Year B: Trinity 9/Proper 15 John 6.51-58
( Jesus said ) 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever."
Seymour, Winsconsin, U.S.A. is the
"Home of the Hamburger" and site of the Hamburger Hall of
Fame that pays tribute to hamburger inventor Charles Nagreen. According
to local legend, Nagreen served the first burger in 1885 at the Outagamie
Seymour celebrates the invention of the hamburger every year during Burger Fest. It includes the making of a "big burger," a hot air balloon rally and entertainment. Kids enjoy the "The Great Hamburger Meet," which features a ketchup slide, bun toss and hamburger-eating contest, as well as the "world's largest hamburger parade."
Last weekend Seymour's 15th Annual Burger Fest was held. This included an eating competition sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
16 participants were given 10 minutes to eat as many hamburgers as possible in an event sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating.
The hamburgers here were Hardee's Thickburgers, an Angus beef burger that weighs more than a half-pound when fully dressed.
It was won by 7st 9 lb Sonya Thomas who ate seven ½-pound burgers with all the trimmings in 10 minutes, while the best the strapping Ray "The Bison" Meduna could do was 4½ burgers for second place.
Sonya is a newcomer to competitive eating. She burst onto the scene last month after eating an amazing 25 hot dogs in 12 minutes at the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July hot dog eating contest in New York.
She said she didn't do anything special to prepare for the burger contest. "I didn't eat anything today," she said before the competition. "I'm so hungry."
Thomas had said her competitive eating days would be over if she didn't win the contest. But moments after taking the title and winning a free Thickburger a week for a year, she was ready to put the feedbag on again.
"I'm going to keep doing it because I won," she said as she stifled a belch.
Have you ever heard the expression, 'You are what you eat'? In the United States there are some people who have health problems because of a diet of fast food and are suing the retailers, such as MacDonalds.
In today's reading Jesus is saying, 'You are what you eat - so eat me! This will not lead to health problems, but eternal life' 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
What was Jesus talking about? Was he talking about a literal eating of his flesh and blood? A symbolic eating of the bread and wine in the Holy Communion?
I think the answer to each question has to be 'No'.
The reason for this is that the Bible teaches that faith in Jesus, not religious ritual will put someone right with God. Jesus was not teaching about the physical, because he said that 58b "Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever." This contrasts with the spiritual food of Jesus which brings eternal life, verse 54.
After all, we cannot imagine that God would accept someone into his kingdom because they had received Holy Communion more times than someone else. If so, those who win the eating competitions would be prime candidates for admission to heaven! The New Testament and the reformers taught that, to have any value, the Holy Communion has to be received properly, in repentance and faith to have any worth.
Jesus' claims to be 'bread' are centred on the cross. 51b. "This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Jesus was talking about his voluntary giving up of his physical and spiritual life on the cross. The physical pain of the crucifixion and the spiritual pain of the separation from God when Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world.
Just as physical food is digested and almost comes part of us, providing us with energy and other things we need to live so Jesus gives us everything that we need to truly 'live'.
Jesus says whoever has not eaten of his flesh and blood has "no life" in him (v. 53). And then whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood does have "eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day" (v. 54). When Jesus speaks of 'life' in this passage he is not talking about physical life, keeping breathing. He is talking about spiritual or eternal life, a life lived in a right relationship with God the Father through the self-sacrifice of God the Son, implanted in the heart of the believer by God the Spirit. That is why we shouldn't follow the thinking of the Jews in the passage and think that Jesus was talking about literal or physical flesh and blood. Of course, this was something prohibited by the Old Testament Law ( Lev. 7:14, 26 ).
If we are to truly understand what Jesus means in this passage we must focus on the cross and our reaction to it, and to the one who died and rose again for us.
