This week’s reading: John 6:35-59
One gift of the Narrative Lectionary is usually that we skip over some of the well-trod paths for new and (to many of our listeners) uncharted preaching territory. Yet, here we are, once again, facing the bread of life text. We are facing it with a new lens, but an old exhaustion. What does this mean? How did the crowd, the disciples, the Jewish authorities hear this? How does our congregation hear this?
One thing to consider as you prepare for the Sunday is the context of the Narrative Lectionary.
If you’ve been focusing on the way the writer of the Fourth Gospel shapes the story of God in Jesus, pay particular attention to that in the entirety of chapter 6 and in the selected verses.
If you are lifting up the narrative (story) structure of this gospel and the use of the people as characters, consider to whom Jesus is speaking. Why are they there? How are they responding? Can you make a short reader’s theater of a couple friends or a family discussing what they heard and trying to understand it?
If you are thinking through the arc of Scripture, what does it mean for the nature of God to be revealed in this way? The manna in the wilderness, the widow fed by Elijah, the provision of food for various other prophets- how are these things connected to the finality of Jesus as the Bread of Life?
If you are reading the NRSV translation, Jesus uses the word “coming” as well as “believing”.
– What’s the difference between coming to Jesus and believing in Jesus?
– What have those actions looked like in your life?
– What have they looked like in the lives of your congregants?
– Can someone come without entirely believing? What about the reverse- believing, but not coming?
Any discussion of the Bread of Life lends itself to pondering Holy Communion. The communal meal is one of the concrete ways that we perceive and receive Jesus in our midst (and into our bodies).
The writer of the Fourth Gospel presents the feeding of the crowd as the community meal. This is not something that happens away, with the disciples or the close beloved. It happens, through Jesus’ doing, to a vast number of people- who may have all kinds of thoughts about him, about bread, about God, about faith.
The intertwining of Spirit and flesh is inescapable in this gospel. They go together and belief (relationship) is fed through and from both. The community of the Fourth Gospel cannot embrace only the Spirit to the neglect of their own bodies or the body of the community. Without the Spirit, which blows where She will, the flesh is not able to be in communion. Without the flesh, the Spirit moves, but there is nothing to respond to that movement. The relationship does not and cannot exist.
The teachings and the person of Jesus go together. One cannot listen (Spirit) without eating (partaking of communion and community with Christ). One cannot eat without listening to the Word (the revelation, teaching, and on-going ministry of Christ in the world and in each person).
The depth of what is meant when Jesus says, “I am the Bread of Life” is both mysterious and plain. The hows and whens are not known in this life. The whys and wheres are for us to continue to wrestle with and understand more deeply.
Why: It is in God’s nature to provide for God’s creation, to nurture, to be merciful, and gracious. Food for the good of the soul is the ultimate provision for abiding together. The Bread of Life, Jesus, is our wilderness guide, food, and shelter.
Where: In our hearts, in our mouths, in our minds, in our hands, in our communities, in our isolation… There is nowhere that the food is not with us or not essential to the entirety of our being.
I personally am trying to ponder a different way of receiving communion this week, a way that underscores that it comes from Jesus himself and is meant for each person. How will I communicate the revelation of God that is in Jesus in the bread (literal) and as bread (metaphorical)? How will you?