John 6:35, 41-51
In her book “Take this Bread” Sara Miles remembers her first visit to church, St. Gregory’s in San Francisco, and the first time she ever took communion. She writes:
I had no earthly reason to be there. I’d never heard a Gospel reading, never said the Lord’s Prayer. I was certainly not interested in becoming a Christian—or, as I thought of it rather less politely, a religious nut. But on other long walks, I’d passed the beautiful wooden building, with its shingled steeples and plain windows, and this time I went in, on an impulse… [there were about twenty people sitting there.]
I walked in, took a chair, and tried not to catch anyone’s eye. There were windows looking out on a hillside… and I could hear birds squabbling outside. … We sat down and stood up, sang and sat down, waited and listened and stood up and sang, and it was all pretty peaceful and sort of interesting. “Jesus invites everyone to his table,” the woman [leading the service] announced and we started moving up in a stately dance to the table in the rotunda. It had some dishes on it, and a pottery goblet.
And then we gathered around that table. And there was more singing and standing, and someone was putting a piece of fresh crumbly bread in my hands, saying “the body of Christ,” and handing me the goblet of sweet wine, saying, “the blood of Christ,” and then something outrageous and terrifying happened to me. Jesus happened to me.
Jesus happened to me.
I wonder where in our lives we have let Jesus happen to us. When have we set aside plans and acted on impulse (and maybe some faith) and let Jesus happen to us in outrageous ways.
Have you had these moments?
The times I’ve felt Jesus happen to me have often been over food. This Easter, in the midst of traveling back and forth between CA and NJ for school and work, I found myself sitting outside our house in El Granada with Nathan and two close friends. The meal was a collection of Midwestern Easter food (loads of carbs and cheese) and in between bites, I suddenly felt so much love well up in me that I had what I am sure was a goofy grin on my face—that was a moment when I knew I was where I was meant to be, surrounded by people who have loved me deeply. It didn’t matter in that moment that we were a very small group or that I had spent months wondering if I would ever really have good friends again…. In those Easter bites, I understood that at that table I was called and, in those Easter bites, I understood that all my traveling and moving was about responding to God’s call for my life… that in the midst of the extraordinary days of traveling and teaching and studying... this was an ordinary moment when Jesus showed up and I was fed.
Later in her book, Sara wrestles with the idea in communion that we are eating the body of Christ, that we’re somehow ingesting another human, and the idea—even a metaphorical one—is a little off putting. I imagine this is a common response; I certainly have non-Christian friends who have suggested tongue-in-cheek that Christians are cannibals. This is not a metaphor rooted in one of the core sacraments of our faith that lends itself to attracting many followers.
Indeed when Jesus claims to be the bread of life, he’s setting in a motion a tension that ends up dividing his followers and the disciples, a tension that means that in the scope of his known world, only a few will follow Jesus and his teachings. Early followers of Jesus were a small group and faced threats and expulsion from the larger Jewish community because they believed that Jesus was the Messiah who fulfilled the promises in the Israelite scriptures and traditions… yet they struggled to understand why so few Jews believed as they did.
For comfort, they turned to the stories of the Israelites who complained about Moses, just as many people in their time complained about Jesus. They remembered in this text how the Israelites wandered in the desert for forty years after following Moses out of their enslavement by Egypt and that the “escapees from Egypt complained that Moses has led them from the safety of slavery to the dangers of freedom in an unknown land and an insecure future.”
Do you know this story?
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.
9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your grumbling.’”
10 While Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.
11 The Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the grumbling of the Israelites. Tell them, ‘At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will be filled with bread. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”
13 That evening quail came and covered the camp, and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the dew was gone, thin flakes like frost on the ground appeared on the desert floor. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to each other, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was.
Moses said to them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.
21 Each morning everyone gathered as much as they needed, and when the sun grew hot, it melted away.
31 The people of Israel called the bread manna.[d] It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Take an omer of manna and keep it for the generations to come, so they can see the bread I gave you to eat in the wilderness when I brought you out of Egypt.’”
35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a land that was settled; they ate manna until they reached the border of Canaan.
That’s the story of the Israelites that the Jews in Jesus’ time looked to see their own community in the Israelites.
The Israelites who were led through a parted Red Sea and away from deadly slavery.
The Israelites who were accompanied by God on the journey.
The Israelites who were fed by bread falling from the sky and yet still had so little faith that God eventually told them that their generation would not live to see the new land promised to them—that their descendants would see it instead.
The wandering Israelites didn’t believe that God could happen to them—not in parted seas or pillars of fire in the desert, not in bread falling from the sky.
And so the early church could look around at their community who didn’t believe in Jesus as they did and find comfort.
What could this mean for us?
We easily complain about how we need more people in the pews or that we need God to show up in a different way.
We ask God to be exciting or extraordinary—we want God to again show up in the mysterious and the magical. And sometimes God does still show up like that.
But it is sometimes something ordinary that will save us or bind us together in a community of faith.
- A conversation.
- A trip together.
- A meal.
But here is how I also hear this text: that God is asking us all to come to the table and be fed. That in the context of Jesus’ ministry it doesn’t make sense to hear this part of Jesus’ teaching as only for a few people. All who come will be fed. Jesus invited all different kinds of people to learn from him, to walk beside him, to eat with him.
So, in this text Jesus is naming how God will call us and provide for us.
God will call us in all sorts of ways… we can’t contain or classify God’s call on our lives.
God’s call to us will meet us where we are—call us in ways that we will be able hear it if we listen.
God’s call to us will make sense to us as we are.
Which means that, to extend the carb metaphor—we will be fed with the bread that makes the most sense to us.
Bread is ordinary to us—it’s part of our everyday lives and can be incorporated into all sort of meals: French toast, bread pudding, croutons for salads. But in some communities, its tortillas or rice or beans… we each have food that is a staple in our lives, food that feeds us day in and day out, food that we can’t help but bite into and savor as we chew it. Food that reminds us of who we are, so that we find ourselves sitting at the table with a big goofy grin on our faces. Food that reminds us that we are loved.
Jesus is the bread of life—the bread of life. The bread of life that draws us to God through faith. We don’t come to faith on our own, and we are not sustained on our own… instead we “are wooed, invited, even cajoled” to the table of God. We eat and then we bear witness to the meal that is both extraordinary and ordinary… a meal that we each are invited to and that all are invited to.
Jesus is the bread of life—come and be fed. Amen.
 Take this Bread, 57-8
 Feasting on the word 337
 Feasting on the Word 334