Community and Unity
Two Sundays ago, we heard about Jesus feeding the 5000 with bread and fish, last week we heard Jesus describe himself as “True Bread from Heaven,” and this week, we hear Jesus portray himself as the “Bread of Life.” Be ready because this bread theme continues for the next two Sundays. Despite the repetition, we preachers in August will need to dig a little deeper into the readings, in order to find subtle nuggets of spiritual nourishment. The holy appetizer for the main course of the “Bread of Life” today, can be found in this week’s epistle reading.
The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Church in Ephesus is a sweet and sour first course of delicious spiritual food for the soul. This reading is an exhortation to a little upstart church that was finding living together in community difficult. Ephesus was a very important center of culture, trade and commerce in the first century, and you would think that a sophisticated city like Ephesus, would be filled with people who treat each other with respect and love. That was not the case.
Ephesus and Community
Paul had to lovingly discipline God’s people for behaviors that were not Christ like. He chastised them for not speaking truth, and for lying to one another. He called them out for their anger, for stealing, failing to share with the needy, for evil talk, bitterness, wrangling, slander, and malice. He reprimanded them for not being kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. The Ephesian Christians were a little messed up.
We often romanticize those early churches as perfect little groups, but they were not. They struggled to live out the faith each day, just as many of us do. No faith community is perfect and so, we too need to take heed to Paul’s exhortations, because loving one another is how we follow Christ, and loving one another is never stress-free.
We grow together when we know God and practice his “no strings attached” love. We mature when we are in the middle of this messiness of Christian life together. As recorded in Acts 2:42 those early communities thrived because they continued in the apostles teaching, the prayers, through fellowship, and in the breaking of the bread; the Bread of Life. Returning to this simple model of community is how our churches will thrive today, and when we center our lives on the “Bread of Life.”
“I am” and Jesus and “I am”
Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life.” It sounds simple, but there is more meat than bread in Jesus’ words. When God sent Moses to lead Israel out of bondage, Moses was not sure what to call God. God told him tell them, “I am, who I am. ‘I am has sent me to you.” (Exodus 3:14) Did you know that Yaweh, the name for God throughout scripture is translated as “I am?”
It is no coincidence that Jesus called himself, “I am the light of the world,” “I am the door of the sheep,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way, truth, and life,” “I am the true vine,” and “I am the Bread of Life.” Jesus was proclaiming that he is the “Great I am.” In his ministry and life, he was showing us the very character and essence of God through images of light, door, way, vine, Good Shepherd, and “Bread of Life.”
When we feast on the “Bread of Life,” we gather together in this blessed messiness we call church to connect forever and intimately with the great “I am,” the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of all of creation. Imagine for a moment the mystery of communing together with the “source, beginning and end” of all we perceive. We can, when we commune with Jesus, the Bread of Life.
Eating the Bread of Life
Jesus said, “I am the Bread of Life,” and then added, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The literal eating of Jesus’ flesh was a difficult concept for his Jewish audience of the day, but Jesus was not talking about literal cannibalism when he made that statement.
Early Christian father Clement argued that when Jesus spoke of eating his flesh, he was referring to “the faith and hope by which believers are nourished, and … (faith) in terms of repentance and the search for spiritual truth.”(2) Consuming Jesus is a metaphor for a quest for the true nourishment found in the truths of the life, ministry, death and resurrection of Christ. We spiritually eat when we take into ourselves the teachings, the way of life, and conversion found in Jesus and further, when we spiritually eat at the Lord’s Table.
In the Eucharist, the priest offers the Gifts of God for the People of God saying, “take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.” This is a reminder that Jesus is the true nourishment and the only food in which, we can trust. He is the only sustenance we need, in order to have life abundant and life everlasting. I believe Jesus is really present among us in the Word proclaimed and the Bread and Wine consumed.
Community filled with Bread of Life
Methodist pastor Juan Huertas writes, and I quote, “we come to the “bread of life” again and again with the promise that God will come, that the spirit we are calling will show up, that the claim that we make will be made present, that you and I will find ourselves part of a new reality, transformed into God’s own, pushed, propelled, into the reality of God’s kingdom in the world.” (3)
Like that quirky little church in Ephesus, the church will always wrestle with our brokenness, messiness, and failures. Truth be told, each one of us has the capacity to hurt one another, to fail in our mission, and to get sidetracked from the way of love. We also have the capacity for so much more, when we live in faith together in Christ.
St. Monica’s is not an association of like-minded individuals, who like eggs in a crate, occupy common space once a week. We are a tapestry of individual threads woven together, and like a beautiful cloth, the lines that might separate our individual gifts and lives become blurred, and the whole body takes on a new hue. When we feed on Christ together, when we love one another, when we go out there and show others where to find bread we are being sent into the world rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.
The hymn by which, we rejoice, the tune we sing is the song by which, the world will find holy food in us, find Jesus in us. That little tune goes something like this:
I am the bread of life. They who come to me shall not hunger; They who believe in me shall not thirst. No one can come to me unless the Father draw them.
And I will raise them up, and I will raise them up, and I will raise them up on the last day.
(1) Berge, Paul S. “John 6:1-71 – the Bread Which Gives Life to the World.” Word & World, vol. 5, no. 3, Sum, pp. 311-320.
(2) Koester, Craig R. “John Six and the Lord’s Supper.” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 4, no. 4, Wint, pp. 419-437.
(3) http://day1.org/4041-sharing_in_the_life_of_jesus(Pastor Huertas)