Bread for the Journey
Big events either in the world or in our lives stay with us – they make an impact that never leaves us.
It seems clear to me that that is how it was with Jesus.
He made such a big impact on the life of his time that it changed the world. Here we are today 2,000 years later in church because of him. Christians in those early years were willing to die for him – be crucified or burnt alive on stakes or thrown into an arena with hungry lions ready to make a meal of them.
Books were written about him in those early years – called gospels. We have four in our bibles, but there were heaps more. The church had a great struggle deciding which gospels to actually include in what we now call the New Testament. They decided on four.
Today’s text comes from John’s gospel. John writes in quite startling language putting forth the audacious story of Jesus. He uses those famous ‘I am” sayings to make his impact. I am the light of the world, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life!
Today it is “I am the bread of Life”. I sometimes think as Christians we have got so used to the gospel story that we don’t see how radical it is; how startling. We have tamed it in our minds.
Gospel language confronts the hearer in the most striking way. The “I am” sayings in John are actually marvellous open invitations in the mouth of Jesus for readers and hearers to come and see for themselves, to test his claims and discover who he truly is.
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.
Of course even in Jesus’ time people raised objections to what he said and did, and chose not to put his claims to the test. In the passage about the bread of life the essential objection is, “How can a man with a known name and address be God?” They argued among themselves, “Isn’t this Jesus, whose father and mother we know? How can he say he came down from heaven?”
Jesus upsets them even further by reciting the events of the exodus from Egypt and the gift of the manna bread in the wilderness. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 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.”
That got the people going!!
Well we are people who accept the claims of Jesus, who believe the gospel, and we do our best to follow him in our daily lives. Is there a message here for us?
Let’s think about the exodus and the manna. The exodus experience was a long journey. Manna was the food of the pilgrim people on their way to the promised land. It was food that came as gift. It was never too much, never too little. It sustained the people on their journey. Through trusting this daily ration they learned to trust God in other ways.
Jesus’ words are an invitation to a journey – the journey of faith; a journey which lasts a lifetime. So we too need sustenance on the journey. Behold! Jesus is the bread for the journey. As we feed on this bread through the various means of grace provided in Christian faith, such as scripture, prayer, worship, sacraments, fellowship and so on, so we as people of God are sustained on our journey.
The bread of the exodus, the manna, went stale if kept too long. We too cannot keep the bread of life in inappropriate ways. Jesus is not a religious package, he is a living Lord who constantly calls us to new things and new ways and new experiences.
As we feed on him as the bread of life we have to journey with him wherever he leads us. If we don’t, we will lose him.
Sydney Carter put this idea in one of his songs called “Bird of Heaven”
Catch the bird of heaven, lock him in a cage of gold; look again tomorrow, and he will be gone.
Lock him in religion, gold and frankincense and myrrh; carry to his prison, but he will be gone.
Temple made of marble, beak and feathers made of gold. All the bells are ringing, but the bird has gone.
And the refrain:
Ah! The bird of heaven! Follow where the bird has gone; Ah! The bird of heaven! Keep on travelling on.
We began by seeing that Jesus was such an amazing person that he captures our attention with his audacious claims which are also an invitation to journey with him through life. As we travel on that journey, and give ourselves to him, we make a delightful discovery, that is emphasised again and again – he is who he says he is. He is the bread of life for us, he is the light for our path, he is the good shepherd who cares for us. He is the resurrection and the life when we might otherwise be overwhelmed by negativity and death.
He is our living Lord. All praise to him. Amen!