John 6: 51-58
August 5, 2012
This past Tuesday, I rose at the ungodly hour of 5am, packed my Prius and hit the road by 6. This is not a torture I normally inflict on myself, but you see, I was on a clandestine mission, one I’ve embarked on for three or four years now: to “surprise” the Beacons at their week-long Montreat youth conference. Now I don’t know how much of a surprise this is anymore, especially when I stand up in the pulpit and tell you as much. But it’s still a thrill; leaving early enough so I can sneak into Anderson Auditorium and take a seat where the Beacons gather, so when the doors open at 9:15 sharp I’m already there, waiting for them.
Usually I come back that same day, but this year I spent the night and got to witness 29 or so youth and adults cohabitating together. It’s a pretty amazing sight, really. Lots of couches, chairs, beds, sodas. And, of course, lots and lots of snacks. There was this table on the floor level of the girls’ house, where everyone gathered; and it stayed perpetually stocked with goodies all week long. Nabs, Wheat Thins, Goldfish, Cheetos, Chips, Pringles (which I don’t consider to fall in the “chips” category), pretzels, Cheese Nips, Swiss Rolls, Snak Stiks, Rice Krispie Treats, Fritos…..it was all there, and more. A cornucopia of snack food heaven.
And every time I passed by that snack table, more often than not stopping to partake of its goodness, it reminded me of an interesting survey I heard about a few years ago by the Smell and Taste Treatment and Research Foundation in Chicago. I had no idea there was such a thing as a Smell and Taste Treatment Foundation, but what do I know? Anyway, as part of this study, 800 volunteers took personality tests and were then asked to name their favorite snack foods. The results were pretty amazing: people who share a personality type chose the same snack 95 percent of the time.
Want to hear what the correlations were? If you're a fan of cheese curls you tend to have a high sense of morals and ethics. If popcorn is your favorite, you tend to be the “take-charge” type. Nut-lovers are even-tempered folks, easy to get along with and highly empathetic. Pretzel-snackers are the life of the party who quickly become bored with routine and thrive on starting new projects before old ones are finished.
Still hungry for more? Perfectionists and ambitious-types, as well as those who possess a strong sense of social responsibility, are drawn to tortilla chips. Contemplatives and those who prefer time to themselves might do so as they snack on some crackers. Potato-chip eaters are achievement-oriented, competitive souls who get frustrated by petty inconveniences like long lines and traffic jams. (http://homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040471, visited on 7.27.2009)
All of which gives new meaning to the phrase,” you are what you eat.” Or maybe it’s “you eat what you are.”
If you're like me when I first heard this, you started racking your brain to figure out your favorite snack food. But you know, sometimes snack foods just don't cut it. To be honest, I'd be more interested in finding out what bread says about one's personality. Because I love the stuff. I try not to eat too much of it – all those carbs, you know. But you put a loaf of hot, fresh, homemade bread in front of me, especially the kind my grandmother used to make, and it’s hard resisting that!
In fact, I kind of get the feeling that Jesus was fond of the stuff too. He talks about bread a lot – just look at today’s scripture. He liked it so much that he described himself as bread – the “bread of life,” is how he put it. This is par for the course for the gospel of John, by the way – lots of interesting language and rhetoric that distinguishes this gospel from the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke tend to speak in a “down-to-earth” style. With John, though, it’s bigger and larger than life. If the other gospels are unplugged acoustic at the coffee house, John is arena rock. Big, large, bombastic: “In the beginning was the word.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.” “In my Father’s house there are many rooms.” And the one that we read today:
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.
You ever wonder what people in Jesus’ day thought about this “arena rock” language? I mean, this isn’t the way normal people talk, is it? When your teacher asks you to say a little bit about yourself on the first day of school this coming week, you don’t respond by saying, “I am the Learning One who enters the hallowed halls of academia to acquire knowledge in the written word.” No, you say, “I’m a sophomore taking English.” Most folks don't get the broad strokes of John’s rhetorical brush.
In fact, some in our scripture today took offense at Jesus’ words. They were more than a little shocked at all his talk about eating flesh and such. They didn’t get the metaphor – which is not uncommon. A chapter earlier Nicodemus was trying to figure out how someone could enter their mother’s womb a second time when Jesus brought up “being born again.”
