Jesus is Bread of Life
Jesus: The Bread of Life
When I was young, every turkey, ham or roast beef sandwich was made with the same kind of bread. If you went to a restaurant and ordered toast, the waitress didn’t ask what kind of bread I wanted. Everything was made with Wonder Bread—that stuff you could roll-up into a ball and throw across lunchroom. Then it was discovered that all the ingredients taken out of the flour, and all the chemicals used to bleach the flour might not be so good for you. So now of course, we have today an abundance of whole wheat and nine grain bread to help keep us healthy although one still can buy good old, bad for you, Wonder Bread. Today, I would like to share with you another brand or type of bread that is extremely healthy. It’s called the Bread of Life.
Narrative of Jesus
If you have been reading the bible daily, following the lectionary of the Orthodox Church, the gospel readings for Tuesday through Friday of this past week (3rd Week of Pascha) were from John chapter 6 (six). It’s an extended narrative of Jesus’ teaching. Monday’s passage begins with verse 27 with Jesus saying:
27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
Jesus’ audience, like all faithful Jews, was very knowledgeable of their history. They brought up the story about the manna in the wilderness recalling their ancestors wandering in the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt. This is fully recounted in the Book of Exodus, chapter 16 but let me give you a brief summary.
Go Back to Exodus
Wilderness implies barrenness. Very few trees, plants and animals lived in the wilderness. Therefore, food was scarce and the Israelites were hungry. They began to complain and murmur against Moses and Aaron, saying they would rather be slaves in Egypt than free and starving. The Lord God heard their complaint and miraculously gave them quail the first evening and a small round substance, which they called manna, for the next six days. The manna would appear like frost on the ground each morning. The Israelites were to gather it up before the sun came up and melted it. They were to gather a double portion on the sixth day, so they would not need to work on the seventh day—the Sabbath. Some of the Jews did not follow God’s instructions and went out to gather on the Sabbath. They found no manna on that day. The manna had a sweet, honey taste and it sustained the Israelites in the wilderness for the next forty years until they came to the Promised Land.
Jesus is the Manna
Using this image of manna, the bread from heaven given by the Lord God, Jesus says something very radical to His audience. Listen to Wednesday’s passage (John 6:35-39):
35And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.
Jesus emphatically makes the connection between the manna, God, heaven and Himself. Just like the manna came down from heaven from God, so also Jesus comes from God in heaven to become our bread of life. The message is that we need Him to survive in the barren wilderness of our society. All societies and cultures throughout history are barren without Christ.
The People Murmur
Just like the ancient Israelites complained and murmured against Moses and Aaron for being hungry, the people in Jesus’ audience skeptically talk against Him and His radical teaching. Listen to Thursday’s passage (John 6:40-44):
40And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 41The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
Jesus condemns complaining and murmuring when we hear something about God’s teachings that makes us uncomfortable or we don’t understand. We are drawn by God the Father to Christ by faith, not by skepticism.
The Message Gets More Radical
Now, if one was uncomfortable with Jesus saying that He is the Son of God and the bread of life, think how uncomfortable or even scandalized a person would be after hearing what Jesus says in Friday’s passage (Jn.6:48-54):
48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
Jesus reemphasizes that He is the bread of life. He makes it abundantly clear that He is the living bread come down from heaven. He deepens the message and makes it more graphic saying the living bread is His flesh and unless we eat it and drink His blood, we have no life in us.
And here we arrive at the foundational teaching, coming from the mouth Christ Himself, for the Eucharist what we also call Holy Communion. We take the offering of bread and wine each Sunday and every weekday liturgy and pray that God’s Holy Spirit come down and transform it into the very Body/Flesh and Blood of Jesus Christ. We receive it with thanksgiving for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life.
Mystery Above Ethics
If we, as Greek Orthodox Christians, want to have eternal life—the life of God—within us, then we must eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus Christ. That’s what distinguishes us from other religions and from many other denominational churches. We have the Eucharist, we are able to commune directly with God. Some may say, “I’m a good person. I don’t need the Eucharist,” or “I only need it two or three times a year.” Good ethics, morals and values are important and necessary, but one does not need to be Greek Orthodox or even Christian to be a good person. You can be a member of all sorts of other organization to hear about being a good person. However, it’s only in the Orthodox Church that you hear about eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus Christ. It’s only here that the Eucharist is offered every week.
God told the Israelites through Moses, to gather and eat the manna every day. They were not supposed to save some for later because it would spoil. The implicit message was to labor each day for the food from heaven. And don’t rely on your own efforts or plans to sustain yourself. For us that means we should gather ourselves in church whenever Holy Communion is offered and then receive it. It is like the Holy Sabbath of old when we should leave our work to rest in God. Every time we don’t receive the Eucharist, it is a missed opportunity to have the living bread that bestows eternal life.
We must also be careful how we prepare ourselves to receive Holy Communion. St. Paul teaches about this in the Epistle we just heard on Holy Thursday during the Liturgy of the Mystical Supper.
27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[c] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner[d] eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s[e] body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world. (1Corinthians 11:27-32)
After Jesus’ radical teachings about the Bread of Life, it says in John 6:66 that many of His disciples drew back and longer went about with Him. Let us not draw back. Rather, let us examine ourselves and judge ourselves to be sure that we believe and trust in His commandments as interpreted and taught in the Orthodox Christian Tradition. Let us go with Him and do our very best to follow and fulfill His commandments, especially the commandment to eat His flesh and drink His blood for He is Christ our God, the Bread of Life come down from heaven. Amen!