August 8, 2021 – Fr. J. Devin Rodgers
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
My mom reached into the oven with mitted hands and removed the several mini loaves of homemade communion bread. After letting them sit for a few minutes, she turned the pans over onto a tea towel and gently rubbed the top crust with butter.
She salted it and left it on the counter to cool until it could be packaged and taken to our church.
I loved my mom’s fresh baked bread. She used the same recipe for communion bread that she used for meals at home. It was delicious, especially when it came right out of the oven.
That warm bread called to me and the temptation grew and grew.
She was outside. She’d never know.
I snuck across the kitchen, snatched one of the tiny loaves, and dashed.
Of course my mom was going to notice that one of the five loaves of bread was missing.
Yet, still attempting to be sneaky I went and hid to consume the entire loaf of fresh baked, meant-to-be-for-communion bread.
I hid in my favorite hiding space in the laundry room, behind the clothes hampers.
I hunkered into hiding, and holding the still hot loaf of bread in my hand, I took a huge bite out of the loaf.
My mouth was stuffed with the soft deliciousness.
The pleasure was short-lived.
The light came on in the laundry room.
My mom’s voice.
“What’s this!!! That bread is for the church!!”
Needless to say I was in trouble, but the icing on the cake in this story is my mom wasn’t done baking for the afternoon.
She had made an extra batch of bread that was intended to be eaten with dinner.
Dinner time came, and despite my afternoon snack behind the clothes hamper I got more bread at dinner time.
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
No hiding or shame necessary.
Jesus sees us for who we are and still feeds us.
Of course it cannot be that easy, at least we attempt to make it harder, by setting up roadblocks for ourselves and others.
And so, the religious leaders dispute Jesus.
Actually John uses the word grumble to describe their response.
I imagine them standing in a circle gossiping, laying one fault on top of the other in an attempt to discredit him.
“How can he possibly say this.We know this guy. He’s Joseph and Mary’s son. He is from Nazareth…not heaven.”
Jesus breaks up this gossip circle.
No one comes to receive the bread of heaven, Christ unless the Father draws them in.
This is a pretty profound message. Think about that for a moment.
God yearns for us before we ever even know that we are yearned for.
The fact that countless people, thousands upon thousands of people followed Jesus, and the fact that you are all sitting here (or reading this) and meeting Christ here in this place points to a God that has a hunger to be in relationship with us.
We are not the only ones who hunger and year and seek. God does also.
God in this case is both the hungry one and provides himself for the nourishment.
The answer to our spiritual hunger, for that insatiable seeking and deep longing, is God. This is what Jesus means when in last week’s dialogue he says, “those who eat this bread, the bread of life, will never be hungry again.”
Jesus seeks us in the places where we hide, behind all the “laundry hampers” of the world. He sends Jesus to “flip on the light” and feed us with someone much, much better.
We often don’t see the food right in front of us.
It’s a problem, maybe the problem.
We often don’t see this nourishment or try to feed ourselves.
We exchange the dinner bread or the communion bread for sneaky snacks that don’t really nourish us.
It doesn’t take long to find examples of this, we all have these habits and tendencies. The sin behind these sins is something deeper, it falls under pride and placing oneself at the center of everything.
The religious leaders fell into this category with their gossip. They are hiding behind complaints, but what is really being said is…
“What about our religious traditions, and the systems we have spent millenia building and propping up. Wasn’t it Moses gave us bread, manna, from Heaven. Who are you, mere Nazarean, to question or change that.?”
It’s interesting here that “manna” when pronounced in Hebrew is actually a play on words. “What’s this?”
Perhaps it’s the question that God asks when we fail to take the bread given to us.
“What’s this!? You’re trading in dinner plans with your family (and scarfing communion bread) to hide behind the laundry hamper and get a quick, selfish snack?”
“What’s this? You are neglecting your spiritual life in place of x,y,z?”
What’s this? you’re not caring for yourself, trying to be your own savior?”
Perhaps another problem here is these tendency to not want to admit we’re in this state of malnourishment.
No one likes to parade around admitting they’ve done wrong.
We get so good at hiding we have a difficult time finding our true selves. In fact, the first response to sin in scriptures was to hide in shame.
But God doesn’t leave us there
A hungry God seeks us and draws us to the Bread of life.
God wants so much more for us. And the only requirement is to take what he’s giving and eat. To love God in a small way that only scratches the surface of God’s immense love for us.
And we can’t earn or deserve that.
Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been absolutely taken aback or surprised by undeserved goodness. Goodness that changes your perspective and leads you to want to be a better person?
That evening at dinner, I was still fed and had more of the bread that my mom had prepared.
That Sunday in church, after my mom told the pastor what I had done, I still received communion.
Granted the situation might have been different had I been a few years older, but isn’t this how God looks at us ?
Eventually children grow and learn that they don’t need to sneak entire loaves of bread and eat it in hiding to get what they want.
Eventually, when we encounter God’s love, when we actually eat what God is offering and accept it for ourselves as unearned and undeserved nourishment, we too grow and mature.
We grow in faith. We grow and become more like the one who offered us food in the first place.
You are what you eat.
Jesus said, “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.
“Lord give us this bread. Never let me go hungry, or hide again.”
Just remember to say grace…because that is truly behind all of it.