John 6 (Proper 14B)
Ordinarily when we talk about a diet of bread and water we are talking about what we might call the bare minimum. The exact opposite of what we'd find at the typical St. Andrew's potluck! What hermits live on as they sit in their wilderness caves. In a Victor Hugo novel that’s what gets fed to prisoners in the dungeon. Just enough to sustain life—that’s all.
But here in the early chapters of John Jesus talks about bread and water and moves with it in a different direction. Back in the fourth chapter Jesus meets a woman of Samaria at an ancient well, and he asks her for a drink of water. One of the most well-known of all the gospel stories about Jesus. They exchange a few words, and then he says to her, “you know, if you really knew who I am, you would ask me for a drink—because anyone who drinks from the water of this well of yours will be thirsty again, but the water I would give you would be quite different.
He says to her, “Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
And she says, “I’m not exactly sure what you’re talking about, but it sounds pretty interesting. Tell me more!”
And now here in chapter six, as Jesus has just fed the multitudes with the miraculous blessing of that little boy’s five loaves and two fish, the crowds come to him again, hungry again, looking for more to eat, looking for more bread. And Jesus says: you’re looking for the wrong kind bread. No matter how much you eat of that bread, you’ll be hungry. I want to talk to you about a different kind of bread.
“I am the bread of life,” he says. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Whoever believes in me has eternal life.” Hear that again: “Whoever believes in me has eternal life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven . . . . And I will raise him up on the last day . . . . Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
In one frame of reference a diet of bread and water doesn’t sound like much. Quenching our thirst for an hour or two, filling our stomach for a short time. Meeting day to day needs, as they return again and again.
A hamster on a wheel. A dog chasing his tail. Asking us this morning from John’s gospel to the pews of St. Andrew’s Church: what are we thirsty for, really? What are we hungry for? We know how to use those words to point to something other than what we do at lunchtime. Recognizing the reality that so often we will go on consuming and consuming and consuming even when it becomes apparent to us that no amount of bread and water will fill our hunger, ease our thirst.
If I can just find the right person, the right relationship; if only I could live in that neighborhood, achieve those educational and financial and career goals. If only, if only. The next job, the next boyfriend or girlfriend. The next house. The next big sale. The next award or degree or accolade. The prize bank account. The approval of others, cheers and applause.
John 6, and we would hear what Jesus offers instead. If we’re ready to put all that down and look for something else. In Jesus, now, in the midst of this day to day routine life of ours, our thirst and our hunger will be lifted up and transformed to complete what we have been yearning for, to assure us of the fulfillment of God’s promise that has echoed in our ears since the beginning of creation.
The ancient curse, the consequence of sin, back in Genesis 3, as God speaks to Adam, as the gates of the Garden of Eden are closed and guarded by angels with flaming swords. “In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” Words that we hear as ashes are imposed on Ash Wednesday, as we move into Lent on the journey to Holy Week and Good Friday. As we are ejected beyond the gates of the Garden. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
Mankind’s ancient catastrophe, now, now for us, on this summer morning, echoes of Easter, and turned to victory. God himself stepping in—himself our food and drink, a spring of water welling up to eternal life, the bread of paradise, heavenly banquet, not to keep body and soul together here for a short season, a few days, a few decades, but to lift us, to raise us up to be with him and in him, to welcome us with him to the new Garden. As the ancient Easter song would say, echoing St. Paul in First Corinthians 15, “as in Adam die, even so in Christ all be made alive.” About real living. Not playacting, but with the deepest authenticity. To be alive as we have never been fully alive before.
The word and invitation of the gospel this morning for us. To believe in Jesus, as we allow ourselves to turn in our minds and our hearts to him, to turn from the life of the first Adam, with all its sin and brokenness, evil, and to seek a new life with him and in him. To trust him. To walk in his way. Forgiveness, renewal, life eternal.
To paraphrase the Woman at the Well: that all sounds pretty good—tell me more!
We have heard the story and so the invitation this morning. To believe in him, to receive in our hearts and minds and lives the gift of his sacrifice in a spirit of repentance and renewal. That is the one true meal. Not just bread and water, but real bread, living water. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us. Again the Easter hymn. Christ as been sacrificed for us--therefore let us keep the feast.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.