Have you ever made fresh bread or been in a house where someone has? I’ll bet I can make you hungry merely by suggesting such wonderful food. Can you smell it? It smells so moist that it seems to emanate a bread cloud over your head, ready to rain down a gustatory experience of biblical proportions. The air is so thick with flavor that you believe you can reach up to it, grab some, and stuff it in your salivating mouth.
And then there’s the first actual bite. You may not have realized before that you were still hungry, but one bite and there’s no doubt that there’s still room in your belly and soul for bread. So soft, so chewy, you want it to be bread gum that stays all balled up in your mouth all day, each bite, each chew of the newly formed cud just as juicy and flavorful as the first, and no lessening of the flavor neurons and dopamine flowing through your brain.
Excuse me a second, I have to go and do something that’s suddenly very important . . . .
O.K., now that I’m back and sated, I can continue.
It’s no coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, which means “house of bread,” for that is what Jesus’ Body is: a house of bread. Having been born in the House of Bread, Jesus then proceeds to be transformed into the Bread of Heaven throughout His life. His life grew and prospered as the wheat of the field, and then, when it was time for the heavenly bread to be made, He was crushed and then put into the oven or grave to “cook.” After He had risen, He was ready to give life, but He did so not from earth but from heaven, where the real House of Bread always existed.
And so John 6 has reference to all in the Bible that speaks of bread and food and life. He is the Tree of Life in Genesis 1, and He is the bread that sustained the Jews in Egypt when there was a famine. He was their daily manna that came down from heaven, as well as the shewbread in the Temple. The Old Testament feasts were really Him, and it was He who sustained the widow through bread and Elijah.
He is the feeding of the 5000 and the feeding of the 4000. He is the Lord’s Supper, the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and He’s every meal you ever ate.
And so it should not be surprising that John 6, written later than the other Gospels, when John was maturely reflecting on Jesus and the Church, is about the Eucharist. Maybe it’s not quite correct to say that John 6 is about the Eucharist. Rather: John 6 is not about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is about John 6, about Jesus, who is the Bread of Life.
It seems so unlikely, that God would truly give Himself to us through food. And yet it’s not more unlikely than a God creating everything from nothing, God becoming man, or God dying for man.
Do not think it strange that the Body and Blood of Christ can be communicated to us through the elements of His Supper. If God can communicate His Word through black ink splattered over a white page (elements never commanded in Scripture), then I suppose He can give Himself to us through bread and wine (elements that are commanded in Scripture).
So much for explaining how John 6 refers to the Eucharist (though this is not all). This was certainly the belief of the writers of the early church, and there’s no reason to doubt that they had it right.
But what good does all of this do this morning for me?
I have a deep hunger inside me, and I’ll bet you do to. Do you remember how you felt when I described the smell and taste of fresh-baked bread? That is the kind of deep hunger I have for the Bread of Life, and I hope you have it to.
Every day God bakes His bread freshly and offers it to you. This world that He has created is like the gingerbread house in the fairy tale Hansel and Gretel. It is all made of edible delicacies that communicate His Son to us.
Time offers itself to you, if you will but take it and eat it. It comes neatly scored so that you may conveniently break off bite-sized pieces, each of which is related to eternity and heaven, if only you will see.
The sky and its celestial inhabitants are not just the sky and clouds, trees, birds, moon, sun, and stars: they are the alluring presentation of heaven that draws you into the ongoing heavenly feast.
The Christians in your life are really fellow table guests, all hopefully on the way to the same great feast, and your conversation with them is to be the holy table talk of the saints.
In prayer, you have the ability to eat Christ without ceasing. It’s as if life is a movie you’re watching and your pockets are filled with a never-ending supply of goodies – only you forgot they were there.
God’s Word is not only out there when you get home or are in church and have time to read it: it should also be in here, in your heart so that you are made into a bakery of Christ, always preparing the bread that He has already set before you, if only by smell and sight you would remember to taste.
Last but not least is the Lord’s Supper itself. Here, in the House of Bread which is the Church, the Body of Christ Himself, He offers Himself to you in the most perfect form. Here the Lord’s Supper 2000 years ago and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb in the future and Christ in heaven and you there in church are all united around the Lamb Himself. Here is the one, true sacrifice, of which you must eat if you will have life.
It’s not a choice: prayer or world; word or Sacrament. Eat the Bread of Life in as many ways and at as many times as you possibly can. Desire Him above all things, yes, even freshly baked homemade bread.
Keep before you the smell and taste of fresh bread, for the way you desire fresh bread is the way you must desire the True Bread. Remember the way that all other thoughts flee your head and heart when you smell fresh bread, and the way you forsake all others to find that one true love of yours.
This is the way to desire Christ. And when you have found Him, taste and see that He is good. For He is the Bread of Heaven, and He is your life.
Prayer: Draw me to yourself, O Bread of Life. Attract me with Your holy sight and smell that my desire for You might be magnified. May I desire nothing today but You in all of the ways You offer Yourself to me, so that I may be well-fed and not hungry, strong and not weak. Even as I delight in the earthly food and life You give me, may they become sacraments of Your presence to me so that in them I see and feel you and know life again. Amen.
Points for Meditation:
- How much have I been desiring God?
- Practice remembering and feeding your desire for God today. What are some of the most blessed ways in which He comes to you?
Resolution: I resolve to spend time today meditating on how desirable Jesus is and how much I truly desire Him.
Bread of Heaven painting by Paul Erlandson – in personal collection of Fr. Charles Erlandson