The Mystery and the Bread.

ffiona lewis-empty basket

I recently watched the film ‘A Quiet Place’… a story about ‘post-apocalyptic’ survivors fending themselves from alien creatures who hunted by sound alone.. The family we focused on could not make any sound because of the mortal danger.. and so resorted to living in total silence.

Inside the clever premise was a deeper story about what it means to be human… and to suppress a very basic way of both communicating and simply living (no noise!)

But a silent scream bubbles under.. and occasionally bursts forth.. ‘this is not how we are supposed to live!’

I wonder.. if today’s reading is asking something about what it means to be human what it means to live..

I wonder if it also points to the even bigger question of who God is.. even what God is…

Of course we are in John, and the imagery is typically mysterious and allusive. Almost graphic and disturbing.
John’s gospel is different to the other three ‘synoptic’ gospels. John as we know begins with the mystical poetry of ‘word became flesh’’ and continues throughout with symbols, signs, metaphors and images. John is the last Gospel and theology about God has developed even in the time between Mark (1st – around 60CE) and John (around 100CE). A lot has changed and the church has now been wrestling, thinking, wondering living and celebrating the emergence of its own theology..

Jesus, has been talking about bread; The very basic sustenance food of the middle east.. if there is nothing else.. there is at least bread.. and bread had ritual and symbolic significance too. (theology and food – a link)

Feeding five thousand… “the hungry filled with good things”

Passover/ Last Supper… “remembrance of me”

Temptation – “no one can live by bread alone”

Emmaus – breaking bread “our eyes were opened”

The last three weeks of the lectionary have deeply focused on this extended ‘bread’ section, and we have heard the third part of this dialogue today..

Jesus gets more explicit – the manna from heaven which God gives – not Moses..

Now Jesus is, and he gives… he unveils more of his message;

“He gave them bread from heaven to eat.” (John 6:31)
“My father gives you the true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32)   … Goes on to finish as;
“The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

And we come to this point, having said so much about bread, (I can imagine a nice buttered slice of toast right now!) – that Jesus blows their minds; “I AM the bread of life”…  God announces who God is , “I am, who I am” I am being, becoming…

So Jesus refers back to the language of God announcing God’s self. Mystery, fire, being, beyond our imagining.

‘Eternal Life’ in John… present tense. Not set in the future, but now!

‘Eternal’ is a word which only belongs to God.

So this is a different life – lived as if God is here… God’s life.

“… keep you in eternal life”. It’s a whole different way of being and seeing the world. We live God’s eternal life even now! (John 10.10 ‘Life in its fulness’; dark, light; hope, fear; nuance, excitement, frustration, hope and love – the stuff of life)

 (For this week) here is a suggestion that Jesus offers an alternate vision of reality.. one that hinges upon love of others and love of God; compassion enriched by wonder.

The alternative vision of the world is radical in its scope – love requires of us everything – giving voice to the poor, the dispossessed, the despised and the outcast. This love turns the world upside down.. shifts our values.. places justice and peace before self-service and isolationism.  This vision unmasks the powers at work in politics, exclusion, and exploitation… even unmasking our own prejudices.

This alternate vision carries an open invitation – all are welcome to participate in it.. (maybe a little – maybe a lot..) – as much as you can give – as much as you can respond.

We are all welcome to re-enter the world as Jesus lived and lives in it.

This is because Jesus is the bread… he internalises and embodies all that he was saying.

he doesn’t give the bread – he is the bread!
What is the message of Jesus? Jesus was his message

And what is bread – is it life itself?

As Jesus says ‘I AM life’… to attentive listeners, (then and now) the “I AM” rings a familiar sound… 

The imagination stretches all the way to the burning bush.. to a voice which says “I AM who I AM”…(I will be who I will be) all being, (to borrow a philosophical phrase). I AM, all being, God.. is the bread of life (and in your midst!)

As Jesus internalised and became his message. So too did his followers.. And that became dangerous.. revolutionary. This was no longer an idea – it was a way of living.

