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Holding Bread

Pentecost 14, Common Lectionary Year B

John 6: 24-35

©2015 Rev Elisabeth R Jones

“I am the Bread of Life” he said.
“The ones who come to me will never be hungry,
the ones who come to trust in me will never thirst”
He said, to that crowd.

Let me make a confession;
of all the I AM statements Jesus makes about himself in John’s Gospel
“I am the Good Shepherd, I am the True Vine,
the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life,”
this one, “Bread of Life”, while straightforward,
just really doesn’t resonate for me, at a gut level;
I don’t feel it,
probably because I’ve never been hungry,
never had to wonder if there will be food on my table,
or in my children’s bellies.

I need to work a bit harder to find a connection,
first with the aching need, if I’m going to be able to imagine
how Jesus’ words “I am the Bread of Life”
might become more than a nice but abstract metaphor,
and more like a promise,
an answer to prayer,
a lifeline to hold on to.

Perhaps this story will help all of us to do that.
It’s told in a number of places, but I’ve taken it from Dennis Linn’s book
Sleeping with Bread.

“During the bombing raids of World War II,
thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve.
The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps
where they receive food and good care.
But many of these children had lost so much, that they could not sleep at night.
They feared waking up to find themselves once more homeless and without food.
Nothing seemed to reassure these children.
Finally someone hit on the idea
of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime.
Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace.
All through the night the bread reminded them,
“Today I ate, and I will eat again tomorrow.” [1]
“I am the Bread of Life.”
That helps.
Another strategy that may help is to
imagine ourselves among the crowds
who first heard these words of Jesus,
as a Word, full of grace and truth.

We’ve climbed a mountain.
Trudged up the rocky terrain from
the peasant villages and towns
that cradled the Sea of Galilee,
or “Tiberias” as those damn Romans insist on calling it.
Part of that crowd, we are too used to hunger.
Not starvation mind, Rome’s too smart to starve its sweat labour force,
but that gnawing hunger of never having quite enough to satisfy.
Most of our wheat harvest,
and all those fish we haul out of our renamed lake
go to feed the legions, not our children, nor our aged.
We’d be lucky to feast on a bony fish-head stew once in a blue moon.
We are tiny cogs in a huge machine
not of our making, choosing or controlling.

So when one of our own,
a kid raised by parents we know,
a man from around these Galilean parts,
makes wedding wine in Cana,
and drenches the Beth-Zatha cripple in a healing blessing
on the Sabbath no less,
it’s worth a few hours of our time,
to go see for ourselves how anything good
could possibly come out of Nazareth.

We’re hungry all right.
And not just for a bit of bread.
We’re hungry for hope,
hungry for a hope of restitution.
Roman peace?! Hah!
That amounts to a silent stand-off,
more often a trade-off,
as the puppet Herods sell out our faith, our heritage,
to feather their own nests and save their own necks.
We may no longer be slaves in Egypt, but this is worse,
we are nobodies in our own land,
and God it seems, doesn’t care,
or is powerless against the might of Rome.

So when a Moses like miracle-man on a mountain
feeds us to fullness,
for the first time in a lifetime, some of us,
of course we’re going to follow him wherever he goes next,
to see what else he can do.
Heck he’s done enough already to get our vote
(not that we have one!),
“Jesus for King!” Anyone but Caesar!”[2]
But that’s them, then,
and this is us, now,
and both they and we are not best pleased
as Jesus berates the crowd –
for being hungry?!
for being curious about his miracles?!
for wanting a king, or a prophet or a leader
who can restore them to life?

But remember, this is John’s Gospel,
and in John’s Gospel,
Jesus is intense, intentional,
intent on going deep, and taking us with him.
In John’s Gospel, healing is not just about sickness,
water drawn from a well isn’t just about thirst,
vines are not just about choice wine,
and bread isn’t just about human belly hunger.
Everything John’s Jesus says and does
is as much, or perhaps primarily, about him,
as it is about the precariousness
of the human condition,
each, a definitive “I AM” statement about
God’s participation (incarnation)
in the fullness of that human condition.

Remember how John begins his Gospel about Jesus?
“In the beginning was the Word….
and the Word became flesh, and made his dwelling
among us…full of grace and truth.”[3]

Lofty Christmas Eve words
come down to earth from heaven
into the real world of inequity, struggle,
physical and spiritual starvation,
not with the might of heavenly armies,
but in an ordinary man whose mother we know,
holding bread, and proclaiming, outrageously,
that he can fill our emptiness, our hunger,
if we will simply trust that he is indeed
God’s self in human flesh;
that he is “holding bread.”

Saying this sincerely doesn’t make it easy to swallow, does it?
Later in this chapter, good God-fearing folk among the crowd
found this too much to swallow.
Incredulous, outraged, challenged, offended,
they turned away.
He was both too ordinary, and too much.

And that’s the crux isn’t it?
Jesus is often both too ordinary, and too much.
Until we find ourselves hungry,
maybe for us, not our bellies
but our hunger and thirst is for justice;
our hunger is for truth in a world of deceit
our hunger is for someone;
something to trust in a world full of betrayal
of promises and principles;
our hunger is for hope for a soul, a heart,
a body, a family, a nation, a world made whole.

Perhaps then, when our hunger is deep, prolonged,
we will know that we need holding bread.
God’s sign, sealed,
allowing us to say,
“Today I was fed, and I will eat again tomorrow,
for I have in my hand and heart, the Bread of Life.”

[1] Sleeping with Bread: Holding what gives you life.  Linn, Dennis, and Sheila Fabricant Linn and Mathew Linn. Paulist Press, 1995.

[2] Oblique reference to the Federal election campaign underway in Canada at time of preaching.

[3] John 1:14

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