Let us pray: Dear Savior, as You have given Your kind heart to us, move us to give our hearts both to You and our neighbor. Inspire us to be thankful for all our blessings—especially Your gift of forgiveness and eternal life—and to hold it most fiercely against Satan’s attempts to take it away. And then also impel us to not be stingy in sharing it with those who truly hunger and thirst for Your righteousness. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE BREAD OF HEAVEN!
TEXT: John 6: 51-58
Dearly Beloved By Christ:
Last winter, amid the cold and snow, I spent one morning making bread. I used my friend, Steve’s, mother’s recipe to concoct it. Her recipe has scalded milk as a key ingredient. It went together well. It rose magnificently! It gave off a heady aroma as it baked. And it tasted divine! Later that afternoon during my confirmation class I told the kids about it all. And I was shocked! Not one of them had ever had home-made bread. Perhaps later this winter I’ll try to remedy that situation.
We take bread for granted in our culture. You just go and pick it up at the store and eat it to fill you up. It wasn’t always so. Bread, whether it be yeast-made or flat bread, has always been a staple in every culture. It took sometime, but it was a way to preserve sustenance and not starve. Did you know that bread made from fresh, organic grain actually will last 3 weeks or so without going bad? Sometimes no preservatives is a good thing. Jacque Pepin, the French chef, talks about the old custom of: “kissing the bread” when you arrive at the final crust in a loaf. It’s a way of giving thanks for bread, which historically alleviated hunger, and not taking it for granted.
In John 6 Christ feeds the 5000+ with 5 small loaves of barley bread and 2 little fish. He takes away that gnawing pain in their stomachs. Then He retreats to the upper hillside at night to pray while the disciples row across the Sea of Galilee to the other side. During their voyage one of those fierce storms of Galilee erupts and they begin to sink and are fearful for their lives. Jesus then sees it and walks on the water to calm both them and the storm. By morning they arrive on the other side and part of the previous days crowd along with some new additions are there to meet Him. They all want more miracles—especially free food! Who doesn’t want an “easy street” life? But Jesus is all about saving their souls and trying to get them to focus on God and the afterlife instead of just on the here and now. So, after talking about the Old Testament manna and how God finds ways to always provide for our needs, He says this: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
When Christ says this, He’s not holding up any more barley loaves. In fact, His hands are empty. No, a greater truth is at play here. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, is true, heavenly food for the soul. He is eternal, so when we feed on His strength, through faith, like Him, we will live forever. Moreover, He will use up that entire loaf, when He lays down His life for all of us on the cross. But, because He is eternal, His Bread will live forever and we will never starve our souls.
“Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?'” It’s obvious to all that Jesus isn’t talking any more about manna or barley loaves, but about His very body, His physical side. Eating another human being is abhorrent to them. And who would even speak about doing such a thing?! But, of course, Jesus is really talking about faith, about that trusting reliance upon Him for every “good and perfect gift that comes down from the Father of heavenly lights.” Either we’re willing to feed our souls on Him through faith, or we starve. Why? Because He’s God’s Son Who alone can sustain us with His cross-stained body and blood.
Now, Jesus says more: “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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Obviously, Christ isn’t talking about cannibalism here. He’s talking about partaking of His life-sustaining power by faithfully clinging to His grace. He is grace. He is the undeserved love of God in human form. And the life He refers to is an all-or-nothing proposition. Either you believe in Him or you don’t. Either you surrender your heart to Him, or you don’t. Either you live eternally, or you starve and die.
Now, to good Lutherans, His words sound a lot like the Lord’s Supper, don’t they? And I’ll grant you that Christ’s holy supper, in which we orally and spiritually feed on His true body and blood, the real presence of Christ, finds a certain precedent here. That being said, the Lord’s Supper is still 2+ years away in time. And in the holy supper it isn’t just a spiritual eating that takes place, it’s a genuine physical eating, too. I say this because some in the Christian Church, specifically those of a Reformed background, disregard the institution of the Lord’s Supper where Jesus says of the bread and wine: “This IS my body and blood” and instead use John 6 to downplay it’s genuine nature and say Christ is only present spiritually. For them John 6 trumps everything. And thus the Lord’s Supper is nothing more than an emotional moment where our soul flies to heaven to meet Christ instead of a profound moment in time and space when Christ descends to earth to meet us in love and forgiveness!
Well, back to John 6. You as Lutherans know that faith alone in Christ saves. You know that when you eat of Jesus’ strength, because He lives, “you will live also.” But now, by grace, you have the added assurance that Jesus hasn’t left you alone to do this yourself, because we will always botch it up. No, Jesus has also come down to us through His almighty words, truly joins Himself to bread and wine, and solidifies our faith in, with, and under humble bread and wine in the Holy Supper. In a few moments that will again take place in our service. So, let the bread and wine kiss your lips. It is the kiss of God. “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Amen