And to do so means living – in one sense – in exile.. As followers.. we find ourselves like the Hebrews wandering in the desert… liberated, but not yet home. Struggling, waiting, hoping, growing weary.. and hungry..

A differing set of priorities – times are changing. From the openness of the Olympics in 2012…to the rise of nationalism.. self-preservation, global inequality, injustice, ecological indifference, (and distraction). ‘this is not how we are supposed to live!’
The distinctive call.. the political, sociological, philosophical and cultural call of this strange ‘kingdom’ asks us to make a stand with the prophets.. we do so humbly – listening to those already working to resist violence and domination.

It’s interesting to note the historical reality that as the early church took on board the life, the bread, of Jesus.. they became seen as trouble-makers and considered more a threat.

But what does this mean..? these ideas are all fine – but how do they earth.. how do they land? What difference does it make to feed on this body and blood today? the Eucharistic mystery –  which emerges within the words of this passage;

There are many ways that we might think about eucharist, and it is far healthier for us to leave tight definitions well alone… because that would only kill it. Eucharist is a kaleidoscopic ritual which draws us together each week.

For the 100 or so people here I sincerely hope there are 100 or so interpretations.

And of those – I hope they are contingent; likely to change, be surprised and en-awed on a weekly basis too!

  • Jesus as flesh.. affirming incarnation. Weakness, vulnerability.
    Blessed Virgin Mary.. God not ‘using’ flesh.. but actually making God vulnerable to flesh (see Chauvet)
  • Jesus as Manna. Feeding from ‘heaven’ the desert experience… cloud and fire
  • Eucharist as encountering ‘I am’; encountering being… who you are is given back to you, human kissed by the divine.
  • God gives God away… (emptying, kenosis, who is God?)
  • Eucharist as rehearsing and living a different reality.. ‘Waking up’ to the presence of God.
  • Breaks down the distance between God and Humanity, (the wave in the ocean.. the light and the sun) transforming our vision. “I AM, you are

What shall excite our vision, refuel the fires, give warmth to the belly of our imagination?

In the desert God sent food.. enough for the day,.. enough to keep them going.. a holy, divine bread…

And in this wandering.. this alternative, overwhelming and compelling life we find ourselves in need of food to sustain us…

Jesus this time fulfills the picture.. he is the bread.. the fully-human one, ‘son of humanity’, who inspires and sustains us.. who renews our vision, (provokes and cajoles us) and embraces us in humanity;

The bread of life is life itself; carrying our story. A story now divine. “I AM, you are” …

‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor’; Hagar, Sarah, Moses, Miriam, Mary, Joanna, Susanna, Eunice and Lois, Mary and Martha, Priscilla and Aquila.. Our identities wrapped up in theirs… in Yahweh, I AM. I AM, you are

Is this what Jesus is saying? .. wrapping up all this bread activity and talk.. from the enacted parable of the mass feeding.. to the mystery of God’s own being? We are left open-mouthed in wonder;

“I am the bread of life – I am the basic stuff of life.. humble, available, given to everyone.

I am the bread of life, when you share together you may yet see God as you never expected.. (Emmaus)

I am the bread of life.. sustaining you with ‘just enough’ in your desert places.

I am the bread of life – “broken for you and for many”, giving voice to the suffering.. as bread given

I am the bread of life.. food entering flesh.. the awesome beauty of chemistry, enzymes, oxygen and energy.. the wonder and beauty of biology.

The eucharist reminds us of what being human means, and enacts this revolutionary possibility each week. To partake of bread and wine is to partake in the God who meets us in flesh and blood, wheat and grape, matter and molecule. To partake in the eucharist is to partake in the God who is the ground of our being.. who holds us closer than we hold ourselves..

Finally, We share the bread together and the story becomes our together story. United yet different.. all drawn to this table, ‘though we are many, we are one body…’

Come therefore. For all are welcome.

We are truly feeding on Christ.. the fully human one, the fully divine. And as we consume, so we are consumed.. by the elegant mystery.. the silent whisper,.. a fleeting kiss… a gasp of wonder. Amen


Image. ‘Empty Basket’ by Ffiona Lewis