Let us pray: Dear LORD, may these thoughts work together with your Word through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Somethings are just not the same without a slice or two of bread. You can’t spread peanut butter directly on top of jelly . If you unwrap a cheese slice and throw it in a pan, you won’t get what we call grilled cheese. Imagine eating an Egg Mc-Nuthin’ for breakfast. Without some form of leavened or unleavened bread, we might be eating everything wrapped in a lettuce leaf. Bread is nutritious and delicious, despite being loaded with carbs. You don’t have to love meat to want to go to Texas Roadhouse. Those soft warm rolls and honey butter are enough to draw you in.
When Jesus said, “I am the bread from heaven,” the crowd responded like dogs whose owner had just thrown them a treat. Their excitement suddenly aimed their head in one direction. They heard the word bread and thought, “Yeah, we love bread, especially from heaven.” They ran with their own idea, wagged their tails and sat up. Then wondered what else they had to do to get some.
They tilted their heads and began to whine. Their child-like brains thought, “Wait a minute. Did you really throw something, Jesus? What are we supposed to be looking for?” Their master spoke again. They doubted his word and began to snarl. “He’s the bread that came down from heaven? How could he be so special, and us so clueless? Especially after knowing him all this time?”
“Stop your whining. Don’t look at me,” Jesus said, as he reenacted his original throw. He was bending his elbow and throwing his arm, pointing up toward God, where he wanted them to look. He explained,“Your chances of finding what you’re looking for are pretty hopeless. You have to listen and learn from the Father.” But, they weren’t listening to his every word.
When Jesus says, “ No one can come to me, unless drawn by the Father,” The crowd hears, “Come.” They sniff where he points. They get excited about seeing the Moses trick again. “Throw more treats.”
If Jesus no longer excites you, perhaps you’re feeling like Elijah. Maybe trying to live according to God’s word and trusting God’s will has worn you out. Life is just too hard. At some point, you decided to stop sniffing around in the Bible, looking for a treat from God’s word. Maybe you stopped praying or looking to God for anything at all, even your daily bread.
Like a contented dog who’s had its hunger satisfied, we want to sleep or walk away. Isn’t it enough to dream of the good things we’ve already done? Isn’t it okay to do nothing but enjoy the reward of working hard? We, like Elijah and the crowd, figure we’ve listened to God’s word and behaved pretty good, if you add up all the times together.
Jesus reminds all of us, “We neither come nor believe on our own.” Orienting your daily activities toward God is not a choice. On our own, we have no nose, or appetite for God. That is, unless God draws us with bread. We find faith because God leads us with a trail of breadcrumbs every step of the way.
The Israelites were not the first to associate God with bread. Once humans realized they could grow food rather than hunt down and kill it, bread gained religious status. Egyptian, Roman and Mayan gods upheld supplies of grain. So, once again, we must ask, “How is what Jesus offers different from the surrounding culture?”
First of all, Jesus isn’t just associated with God or bread. He doesn’t just deliver it. Jesus himself is the only one who has seen the Father, because he is from God. He is the bread for the life of the world. In the first chapter of John, Jesus is referred to as, “the Word made flesh.” Now, Jesus himself states (in verse 51) that his flesh is the bread he gives. He is the bread for the life of the world. The focus in not on the what, but the who. Jesus is the key.
Not a key for one certain knob or people, or one used to gain remote access to heaven, or to wear from a chain as a symbol. Jesus is not a skeleton key that opens up a jail cell. Not one among many. If you have trouble recognizing Jesus bread among all the other types of bread, look for the special sleeve that designates it. The Eucharistic sleeve of Communion color codes the Christian key that is Jesus.
To say something is key means it is crucial or essential. It can also mean the only.We might say bread is essential, but Jesus is the only. We believe that faith in Christianity is the key to salvation. When we use that key to close people out, we gain a sense of privacy and security. We miss the point of finding the Jesus key, if we think that now we can hide behind our closed doors and relax leisurely, like that contented dog.
With the Jesus key, we can access what was previously unavailable. We suddenly own a treasure too large to spend all on ourselves. By grace, we’ve been drawn to come and believe. Take hold of the key to eternal life, knowing that the key, the cross and eternal life are more than just symbols of freedom or reward.
Eternal life is more than unending existence. We pass from condemnation to acceptance, from death to life. “Jesus came as bread so we may contain immortality in ourselves, which is the Spirit of God the Father” (Irenaeus). We eat Jesus bread during Communion. The bread of life that is Christ enters us. The Spirit of God the Father lives within whoever partakes.
The sight, taste, smell and feel of bread is a cross-cultural, timeless connector between people. It is another way that we experience God’s healing and forgiveness in tangible form. Jesus bread nourishes us, and makes our journey possible. It connects us with God’s faithfulness in the past to the Israelites. It connects us throughout all time to the communion of saints.
St. Cyprian writes, The body of the Lord cannot be flour or water alone. Many grains, collected ground and mixed together are united into one mass. In the sacrament [of Communion] people are shown to be made one. We make one bread, so that we may know that there is one body with which our number is joined and united.”
How do we commune with people everywhere? Through awareness. In the moment you receive Communion, someone else is kneading or baking dough. While we chew consecrated bread, someone else is turning flour into loaves, cakes or biscuits. Still others are tossing and shaping flat discs of ground meal they will fried in lard. When we eat bread, we break bread together.
Every generation is sandwiched between some form of bread. It is part of life regardless of geography, context, or life stage. Babies everywhere transition from milk to cereals. At the end of life, we revert to nutrient-packed milkshakes, dry toast and oatmeal. Jesus is bread for the life of the world.
My allusion to people being like dogs, ourbeloved family pets, is meant to be endearing. When I think of Jesus as our caregiver, I figure we get the physical and spiritual nourishment we need. I know that he is active in our lives. I know he’ll throw us treats, and point us in the right direction when we miss seeing where they land.
He didn’t just point and speak at us. Jesus got up from his comfortable throne in heaven. He came down to earth and carried that big wooden stick. We could never have picked it up on our own, much less carried it. Even if we knew where to find it. Amen.