notre dame montreal

Bread of Life - The Ups and Downs of our faith

Sermon on John Chapter 6

by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman


The gospel reading today follows on from John’s account of Jesus feeding the 5000 followed by his walking on the water to cross the lake over to Capernaum.

When the crowds catch up with Him He’s teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum and He uses the fact that they’ve come to find Him because He previously fed them with bread to teach them about the bread of eternal life

He uses the structure of teaching that the Jews in the synagogue would have been familiar with, the Midrash, which was their equivalent to our standard three point sermon. The Midrash tradition started with a verse of scripture, in this case Jn 6 v 31, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’ and then goes on to explain this in 2 sections, the first part, Jn 6 v 32 – 48, he explains ‘bread from heaven’ and in the second part, Jn 49 – 58, which is most of today’s reading, He explains ‘to eat’. Often this explanation (in the Aggadah tradition of Midrash, takes one word and changes it slightly in the vowel structure as the are no vowels in the Torah, and comes up with a different word which explains the meaning of the phase of scripture.

So His teaching started in the reading we had last week and it continues in today’s reading

And in this passage are several of the phrases that John uses to continue to indicate the significance of what is happening, the transformation from the old to the new, with creation, our lives and the spiritual realm in which we live

The first phrase that draws our attention is when Jesus describes Himself as ‘I am’, a phrase He uses multiple times to describe Himself in the gospel. Here He declares Himself to be the bread of life, the living bread, with the words ‘I am the living bread, the bread of life’

In Exodus 3 when God is looking for someone to lead the Israelites out of Egypt He calls Moses. Moses is somewhat reluctant to take up the mantle and asks God who he should tell the Israelites has sent him, what’s God’s name?

God replies, ‘Tell them I am has sent me to you’. To the Jews in the synagogue declaring Himself as the ‘I am’ was declaring Himself as God. No wonder it caused so much uproar although its interesting to note that the Jews argued amongst themselves so presumably some agreed with what Jesus was saying!

The second is that He uses the words we have seen before in John’s gospel of ‘up’ and ‘down’. We saw it in the discourse with Nathaniel where Jesus says he will see heaven open and angels coming up and down on the Son of Man. Jesus has come down so that we can go up. With Nicodemus Jesus states that Nicodemus must be born from ‘up there’

Jesus, the one who came down, gives us access to the kingdom of the up by being lifted up Himself

Here, Jesus, the living bread, states that He has come down from heaven so that by eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood we can be raised up

It’s the same structure we see over and over again in John; Jesus comes down to transform creation so that we can have access to the kingdom of the up

And, as if to emphasise the break between the old and the new the third clue comes as Jesus uses a structure He’s used in the past by contrasting the old with the new

In the wedding at Cana in Galilee the reading describes the mother of Jesus, part of the old regime in the past tense, ‘Was the mother of Jesus there’.

It’s the same with Nicodemus, ‘Was there a man called Nicodemus, a member of the council party there’

Here Jesus draws the comparison with the bread that came down the Israelites forefathers, ‘Ate (past tense) our forefathers manna from heaven’

In describing the manna He says that unlike the living bread, manna, which translates what is it (Hebrew man = what) has no life giving properties and all that ate it ultimately died, maveth

Jesus is describing a transformation from the old world to the new

And, as in other stories where Jesus describes this transformation that He is bringing about He makes it clear to His listeners how they too can be part of this transformation

Because although the passage does point towards the Eucharist, when Jesus talks about eating His flesh, the bread of live and drinking His blood in this passage the meaning is clear

Its not talking about being saved through the Eucharist, it is talking about eating and drinking as a once and for all and personal action through which we are saved. That is, acknowledging the ‘I am’, the one who has come down so that we can have access to the Kingdom of the up, the one who is the living bread, through which we never go hungry

In using the word ‘flesh’ He’s also linking the Eucharist, and all that it means, with His incarnation

And it’s this which we remember as we celebrate the Eucharist today

We celebrate and share the Eucharist as a memorial to Jesus not to remember what he said ‘Do his in remembrance of me’ but because of what it signifies, His coming into the world to transform the old into the new, in all creation and in our lives

In fact, the whole of John’s gospel is pervaded by the concept of the Christian Passover replacing the Jewish one

The Eucharist is therefore not just some ‘going through the motions’ but an active participation in the transformation of God, the one from ‘up there’, in our lives

As we share in the Eucharist we share in the transformation, a transformation of ourselves and through us the world in which we live

The Eucharist isn’t just a remembering of the past it’s a calling into the present the reality of what happened when Jesus was raised up

There are many examples of people being fed in the Old Testament; we had one in last weeks reading where Elijah was fed. But all of them result in people still dying

As Christians, as we share in the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, the Holy Communion, as we eat of the body of Jesus and drink of His blood, we are reminded in a profound way that as we profit and share in the risk that Jesus took by the breaking of His body and the shedding of His blood, so we share in His risen life.

His is the life that sustains and transforms us, hour by hour, day by day, week by week. No longer are we limited by the laws of the Old Testament or the physical restrictions of our human body, through the Eucharist, and all that it symbolises for each one of us, perhaps in very different ways, we are raised up with Christ and share in His eternal glory both now and in the world to come.