So what’s going on here? What exactly does Jesus mean when he says he is the “bread of life?” I don’t know. I guess it’s important that we remember, as we’re thinking about this, that John’s gospel, like the others, was written many years after Jesus' death. These aren’t eye-witness accounts here, recounting exact details. That’s not their point. Their point is to tell a larger story about Jesus; one that encompasses not just Jesus himself but the community who was trying to follow him. What was important to them, and where they encountered Jesus in their midst.
And if that’s true, then it’s pretty obvious where those in John’s story found Jesus – in the bread. And more specifically, in the Lord's Supper, the “communion” of fellow Christ-followers, the familiar meal of bread and wine – a meal that you and I will share together later in worship. And it’s interesting, isn’t it, because earlier in this same chapter we have what….? The Feeding of the 5000 – hungry people in the wilderness, five loaves and two fish, and everyone’s fed.
That story, by the way, is covered in all four gospels. But there’s a noticeable difference between John’s verision and the others. In Matthew, Mark and Luke, it is the disciples who do the feeding – with Jesus’ guidance, of course; but the disciples are the ones who pass around the baskets of food that never go empty. But in John, it’s different. It is Jesus and Jesus alone who feeds everyone – the disciples are nothing more than spectators. Jesus gives the people the bread they need.
And then later in the same chapter, in our passage today, Jesus gives them a different kind of bread – a bread which doesn't satisfy an empty stomach as much as satisfies the hungry soul. So not only are we fed by Jesus at this meal, but we are fed Jesus himself. His flesh and blood – his life, his mission, his very essence.
So in this strange little “bread of life” speech, Jesus makes it clear: he is giving us his all. He is giving us everything he has to give. He's giving us challenging words to live by in the message that he spoke. He's giving us blind that could see, lame that could walk, troubled minds that could be at peace. He's giving us forgiveness at the woman's stoning, grace at the well, mercy at the tomb and love at a Pharisee's home. Jesus is giving all of this to us; and at the very end he gives us everything he has left to give – he gives us his life.
And every time that you and I gather before this table, we remember that. But it’s more than just thinking back. It’s more than a cognitive exercise. We re-member Jesus. We reassembe him in our presence, and he is made alive and whole to us again. In this sacred space, into our presence, and ultimately into our very bodies. His flesh into our flesh, his blood into our blood. His wholeness into our brokenness.
Could there be anything more comforting and reassuring than that? That as we move through our days, maneuvering through all the highs and lows, we do not go at it alone. Jesus is with us. But it’s more than Jesus being beside us or behind us. Jesus is in us; his life in our life. We are so fully absorbed into the presence of Christ that we're not even aware how close Jesus really is. That is what this meal with Jesus means. That is what this meal with Jesus does.
Which brings us to another study I heard about a while back, although it doesn't have anything to do with snack food. A few years ago a nationwide poll asked participants what word or phrase they would most like to hear spoken to them, sincerely. Any guesses? You probably won't be surprised at the first one. It was: I LOVE YOU. That's what people wanted to hear spoken to them the most.
Want to know what the second one was? Try YOU ARE FORGIVEN. That makes sense, doesn't it? We all mess up, make mistakes; and it's comforting to know we don't have to bear that burden forever. YOU ARE FORGIVEN is the second most popular thing people want to hear.
How about number three? This one's kind of interesting. SUPPER'S READY! How about that! It's dinnertime, the end of the day, and nothing is more satisfying than knowing it's time to eat. So the third most popular phrase that people want to hear spoken to them: SUPPER'S READY.
So, check this out: I LOVE YOU. YOU ARE FORGIVEN. SUPPER'S READY! Hmm. Sounds like the perfect welcome to dinner with Jesus, don't you think? I LOVE YOU . YOU ARE FORGIVEN. SUPPER’S READY! (http://homileticsonline.com/subscriber/illustration_search.asp?item_topic_id=1193, visited on 7.28.2009).
My friends, supper is ready. Except it’s not the Montreat snack table before us, as good as that table is. This one’s better. The Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation. For you and for me. Everyone's invited; everyone's welcome! Eat and drink, all of you; and feel Christ within you and among you. In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God. AMEN.