The Bread of Life
—Kate Harrison, 2 October 2016 (Harvest Sunday)
John 6. 25–35.
Bread is such an important image in the Bible. It crops up again and again. We hear today that Jesus is the bread of life. And we also get an echo of the story of the mana from heaven sent to feed God’s chosen people in the Old Testament stories. Bread is the most basic of foodstuffs. Every culture has its own version of bread: baguettes from France, the very English feeling tin loaf, Middle Eastern flatbreads, focaccia, rich with olive oil from Italy, bagels from Polish Jewish communities, chapati from India, tortillas… the range of breads you can find around the world is endless.
Bread was the main substance of any meal when Jesus said "I am the bread of life". If you had bread, you could survive. Without it, in a time when food had to be carefully planned and rationed as storage was hard, you would go hungry. That’s a hunger that few of us ever have to face in this privileged life we lead. And so, particularly in this time of harvest we give thanks for the abundant provision of the earth. But the flip side of that is that we need to take responsibility for the fact that we are not good stewards of the earth. We hear the statistics that tell us that 165 million people suffer from childhood malnutrition whilst we in the uk throw away around 15 million tonnes of food a year. We fill our bellies with junk food which, although it’s delicious, takes more resources to produce and damages the earth even more. Harvest is a time for being thankful and for repenting - looking at ways to turn our lives around and look outwards from our own fridges to find ways to be more giving.
But what does Jesus mean when he says that He is the bread of life?
We ask in the Lord’s Prayer for 'our daily bread'. We use the words 'dough' and 'bread' to talk about money. We say we go out to work 'to put bread on the table’ - a person who works to support their family is the 'breadwinner'. Everyday ordinary things are our 'bread and butter’. Bread is a by-word for something which is essential to our function. But bread of life is something different. This isn’t the bread which fills our stomachs. This is the bread which fills our hearts.
What are we hungry for? What will fill our need for life? As with physical food, we can easily fill ourselves with junk, over processed rubbish. What is it we want for our lives? What do we search for? And are these the things that make us happy for a moment, or are they life-giving things which will sustain us?
We all want to be happy. We desperately hope that we will never face sadness or difficulties. But we also know that life is complicated and that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. So we hope that we get through those difficulties in the best possible way, not letting things get on top of us and learning from our mistakes. We want to know love - to have people in our lives who love us completely and unconditionally … and we want to have people that we love in same way. We want to laugh until we think we will never stop. And we want to lighten someone else’s day by making them laugh. We want to never feel lost, alone or scared. We want to want for nothing. This is life in abundance. This is life in Christ. A life free from the junk-food of the heart that satisfies us briefly but ultimately leaves us needing more and more. This is the life which feeds us so we never feel hunger and emptiness.
We are part of a family of God where we support each other in prayer and love. We want each other to flourish and grow to experience all the good things God has in store for us. When we join in with God’s mission we want this bread of life to be given to everyone and we desperately want the whole world to find that life in abundance that Christ has promised. All are welcome at God’s table where God wants to feed and nurture His people.
When you were given your service sheets this morning you were also asked to choose a little salt-dough loaf. I want to invite you all now, in a moment of quiet, to hold that bread in your hands and ask God to feed you. Think of what you need in life—for yourself and for others. Think of your hopes and dreams. Think of the things that enrich your life. These are the abundant harvest of God’s love. Give thanks for these…
During the offertory hymn some of the children will collect these loaves from you and they will be offered along with the bread and wine as symbols of all all that we are through Christ and of our thankfulness. At the end of the service today I will take them to the back of church with me. Please collect one and take it home with you. It won’t be the one you prayed with. It will be one which reminds you that, as a community of God, we support each other to grow. I invite you to pray for the unknown person whose loaf you have at home - God will know who it is. Please pray that they will experience the very best life that you could wish for them. Because the truth is, that’s what God wants for them, and for you too.