25th September 2016
John chapter 6 verses 25 – 35
with Maggie Cogan – Reader
May I speak in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit – Amen
Is anyone hungry this morning? Did anyone not have breakfast before they came to church? Don’t worry – I have some bread you can nibble on. Here’s a slice or two. Oh, but this one is not very fresh, is it? It’s hard, and there’s some blue mould on the edge of this one. (Produce a fresh loaf) Maybe this would be better to eat – lovely and fresh.
The verses from John that were before our Gospel reading, Jesus had fed over 5000 people, only using five small loaves and two fish. It’s now the next day, and the crowds are following Jesus. But it’s clear they’re just following him to get more food from him. Just think – we would never have to work again just ask Jesus to cook some dinner when we’re hungry. Their focus is on their stomachs, rather than their hearts.
They tell me that a good sermon always has an attention-grabbing first line – and Jesus certainly grabs their attention with this. “I am the bread of life,” says Jesus. He’s not only the giver of this bread – he is the bread! The true bread that has come down from heaven is Jesus himself. And, as he has just pointed out, this bread gives life to the world. Jesus’ listeners, like all human beings, are stuck very much in the material world and their conception of what this all meant was limited: for them, as for many of us, heaven was the sky and the manna did literally fall from the sky. But Jesus is going way beyond that idea: he has come from God the Father who has sent him into this world to be a means of life for all men and women. And that life is also something beyond simply day to day survival. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
Why is it that when you need something urgently, you can’t seem to find it anywhere? A family on holiday were sight-seeing when the children became hungry. They couldn’t find a place to buy food. Just then, they saw a sign “Bread for Sale”. They stopped their car to ask if they could purchase some bread. The owner of the place said: “I don’t sell bread; I sell signs. I’m a sign writer.”
Things we pin our hopes on often turn out differently from what we expected. We can all too easily over-invest our time and energy into causes and activities that fail to deliver what they promised. Look at what we’re spending time on in our lives right now. How will it look in a few years- time? Will we regret having spent time on activities that, in hindsight, weren’t worth the effort? Work, recovering from work, talking about how good or bad one’s work is, takes up a lot of our time, doesn’t it? God never meant work to become the “be all and end all” of life. We weren’t created to be workaholics. Our Creator wants us to take a day off from work so we think about God and God’s purpose for our lives. Our Lord reminds us: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
We worship God well when we rest. When we cease working, then God has a chance to work on our conscience, our heart and our mind. We work so that we have enough to eat. We need food to live, but in the end, earthly food won’t stop us from dying. All our work is a gathering up of God’s gifts to us. Jesus says: “Do not work for food that perishes but for the food that endures for eternal life which the Son of Man will give you.”
Perhaps people feel that’s a bit unrealistic. Some are struggling just to survive the next couple of weeks and feel they have no spare energy to think about anything long-term. Today we are collecting for Storehouse and for those in need in and around Sudbury. It’s difficult, isn’t it, for those people to set aside time for God when they are concentrating on where the next meal will come from to feed the family. We also get caught up in meeting deadlines or commitments that God is constantly in danger of taking a back seat in our lives.
We don’t have to look far around us to see people who have an abundance of this world’s material possessions, and are still not satisfied or happy. Many of these people have everything to live with, but little or nothing to live for. We were made for God, and nothing less will bring us lasting satisfaction. Our hearts will be restless until they rest in the Lord. We were created to enjoy our Creator and to bring Him honour and glory. Jesus says: “I am the Bread of Life” because only He can satisfy our spiritual hunger. In the Bible, “bread” always means more than food. Bread represents God’s gracious care for us. It stands for something that’s a necessity for each day, rather than a luxury.
Jesus is the Bread of Life for us when He becomes an essential part of our life each day. Our Lord Jesus begins to bless us in ways we never anticipate or expect when He’s a natural part of each day in our lives. What we receive from Jesus will depend, in part, on how much we long for and desire what He offers.
The more we desire Jesus and His gifts, the more we receive from Him; and the more we receive, the more He enables us to receive and share with others what He gives us. Bread is furthermore a symbol of sharing table fellowship together, as in the petition in the Lord’s Prayer “give us our daily bread”. It’s much better, isn’t it, to be eating together with love rather than on our own?
In the Bible, to share bread together was an expression of deep, intimate and close fellowship. As the Bread of Life, Jesus comes to us in the Eucharist to bind us together with cords of love that cannot be broken. The Eucharist is a foretaste of that great Banquet in Heaven that awaits us, where love will reign supreme forever. Jesus does more than say “I am the Bread of Life”. In the Eucharist, He gives Himself to us in His body and blood, as a gift and His feast of love and is the richest legacy our Saviour has left for us to enjoy.
The forgiveness Christ gives us so fully and so freely in the Eucharist is wonderful balm for a guilty conscience. The Lord’s Supper is the closest Christ comes to us in this life. In this Sacrament, Christ becomes a part of us and we share in His life. Jesus says: “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.” All who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the free gift of Christ’s righteousness, will have their hunger satisfied. Ministers are privileged to see this hunger for this among the sick, the dying, and those unable to leave their homes. And with what deep joy and gratitude these members of our church receive this.
The event of Jesus’s feeding of the 5 thousand points to an even greater miracle where Jesus feeds His faithful followers in the Sacrament of the Altar all over the world today.
Just like those slices of bread I showed you a moment ago, it all goes mouldy, it all perishes. Jesus is saying don’t focus on your hunger or for bread that won’t really satisfy. Instead, he says, there is food that will help you live forever, because it lasts forever. If you saw this bread (new loaf) in Tesco or Waitrose when you’re doing the shopping, you would definitely buy it! But we can’t get it in supermarkets. So where can we get this bread for eternal life?
The reason Jesus can give us life is because he died for us on the cross – his body was broken on the cross for us; we remember this at Communion, as we break bread together.
No other invitation has been as widely accepted as Christ’s invitation to “Take eat, this is My Body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” As we remember that Christ, the Bread of Life, is truly present here, we look forward to that Day when we will share in “the Feast to come” in heaven. The Eucharist is our heaven on earth until we reach our permanent home in heaven.
Psalm 34 verse 8 says, “Oh taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”