The Bread of Life

Reverend Katherine G. Dougherty
Sermon Text: 

Proper 14

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

August 12, 2018 – Year B

The Bread of Life…

         Being a Christian – a practicing Christian is not an easy path.  I suppose living by the tenants of any faith tradition and truly striving to understand that tradition is a respectable and challenging task for anyone.  As those who have spent their lives steeped in the practice and study of their faith have shared – the rewards are worth the struggle. 

         The Gospel readings this month are from the Gospel of John and they focus on Jesus as he feeds and teaches about life, himself, and God.  We have the benefit of being more than 2,000 years after these moments.   We have the privilege and the advantage of Monday morning quarterbacking.  We stand here many, many years later and after more books than we could begin to count have been written knowing how Jesus’ life on Earth plays out.  When we read the words Jesus spoke of being the bread of life – we get it.  We have the benefit of knowing the big picture here.  But do we really?

         It’s amazing how throughout Jesus’ ministry he shared powerful messages using common, ordinary items.  Bread, water, a shepherd and it’s sheep, wine, a cup…all of these were common, everyday items.  But in this moment, he speaks of being the bread of life.  Even 2,000 years later that concept – though simple is so complex.  What is this bread of life?  For an Episcopalian, we’d say – it’s the bread of the Eucharist – the bread we take in our hands each week….the body of Christ, the bread of Heaven.  But what exactly are we looking for when we reach out with our hands and take that simple piece of bread? 

         A person who could answer this question is Sarah.  She was a patient in UVA Hospital’s STBICU in Charlottesville.  Patients in the STBICU are there because they have suffered severe trauma or severe burns – it’s a specialized ICU for the severely injured.  Sarah was a young woman in her 30s.  She had suffered a severe fall and had many broken bones.  Though her spine was not severed, she was unable to move.  She often cried out in pain and often begged for a nurse to come.  One night, when I was on call, Sarah had been particularly vocal.  I stopped by her room and sat for a while.  Come to find out, Sarah was a longtime Episcopalian.  I asked her if she’d like me to bring her Communion some time.  “Yes, yes – please – that would be wonderful,” was her reply. 

         On returning to her room, I pull out the Communion kit our Lay Eucharistic Visitors take when visiting someone who is unable to come to church.  I set up the little chalice and poured in a touch of wine.  I placed the wafer on the paten, and began saying our prayers.  When it came time for her to receive, I dipped the bread in the wine and touched it to her lips.  Sarah couldn’t take the Eucharist like we will today, due to her health issues, but as the bread of heaven approached her lips, she made the smallest movement forward with her mouth so her lips could touch the bread.  She let out a deep sigh and peace washed over her face.  Jesus said, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”  All present at that Eucharist knew exactly what these words of Jesus meant.

         Have you ever noticed that children, the sick and the dying seem to have a great sense of the Holy?  I love watching children come up for Eucharist or talking about God with them.  We just spent a week at Vacation Bible School, and I loved talking with the kids about the Bible stories.  They don’t complicate it, as we adults seem to do.  And those in their last weeks and days of life seem to have that clarity as well.  The need for logic and complicated explanations disappears.  A sense of God’s presence seems to emerge and this world fades into the background. 

         What do children and sick or dying know that we don’t know?  Are they just closer to God physically than we are and so can be more present to the mystery and wonder of it all?  Do they know better than we that our incarnate God is present to us in material things, that God is truly present to us in this bread and this wine, that in touching and being touched by these ordinary things, we are being touched by God, and that we can no longer draw a clear line between the secular and sacred in our lives?   Jesus took the most common things of his culture from our everyday supper table…bread and wine and made them sacred.

         We are about to partake in a holy meal which first took place on a hillside in Galilee where Jesus fed the hunger of more than 5000 people with five loaves and two fish.  Jesus repeats this same type of offering at least twice in his life, once more around a supper table and once on a cross where he took, blessed, broke, and gave away the saving bread of his body and the dark burgundy of his own blood.

         If you want to experience the Bread of Life that Jesus spoke of…don’t listen to me any longer.  When the invitation to this Eucharist is given, leave in your seat all you have ever known before about communion.  Let go of what you think this is all about, and experience Eucharist as if for the very first time.   C S Lewis reminds us that the communion command is not…“take/understand,”… but rather… “TAKE /EAT.”[1]   Be open to the surprises…the unexpected…the relationship with each other and with Jesus Christ that is offered at this table.   

         Like holy manna, this is not the meal we would have planned, but it is the meal God has given us, the very bread of heaven.  Eat this bread, drink from this cup, and know that those empty spaces in our bodies, in our souls will only be filled when Christ is living inside of us and we are living inside of him.

Amen -

[1] CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, pp. 104-105. The Eucharist As An Experience.


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