Living Bread

Reading: John 6.35,41-51
Once a hen and a pig took a trip together. After many miles and many hours on the road, they got hungry. Finally, the sharp-eyed hen spotted a restaurant. Approaching the door they read a sign which said, "Ham and Eggs: Our Specialty!"

"Hold it!" shouted the pig.

"What's the matter?" asked the hen.

"Plenty. All they want from you is a little compromise. They are asking me for total commitment!"

The hen can give and give and give again - providing it keeps and nourishes its life. At the end of a productive life, it may also be killed as a "boiler". The pig can give its all in death - a generous gift, but that's it! In fact, of course, none of this is voluntary "giving", for either hen or pig - an issue with the animal liberationists!

It looks as if there are only two choices - to keep on giving in life or to give all in death. Well… some do both, but death brings the end of giving!

One Unique Life

An anonymous author has written:

Here is a man who was born in an obscure village, the child of a peasant woman. He grew up in another village. He worked in a carpenter shop until he was thirty, and then for three years he was an itinerant preacher. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never owned a home. He never had a family. He never went to college. He never put his feet inside a big city. He never travelled two hundred miles from the place where he was born. He never did one of the things that usually accompany greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

While still a young man, the tide of popular opinion turned against him. His friends ran away. One of them denied him. He was turned over to his enemies. He went through the mockery of a trial. He was nailed upon a cross between two thieves. His executioners gambled for the only piece of property he had on earth while he was dying, and that was his coat. When he was dead he was taken down and laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen wide centuries have come and gone, and today he is the centrepiece of the human race and the leader of the column of progress.

I am far within the mark when I say that all the armies that ever marched, and all the navies that were ever built, and all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned, put together have not affected the life of man upon this earth as has that one solitary life.

Jesus was certainly a unique figure in human history. Islam acknowledges him as a greater prophet than Muhammed - though the Koran gives a distorted picture of him and denies his divinity. The Great Soviet Encyclopedia - a massive work available in major libraries - acknowledges his uniqueness and portrays him as a great revolutionary.

A few years ago - before the collapse of the Soviet Union - a leading Soviet historian was reported in the Brisbane Courier-Mail as saying, " We have carefully examined all the evidence about Jesus and have come to the conclusion that he said and did all the things reported of him. I am not sure where we go from here."

Living Bread

The issue of his identity, the significance of his death and the historical fact of his resurrection are all important. There are many who seek to follow and promote his teaching, but miss the point altogether - failing to grasp that he is the Son of God incarnate, that his death is part of God's eternal plan for saving sinners and that he is alive from the dead.

Jesus said, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty" (Jn 6.35), and, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (v. 51)

Jesus had done what neither the hen nor the pig could do. He wasn't just a Teacher and Example who could give out an enduring message which would live on in his followers - like the hen who gives and gives and gives again. And he wasn't just the consummate Martyr who gave his all for the cause in such a spectacular death that the world had to take notice - like the pig who gives his all and that's it. There are, of course, martyrs whose deaths have founded movements.

But Jesus is different. He is "the living Bread". He would die - his very flesh given for the life of the world. That is the perfect sacrifice for human sin offered once for all. He would rise to life on the third day. He gave himself over to death once. Now he gives himself in life to all who will believe.

Receiving him

What we eat becomes part of us. In one sense we are the sum total of all that we have ever eaten. Of course, it isn't as simple as that, really. But we can agree that what we eat has a very big bearing on what we are and what we are able to do.

Eating this living Bread is receiving into our very being the Christ who died for us and is alive for evermore. It involves us in "coming" to Jesus (v. 35), "listening to the Father and learning from him" (v. 45), "looking to the Son and believing in him" (v. 40).

When Jesus calls himself the living Bread, he is inviting us to receive him in a way that unites us to him so that he becomes part of us, so that we are alive with his life in us. It would be another year before the Lord's Supper was instituted - a sacrament that speaks very powerfully of receiving the Lord himself and his saving grace into our very being. But when he speaks here, he isn't talking about sacramental bread and wine, but about his very flesh nailed to the cross and his very life received by faith into our lives.

God loves us where we are, but he loves us too much to leave us where we are. God hasn't finished with us yet! Those one-liners tell us important truths, but we have to be careful we don't get the idea that somehow God gives his divine help to enable us to pull up our socks.

A few years ago we heard a speaker who make this startling statement, "The Christian life isn't difficult - it's impossible! Only Jesus Christ can live the Christian life. And he wants to live that life through us!"

Jesus himself says to us, "I am the bread of life. When you come to me, you will never go hungry, and when you believe in me you will never be thirsty… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Come and eat of this bread - you will live forever!"

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 9 August 2003, Emmaus gathering, Cardwell
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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