later get hungry again.
Yet in our Gospel reading Jesus talks about food that will satisfy our hunger forever – his very self.
Jesus gives himself to us forever because we need him forever.
Just as when we eat ordinary bread it becomes part of us and helps us stay physically strong, when we consume Jesus he becomes part of us and helps us stay spiritually strong.
If you like, bread makes physical life possible; Christ makes spiritual life possible.
But what does it mean to eat the Bread of Life? To consume Jesus?
There’s an obvious link with Holy Communion here.
When we come to the altar and see and take the bread and wine we have a clear, concrete image of taking Jesus into our selves and being nourished by him.
This is an important sign for us because we’re physical creatures who need and understand physical things.
Taking and eating actual, physical bread and wine can help make the spiritual truth of God’s presence with and within us more real to us.
They help us connect with God and become more fully united with him.
Depending on your theological slant this experience can be understood as anything from remembering Jesus’ sacrifice to literally eating the body and blood of Christ.
But I think there’s even more to Jesus being the Bread of Life than this.
We take and eat when we look to Jesus as our spiritual nourishment, day by day.
We take and eat when we continually draw close to him in prayer and worship, spend time with him, get to know him and enjoy being with him.
When we carry on reading about him, learning what he said and what he asks of us, and try to put these things into practice.
Then Jesus becomes the source of our values and the pattern for our lives.
More than that, he lives in us.
God himself living within us!
He becomes part of us, like the bread we eat.
We take in the mind and heart of God, who loves all people as his children and has compassion on the weary and the sinful.
As we absorb the Spirit of Christ and his love, justice and compassion, these qualities live more fully in us.
This will help us grow into natural imitators of God who live in love, as we heard in our reading from Ephesians.
In that reading Paul sets out how we are to live together in a community bound and guided by the Holy Spirit, following the example of Jesus.
As we live nourished by him we will find that speaking the truth, handling our anger well, working honestly, being kind to one another and all the other things mentioned in that reading become more and more naturally part of us as we absorb Jesus more and more into our hearts, minds and lives.
As we consume physical bread, it gives us nourishment and energy for our physical lives.
As we consume Jesus, he becomes the nourishment and energy for our spiritual, emotional and moral lives.
Just as physical bread must be eaten and become part of us to bring nourishment to our physical bodies, so the Bread of Life must be ‘eaten’ and become part of us to bring us spiritual nourishment.
This isn’t some dutiful, dull eating.
It’s not a case of eating your greens because they’re good for you.
If we’d had the psalm set for this morning, which is Psalm 34, we would have said “O taste and see that the Lord is gracious”. In other translations this comes out as “O taste and see that the Lord is good”.
The Bread of Life tastes good as well being good.
Perhaps more like a chocolate bar than a plate of Brussels’ sprouts – unless you happen to prefer sprouts to chocolate of course.
Jesus doesn’t offer dull, dutiful sustenance but life in all its fullness – and good things to those who will take them.
And it’s important to notice that Jesus says ‘anyone’ who comes to him can have this bread.
This is an open invitation to anyone who wants it, with no exceptions, ifs, buts, maybes or small print.
It reminds me of Isaiah chapter 55 where it says “everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price”.
No-one will be rejected and there’s no expiry date on the invitation.
Stephen Cottrell, the Bishop of Chelmsford, says this in his book Do Nothing To Change Your Life:
“The door is still open, the welcome mat is still out on the porch, the table laid, your place prepared, the ticket to the party is still valid: you just have to say the word and you’re in………Contrary to all the sensible advice of an anxious and competitive world, there is such a thing as a free lunch. God himself has set the table and everyone is invited.”
Solid and good food is available to us all – food that will sustain us on our spiritual journey.
It would be a tragedy not to take and eat.