"The Incarnate Word Is The True Bread Of Life"
by Rev. Ronald Harbaugh
The Holy Gospel comes to us this morning from John the 6th chapter, beginning at the 51st verse.
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.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Again, our Gospel lesson continues the “Bread of Life Discourse,” which is the title given to the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. The chapter began with Jesus physically providing bread for the crowd of 5000 who gathered to hear him teach, by miraculously multiplying five small loaves and two fish that a young boy brought for his lunch. When the crowd followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus challenged the people to see that miracle as a sign, an event that pointed to the fact that in Jesus, the kingdom of God had come into their midst.
In light of this, our lesson from last Sunday focused on Jesus telling the people that he is the bread of life that came down from heaven. One of the commentaries that I read pointed out that by the time that John wrote his Gospel, the Word of God, the Torah and the Prophets, had come to be associated with bread, the basic staple of life, which needed to be consumed on a daily basis in order to nourish and sustain a spiritual life in relationship with God.
Thus, in referring to himself as the “Bread of life,” Jesus was claiming to be God’s incarnate Word, God’s creative and authoritative revelation of his will for our lives, in human flesh. Is this not consistent with the way that John began his Gospel? “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”
Throughout the past few weeks, I have also stated that John does not record in his Gospel, Jesus instituting the sacrament of Holy Communion on the night he was betrayed. But this 6th chapter reflects the theological understanding of the author in regard to the sacrament of Holy Communion, and its rightful place in the worship life of the church. In our lesson for this morning, this message becomes rather specific.
So let’s begin with the opening verse of our text for this morning, the verse that ended our lesson from last Sunday. Jesus says, “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.” Here, with that phrase “I am,” the ego eimi in Greek, John is telling us that as we behold the life and teachings of Jesus, we are, in reality, beholding the Word of God, the presence of God for our lives.
Jesus was not just another prophet. As he interpreted the Scriptures of the Torah and the prophets, Jesus was not simply giving us another way, among many, to view these ancient texts. He was giving us God’s interpretation, the truth of God’s will for our lives. For John, the Word of God was not just symbolically present in the life of Jesus. In Jesus, the Word of God has become flesh.
John’s language is quite specific on this account. In fact, according to the language of John’s Gospel, we can’t even say that in Jesus, God is merely “spiritually present” to us in a special way. We can’t look at Jesus in the way that a lot of “New Age theology” does, which would assert that the human Jesus had somehow received the incarnation of God’s Spirit. According to John, God is not simply using Jesus’ body to proclaim his Word to us. In Jesus, the Word, which is God, has truly become flesh and blood.
This brings us to the crux of the issue. As the incarnate Word of God, this “Bread of Life” which came down from heaven, Jesus not only spent his life proclaiming God’s Word in steadfast love and faithfulness, that we might fully know the will of God for our life. Jesus also gave his life on the cross, to redeem us from our sin, that we might experience the grace of God, that enables us to be children of God’s kingdom.
This chapter in John’s Gospel helps us to realize that the incarnation of the Word of God enveloped the whole person of Jesus. It was not just the words that he spoke, that revealed the wisdom of God. It was not just the miracles that he performed, that gave us signs of God’s presence working through him. Jesus was, in flesh and blood, God’s presence among us, the Bread of Life from heaven.
And here, in this dialogue that Jesus had with the crowd that he had fed by multiplying the meager lunch of a small boy, Jesus makes it clear that it is not just his teaching, not just his ability to perform miracles that reveals the grace of God in our midst. Jesus tells us that he is also going to give his life, his very flesh, to atone for our sins, that we might feed on him, and receive eternal life.
Is it any wander, then, that as Jesus said to the crowd, “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 the people cried out in shock, “How can this be?” The language is shocking, even cannibalistic!”
As Gail Ramshaw states in her commentary, “The stark nature of the language in these verses has occasioned much conversation among scholars and has led to the church’s preferring synoptic, rather than John’s terminology for the Eucharist… Yet the vocabulary in John 6 captures more closely than the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper what Jesus may have actually said. Since neither Hebrew nor Aramaic has the word “body” that appears in the Greek accounts of Jesus’ instituting the sacrament, that is, “This is my body,” the gutsy noun “flesh” is more indicative of the Semitic worldview at the time. Indeed, “flesh and blood” was a Hebrew idiom for “the whole person.” End quote. [New Proclamation, Year B, 2003, Fortress Press.]
Thus, it seems to me that John is depicting Jesus as saying that he is, in the very flesh, the incarnate “Word of God,” the very presence of God. We can not separate the humanity of Jesus from the divinity of Jesus. And so, when Jesus says that “He is the bread of life that came down from heaven, to give his flesh and blood for us to eat, so that we might have eternal life,” he is telling us that he feeds us through every aspect of his total being.
Thus, we cannot ignore his teachings or treat them as if they were simply the most profound philosophical truth of an age long ago, from which we have progressed over the ensuing two thousand years. Nor can we fail to see in the miracles which he is recorded to have performed, signs that point to the presence of God among us. But more importantly, we can not ignore that fact that Jesus gave his whole being as the incarnate Word of God, giving his life on the cross for our redemption.
Of course, those of us who have the advantage of reading these words of Jesus from the perspective and knowledge of his death and resurrection, understand this dialogue as reference to the Eucharist. We have come to realize that Jesus is not asking us to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood, as if we were cannibals, in order to know God’s redeeming grace and live in the faith and hope of eternal life in God’s heavenly kingdom. Quite frankly, that would be hard to do, given the centuries since Jesus gave his life for our redemption.
Still, we need to be reminded that this meal in which we are about to partake, is truly a means of grace, in which the crucified and risen Christ is truly present to nourish us in faith. For as we continue to proclaim his Word, embrace the fact that Jesus was, through his total being, God’s presence among us, he is still present to us, in, with, and under the form of the bread and wine, to nourish us with his gift of life.
As Christians, we can not allow ourselves to forget what Jesus has done for us. And so we focus on his Word, his teachings and the example that he life provide for us, as we strive to live in relationship with God. But above all, we must always remember, and cling to the fact that Jesus gave his entire life, as a sacrifice for our sin, that we might know the love of God, which embraces us as his redeemed children.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, we give you thanks for your gift of creation and for establishing life on this planet we call earth. We thank you for revealing your will for our life, through the words of the Torah and the Prophets, whom you had anointed to speak on your behalf. But most importantly, we thank you for coming among us in the person of Jesus the Christ, who is your Word made flesh. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to be nourished in faith through him who gave himself for our redemption. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
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The Bible texts of the Old Testament, Epistle and Gospel lessons are from the New Revised Standard Version
Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. Sermon contributed by Pastor Ronald Harbaugh, St. John's Lutheran Church
, Greenville, Pennsylvania on Aug 15, 2009.Our Gospel lesson today continues the “Bread of Life Discourse”.