Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Bread of Life is Not Hollow

The Rev. Joseph P. Mathews
12 August 2012
Proper 14, B
John 6.31,41-51
Christ Church, Portola Valley, CA

As an undergraduate I spent a lot of time with the same people. College life pre-makes friends for you; people start out new together and finish together. During the four (or more) years it takes, you have to eat, so you may as well eat with people you like.

Our time together didn’t usually end when we’d finished eating, though. We would go to our college ministry’s building and watch TV, do homework, or engage in Bible study. Often we would spend from lunch until time for bed with one another.

Far too often, though, we found ourselves in the kitchen between meals.

Despite how much we may have eaten in the Saga – the campus dining hall – or how much pizza from Hungry Howie’s we ate, we were hungry again a few hours later.

In time we came to have a term for describing the food more than the subsequent hunger: hollow. Hungry Howie’s was hollow. Saga was hollow. A friend at another campus ministry’s lasagna was hollow.

There was a lot on the outside, but there didn’t seem to be anything on the inside. The food was hollow and we were hungry again.

In today’s Gospel text, Jesus is offering an alternative to hollow food: the Bread of Heaven, his very flesh.

Two weeks ago we heard of Jesus feeding the five thousand. After he left them, they followed him and went looking for him.

Jesus said to them last week, “You are only following because you’re hungry, not because you actually believe in me. Don’t work for chase and gorge yourselves on hollow food. Find the food that lasts forever.”

They listen to him and ask him to give it to them always and he replies by telling them that he is the bread of life, and whoever comes to him will never be hungry or thirsty.

And today he amps it up: He is the bread of life, and not only will those who eat him not be hungry, but they will live forever. While his initial hearers may have recoiled at the idea of eating Jesus’ flesh, John’s community didn’t.

As Taylor Burton-Edwards points out, Jesus is the bread of heaven. Jesus – the incarnate Word living and breathing among them – is clearly flesh. He is the bread who in giving of himself gives flesh for a feast.

Following Jesus, these early Christians – and we today – presented themselves in the bread and wine.

Following Jesus means following him to the end, which he starts to foreshadow today.

Jesus’ saying, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” is John’s community reminding itself that Jesus gave up himself.

He placed us first, and following Jesus means giving ourselves up to God and for one another.

When we make Eucharist together we model this and remind ourselves of it.

We offer ourselves to God and to one another.

About the Eucharist St. Augustine said, “Be what you see, and receive what you are.”

The bread and wine we present to God are somehow transformed by grace into Christ’s Body and Blood. The earliest Christians didn’t try to explain how it happened, they just believed it as they gathered, having been transformed by grace in their baptisms, into Christ’s Body.

As Christ’s body in the world we live now meeting needs – physical and spiritual – just like Jesus did.

In living now, we look for the age to come, but don’t wait for it as the world around us crumbles. The crowd Jesus is talking to in our passage followed him because he’d fed their hunger.

Jesus’ promise to never be hungry is an offer for a fuller life dependent on him and relying less on ourselves as we continually give ourselves to God and of ourselves to those around us, in meeting needs of stranger and friend without though or expectation of payment or reciprocation.

As Derek Webb prays for his fans, may the bread on our tongues leave a trail of crumbs that brings the hungry back to this place that we are from.

This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die…whoever eats this bread will live forever.

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