51"I 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 religious leaders then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"
53So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, 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; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
58"This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."
We've talked about John's gospel as the outlier rogue that almost didn't make the canonical cut. A beloved community gathered around Jesus' youngest disciple John – often referred to as the "beloved disciple" – assembled the theologically intense account that's the latest of the four. Although synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in a similar way are all about the reign of God in Jesus Christ, John's Good News is even more purposeful about the right here and right now of Heaven on Earth. You may remember Jesus' first act of public ministry in John is changing ordinary water into wine at a days-long wedding celebration; that near-endless party establishes the style of Jesus' entire ministry.
Closely related, although the synoptics – and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians – bring us Jesus' Founding Meal of the Lord's Supper where he connects the bread and cup with his death (and Pauline theology reminds us Jesus is at the same time both crucified and risen), John instead narrates feedings of immense groups of hungry people with abundant leftovers and John's Jesus brings us his very alive self as the substantial bread of our spiritual lives and of our physical ones. Just as Jesus in John often talks about our abiding or remaining in him, in John's gospel Jesus gives us bread that is his body, bread that becomes part of our bodies, so Jesus abides in us and we abide in Jesus.
Bread of Life, So Far
During Mark's lectionary year we have more readings from John than in the other years. Mark being the shortest gospel leaves spaces to be filled, and John is the perfect solution, because although every year during the great fifty days of Easter we hear a lot of John, John's gospel doesn't get its own separate year. "For some reason" the people who assembled the lectionary scheduled five Sundays in a row from John 6. This Sunday is week 4.
On July 24th, Jesus himself fed a huge crowd with what began as five barley loaves and two fish. On July 31st and August 8th, Jesus talked about God providing manna via Moses in the exodus wilderness; on both those days, Jesus announced, "I Am the Bread of Life," in the first of the seven "I Am" declarations in John's gospel that link Jesus to Yahweh-God's self-revelation to Moses as "I Am" in Exodus 3.
Bread of Life, Take 4
Unlike the bread-like manna of the exodus trek that had to be gathered again each day (except on the day before Shabbat when they gathered enough for two days in order not to work on the Sabbath), the bread Jesus offers is for right here and right now, and it's also the staff and stuff of eternal, never ending life.
To prepare this blog I read several commentaries, and at least three of them mentioned different words for "eat." The word for eat in verse 52 is a polite… "eat," that has a similar feeling to our English eat. Then in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58 the Greek word can be translated as chew, chomp, munch, crunch, nosh, and other more obvious, less polite ways of taking in nourishment. Most weeks I check the Greek for the scripture I blog about, but I'm not sure I'd have noticed those words. If you have a commentary or a study bible, why don't you see if it mentions that distinction?
Bread of Life, More
Every scriptural reference to water, bread, or fruit of the vine doesn't necessarily refer to sacraments, but every reference does remind us we need a healthy creation's bounty to survive and thrive. (And creation needs us to become healthy and bountiful!) Previous weeks on John 6 I've cautioned don't immediately assume this Bread of Life refers to Holy Communion—but sometimes it does.
Jesus provides the spiritual essence we need to be fully alive. However, in all the gospels but probably most in John, probably even most in this chapter 6, what people assume is spiritual also is physical, embodied, and incarnate. The Christ of God always is enfleshed. As a Sunday or weekday assembly gathers around word and sacrament, receives the bread of life and cup of salvation that become part of their physical bodies, as those people of God then take the crucified and risen Jesus Christ out into the world, they live as his presence everywhere they go.
Sr. Suzanne Toolan's "I am the Bread of Life" musical setting of John 6 is a prayer for us in Jesus' words.
I Am the Bread of Life
I am the bread of life
You who come to me shall not hunger
And who believe in me shall not thirst
No one can come to me
Unless the Father beckons
And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up on the last day
The bread that I will give
Is my flesh for the life of the world
And if you eat of this bread
You shall live forever
You shall live forever
Scripture: John 6
Songwriter: Suzanne Toolan, RSM