We are now over half way through our Christmas celebration. The mystery of the incarnation continues to unfold. Today: “I am the bread of life!” Jesus explains in the context of a discussion with his followers about food, work, the ancestors.
When Jesus says, “I am the bread that has come down from heaven,” it is already in the context of manna in the wilderness. He has invoked the name of Moses and spoken of manna. He cryptically explains about himself that “This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”
To those theologians who demand that we take ever word of the Bible literally, I always want to point out this passage. Jesus spoke in metaphors and in parables. No one actually believes that he was a walking loaf of bread. He was a man who died on a cross. And these words, spoken in the 6th chapter of John, to the reader, evoke images of the Lord’s Supper.
These metaphors are meant to dance in our head and evoke ways in which he fed the world and how we can now as the Body of Christ.
It is a rich image. To feed the world is one thing. To be manna from heaven….
This is the gift that keeps on giving, even when it doesn’t feel like it. It rains from heaven. Abundantly.
So those disgusting communion wafers at communion that I grew up have actually come in handy! They have evoked for me the manna in the wilderness. The memory of them has connected me to our past, of wandering in the wilderness. The people did not think they had plenty then, and maybe they didn’t. But our meager loaves at communion are only foretastes of the true feast, a feast in heaven, and a feast for all ages.
When Jesus says he is “living bread” and that those who partake of him will never be hungry, and here I stand with this little wafer, again I am reminded that God is speaking to me in metaphor. Certainly he doesn’t mean I won’t get physically hungry again.
No, it means something a heck of a lot deeper. Often I say in my Eucharistic prayers that Jesus is the one “in whom ancient hungers are satisfied.” To eat of the living bread means that spiritual hungers are satisfied. It means that the darkness of hunger and want are but a shadow. God is talking about the spiritual hungers that go well beyond that of “daily bread.”
The power of the Lord’s Supper is that of one that transcends even time. The power of the cross and of the table bind us together in a way unseen and unheard before. To those who feel unloved, there is love surrounding you at the table. To those who feel they have no family, they find family at the table. To those who harbor emotional pain, there is relief at the table.
This is the true power of the Incarnation! This is the true power of the Christmas message.
This bread of heaven came down in this Christmas time to be one of us, and share in this life. He came down only to be rejected, condemned, crucified, and on the third day resurrected. He doesn’t just bind us to “feel-good” ideas, but to his death and resurrection, so that we can be free of this world and its anxiety.
May our ancient hungers be satisfied as we find a place at his table, this day, and always.
Lord let it be!