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Eat Me, Drink Me: I am Life (John 6:51-58)

Updated: Oct 9, 2023

I am the Bread of Life

The Israelite community raged and grumbled against my brother, Moses, and me. Their complaints were deafening, “If only we died in Egypt” they cried. They remembered that only a few days ago they sat around pots of meat and ate all they wanted. So unthankful they were to the great Yahweh and his servant, Moses, that they forgot their harsh slavery and suffering. They accused us that we brought them out into the desert to starve and to die.

During this time, I walked past Moses standing in the tent. My hair stood on end, my brother was speaking to the Almighty, I could hear the voice of the divine, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way, I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day, they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” After Moses had heard Yahweh, we called all the Israelites together and told them that in the morning you will know without a doubt that Yahweh had brought all of us out of Egypt and you will see his glory, because he heard your grumbling against him. “You will know it is Yahweh because he will provide meat in the evening to eat, and an abundance of bread in the morning,” Moses proclaimed. The truth is, these people grumbled against Yahweh, not against Moses and me. So, through Moses, Yahweh provided miraculous bread. No one knew exactly what it was, so we called it, in our Hebrew language, מָן הוּא or manna, which means “What is it?” It was a peculiar kind of bread, it was fine as frost, white like coriander seed, and tasted like wafers made with honey or pastry prepared with oil. It was rather nice. We ate this strange bread for 40 years.

It did not take long for our people to begin to squabble and grumble again. There came a day when there was no water, so they came to my brother. “Give us water to drink.” Again, they cried, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”

Moses was desperate, and came to God in prayer, “These people are about to stone me, what am I to do with them?” Not long after his prayer, Moses went out in front of every one, together with all Israel’s elders. He stood there by the great rock of Horeb with that very same staff he had struck the river, Nile. And he struck that rock hard, and water gushed out for all the people to drink of it. He called this place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

And so, my brother, Moses, was remembered as a prophet and a great man of God, greater than many because of all these great signs he performed, these and many more. But he always told us of another prophet like himself that one day Yahweh would rise up from his people.

That prophet is here!

This prophet did the extraordinary. One time he attended a wedding in Cana. The wine ran out which would have been hugely embarrassing for the bridal party. So, with a nudge from his mother, Mary, he miraculously turned water in six stone jars into delicious wine. In so doing, the prophet, Jesus, revealed his glory and people began to believe in him as someone more than just a prophet.

Soon afterward, Jesus met a Samaritan woman at a well and he asked her for a drink. She hesitated because she was a Samaritan woman and he was a Jewish man, how could he ask her for a drink?! And Jesus said to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Confused, she said, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself.” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” He then proceeded to tell her things about her which he would never have known unless he were divine. This Jesus was more than a great prophet, he truly was the Messiah, as she would in a moment proclaim to her village.

Sometime later, a great crowd—about 5 000 men—came to Jesus. Out of concern for the hungry people, he asked one of his disciples where they might buy bread for everyone. But Jesus already knew in his heart that he would work a sign. Another disciple found a boy who had five barley loaves and two small fish. Being near the Sea of Galilee, these were likely sardines which were common food for the poor people in the area at the time. The people were made to sit on the grass. Jesus took the loaves and the two sardines, gave thanks, and shared the food, these five loaves fed everyone, there were even leftovers, twelve baskets full! One wonders whether these twelve baskets were there to help us reflect on the twelve tribes of Israel, and how God miraculously sent manna through Moses. People saw Jesus’ sign and began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Remember, the one that Moses and many others spoke about.

About that time, Jesus began to teach, and depending on which way you look at it, it quickly becomes absurdly grotesque or absurdly beautiful.

Here in John 6:51-58, Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” There is that manna imagery again. Jesus calls us to eat of this bread, because if we do, we will not die, but will live forever, we will have eternal life. The imagery is so much deeper than pure symbolism, isn’t it? He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Any Jewish person understood what Jesus was referring to. He then proceeded to tell his audience, “This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world”. Not surprisingly, the Jews began to dispute among themselves. In disgust, they ask one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Aware of the quarreling that was going on, Jesus becomes very emphatic:

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53b-58).

At this point, one begins to see powerful elements of the Lord’s Supper, and how Jesus relates his signs with God’s miraculous dealings with Moses and the Israelites. And by changing water into wine and feeding the 5 000 with five barley loaves of bread, he demonstrated to us that he is greater than the prophet Moses because he performs these signs as if he is divine. Moses on the other had performed the signs in obedience to God’s divine instruction. But here is the mystery, “my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” If we take this episode in John’s Gospel to be teaching on the Lord’s Supper—and I do—I am not sure Jesus quite meant that the bread and wine that we eat and drink literally becomes the body and blood of Jesus, but neither do I think it is simply symbolic. There are various schools of thought here. I prefer to leave this open as deep mystery where Jesus is truly present when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper. By partaking in the bread and wine we are feeding on the flesh and blood of Christ, regardless of how we try to understand the mystery. Eating is believing because we who feed on Jesus abide in him, and he abides in us, and therefore we have life. This bread is different from the one the ancient Israelites ate in the wilderness, for this bread; this wine gives life eternal.

This offers quite a different meaning when we participate in the Lord’s Supper, because, whether physically or spiritually, Jesus is present among us. Jesus is truly present with his church, perhaps in a similar, though different way when he was present at the wedding feast and changed water into wine to prevent bridal humiliation, when he ministered to the marginalized at the well, or fed the hungry. Jesus’ body and blood is our life, and he calls every Christian to participate in his eternal life by believing and feeding on him.

Not too long ago I used to think that we should do away with the Lord’s table, which is sometimes called the altar, and put the pulpit at the front center—how misinformed I was! As important as preaching is, the Lord’s table is our proclamation of the centrality of Jesus Christ among us, that is why it is positioned in the center, it is there for a reason. It’s difficult to take the Lord’s Supper for granted when we begin to realize that we truly meet Jesus at the Lord’s Supper, it’s not the bread and wine that sustains us, but Jesus himself sustains us and gives us eternal life, the bread and wine are the modes by which we receive Jesus in faith. When Jesus said in Matthew 28:20, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” He meant it!

The manna was for all the Israelites, including those who grumbled; the water from the rock which Moses struck was for all those who thirsted; Jesus’ wedding wine was for all who celebrated; the five loaves and two sardines were for all those who hungered; Jesus offers his living water to all those who have experienced marginalization in one way or another, who come to him in desperation. And he offers his body and blood for a broken world: All are welcome.

Don’t be like the Jews who could not accept Jesus’ words but believe and delight in the mystery of the body of Christ Jesus, because he desires that you and I come to meet him at the Lord’s Table, as we are, as sinful and broken as we are, and to feed on him so that we might share in his eternal life.

He is life.


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