Preached as a sermon at Croydon Minster on Sunday 1 August, 2021, readings Exodus 16.2-4, 9-15; John 6.24-35
I am the bread of life, says the Lord,
whoever comes to me will never be hungry,
and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6.35
In today’s gospel we are given more teaching by Jesus on what it means for him to be the Bread of Life. It’s a theme from last Sunday’s gospel and will be next Sunday too.
In John, chapter six, of which today’s gospel is a part, we are given deeper insights into what is going on in the Eucharist - and how that connects with our spiritual yearnings and physical needs - in our desire for Christ, the Bread of Life.
In the Olympics we see how the human body needs fuelling when it is on the extremes of physical performance. But even those of us who are not elite athletes need to refuel our bodies too.
But food is more than fuel. Food is also about hospitality, about companionship, about connection; human and divine. Food shows us the intimate connection between body and soul, who we are. Food nourishes cells and muscles; it nourishes the soul as we feast with others and as we fast.
The Eucharist elevates us beyond a simple meal into a divine human encounter where we feast on angels’ food.
The Biblical sources for this understanding are clear:
First there is the mysterious manna, ‘a fine flaky substance’ which was bread that God had given, yet as today’s psalm says: ‘so mortals ate the bread of angels; he gave them bread from heaven.’ (Psalm 78).
The Feeding of the Five Thousand was a revelation of miraculous abundance in Christ.
At the Last Supper Jesus invested the ritual meal of the Passover with new meaning, declaring that the bread he took, broke and shared was nothing less than his Body, and the wine likewise his Blood: he is the Passover Lamb.
At Emmaus the real presence of the Crucified and Risen Lord was signified in the broken bread.
The banquet of heaven unveiled in the Book of Revelation connects our earthly offering of the Eucharist with the eternal heavenly banquet.
The Eucharist, Holy Communion, is so much more than a simple meal; it is when our prayer ‘give us this day our daily bread’ is answered and we receive the Bread of Life.
It seems so unlikely in many ways. Like the crowds in the gospel we feel there should be more of a sign, perhaps something a little more spectacular than this round disk of bread, that hardly seems to be bread.
The sign should not detract from the One who is signified.
The host, as it’s known, resembles more the manna the Israelites ate in the desert rather than the sort of bread we might be used to, with butter and jam.
When that host is placed on your hand you hear the words, ‘The Body of Christ’. What a remarkable declaration! This is the Body of Christ, the Bread of Life. And speaking the word ‘Amen’ in response you are saying ‘yes: so be it’; you are assenting to the presence of Christ that you are to receive; you are saying, ‘Lord, give me this bread always’; you are believing.
There’s a saying: ‘you are what you eat’. You will receive and eat the Bread of Life: what will become of you?