The question is not what the bread becomes; the question is what you become.
Christians for a couple of millennia have concerned themselves, in an internal debate, with the meaning of the bread. What does it become at the moment of consecration, of blessing? It becomes for us the body and blood of Jesus Christ: it becomes for us the food of life – because he gave himself to be the living bread, the source of eternal life. Life that lasts forever, life in the kingdom of Jesus, begins when we accept his gift of life.
And so we accept the gift – in order to live. First, like the people who followed Jesus around the lake and back, we may concern ourselves with our own immediate needs. And so like the woman at the well in Samaria – or the 5000 – we may see Jesus as the unending source of sustenance. But he is that in a larger sense: he is the source of life, the one through whom all is made and comes to be; he is the one who holds the secret of life.
But he is more than just a way to save more trips to the store. What he offers us in his living bread is a new way of life, a new life that is eternal, that starts here and now.
And it begins, that new life, not for ourselves only: he is the gift of life for all peoples. He takes what we have to offer – like the barley loaves and the fish (“but what is so little among so many?”) – and trusting it to God, gives thanks and shares it out – shares us out:
We become transformed as we accept the gift of Jesus, the gift of life.
We become a way for others to reach him – and to reach life.
When we gather, the bread we break and the cup we share become for us the bread Jesus shared among his friends and the wine he poured out for them: they become for us his sacrificial self-offering.
What do we become?
How are we to live?
How are we to live?
Paul gives us a clue in his message to the Ephesians, about what a church should be and how its members should treat one another – and become bread for the world.
We are members of one another, he says: we are the body, and the body has a head, Jesus Christ, into whom we grow.
All are called to his supper; all are called to change their lives as they come to the table. Even thieves are admonished, to get themselves honest work so as to have something they can share with the needy.
We are to build up the body, expending energy on that alone. Be kind – imitate Christ – live in love – become like the one who gave himself up for us. This is the offering God desires: a thankful and obedient spirit.
Then, we who have taken in the bread from heaven are called in our turn to become bread for the world. How are we to accomplish this but by following him who is our Lord?
For he is the source of life: we know it – let’s live it.
August 11, 2012.
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51