It may be helpful to consider what was associated with bread at the time of Jesus, especially when we read that this happened in a synagogue, the place where the Old Testament was read and studied. 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
I have mentioned 'typology' before. That is to say that we see similarities between people or things in the Old Testament and Jesus, with Jesus being a better 'type'. For example Moses was a brought the law down from the mountain and Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount. Another example is that the Old Testament Law included the repeated sacrifice of lambs to pay the price for the sins of God's people. Whereas Jesus is the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world through his once and for all sacrifice on the cross.
Bread was a staple diet, especially of the poor. The continued provision of it was seen as a blessing from God. This is reflected in the Lord's prayer, 'Give us today our daily bread'.
The Torah, or Jewish law, was sometimes known as bread, perhaps because it was seen as so necessary to everyday life.
So, for believers, Jesus is to be our staple diet, given by God, needed every day. We are to imitate him, read, understand and obey his teaching, speak to him, listen to him, in other words have a daily relationship with him.
In the Middle East if you shared your bread with someone it showed hospitality to and acceptance of someone. To break bread with someone was a sign of friendship.
Jesus can be our friend, our best friend. John 15: 13 Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.
Jesus knows us better than ourselves. Despite this He still loves and unconditionally accepts us. We can bring our problems to Him and He will sympathize with us and help us. Hebrews 4: 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
In the Old Testament the tabernacle was God's house, and in it he had his table, his bread, his wine, candlestick, etc., to show them that he had taken up his dwelling among them. Exodus 25:10-40 describes the furniture of the sanctuary. The Holy Place, or outer chamber of the tabernacle, contained a table for the bread of the Presence. Twelve cakes were placed on this table along with dishes, incense bowls, and pitchers of gold (Lev 24:5-9). 25:30 Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times. The bread of the presence, as it was known, was renewed each week and was placed in two heaps on the table.
The twelve tribes of Israel were represented by the twelve cakes, was to stand before Yahweh "perpetually," as a token that He was always graciously accepting the good works of His people, for whom atonement had been made by the offering on the altar.
So the 'bread of the Presence' was linked to God being with His people. Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. We can know God with us and in us through His Spirit. Jesus is the one who has offered himself as the final, perfect sacrifice for sin to reconcile man to God. This frees his followers to be able to do good works that God has prepared in advance for them to do in the power of His Spirit. Ephesians 2:10 For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Bread and wine were also important elements in the Passover meal that celebrated God's supernatural deliverance of His people from the slavery of Egypt and had formed them into his own nation. God "passed over" the houses of the Jews because their doorposts had been smeared with blood, but he brought judgment and death to the unprotected homes of the Egyptians. Passover was celebrated in mid-April, along with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted seven days. The bread was unleavened because of their haste in leaving Egypt.
Jesus offers deliverance from the slavery of sin through his life, death and resurrection. He instituted the Holy Communion service on Passover night to replace the Passover and celebrate and proclaim what he has done for us and look forward to His return.
John 17:3 (Jesus said) Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. Jesus invites us to feed on Him. To live our lives entwined with His. This is eternal life. We can begin to enjoy it in this life and look forward to it blossoming in eternity. As our bread He brings us sustenance, friendship, acceptance, love, the everlasting presence of God, the gift of eternal life.
During the Napoleonic Wars, ( the famous
British ) Admiral Horatio Nelson was due to be buried in St. Paul's
Cathedral. His sailors lifted his casket over their shoulders and majestically
carried his body into the cathedral. Draping his coffin was a magnificent
Union Jack. After the service, the sailors once more carried his body
high in the air, this time to the graveside. With reverence and with
efficiency they lowered the body of the admiral into its tomb. Then,
as though answering to an order, they all seized the Union Jack with
which the coffin had been covered and viciously tore it to shreds, each
taking his souvenir of the illustrious man. A portion of colored cloth
as a memento. It would forever remind them of the admiral they had loved.
"I've got a piece of him," one sailor remarked, "and
I'll never forget him."
In like manner you, I, anyone can now can have a piece of Christ the living bread, physically, spiritually, personally. Reaching out to receive him in faith is all that's required. Every day.