On Friday I had a colonoscopy. It wasn’t so bad . . . at least not as bad as I imagined it would be after hearing hundreds of horror stories. It really wasn’t that bad. Drinking the stuff—the ironically named GO-Lytley—to clean out the bowels, wasn’t so bad . . . it was just a lot of it. Nor was dealing with the results of drinking the GO-Lytley and having to spend time in the library for a couple of hours. Nope, none of that was too difficult to handle . . . inconvenient, but not difficult; what was no fun was not being able to eat after a simple breakfast of Cheerios and toast on Thursday morning until late Friday afternoon. That was nearly unbearable.
By Friday morning I was starving. My stomach was growling . . . either due to the lack of food or the remnants of the GO-Lytley . . . I was growling. I was getting grumpy due to the lack of food. Our dogs, two Dachshunds—also known as “wiener dogs”—were getting nervous whenever I looked at them . . . visions of hot dogs on the grill kept flashing before my eyes. I was hungry . . . really hungry. But orders are orders and I was not to have any food after breakfast on Thursday morning . . . nearly 31 hours without food. I thought I was going to die . . .
But, as you can see . . . I am here. I am alive. Immediately after the procedure on Friday afternoon I made my wife take me straight to the nearest restaurant where I proceeded in eating like a pig . . . no, I take that back . . . a pig would have been embarrassed by the way I dug into that food.
I am going to admit that I have a dependency on food. We all do. We all need food in order to live. Food is the fuel that keeps us going. Without food, we die. I realize that I was not going to die from going without food for 31 hours despite what my mind was telling me; and, I also know that what I endured is nothing like those people throughout our world who do not have enough to eat . . . who are actually starving. But, man was I hungry.
We are depend on bread for life.
Our scripture reading this morning is a continuation of the story of the feeding of the five thousand we heard a couple of weeks ago. In that story Jesus meets the physical needs of the people for food . . . he feeds them with two fish and five loaves of bread. It was a pretty miraculous feat that he pulled off and the people were impressed. They were impressed that he fed them . . . so impressed that many of them realized that they were—in that moment—in the presence of the Holy. Something “holy” had happened and now they wanted more of it.
So, they followed Jesus over to the other side of the lake after he had snuck out during the night. Now they were confronting him and demanding more . . . they wanted more bread . . . they wanted more of the “holy” that they had experience. But they did not understand completely what it was that they were really seeking . . . they did not see the act of feeding all of them as something that was more symbolic and metaphorical of a greater hunger needing to be fed. It was not bread that they were seeking, but the “bread of life”.
Jesus could see that they didn’t quite grasp the implications of what had happened . . . he could see that they didn’t quite understand; so, he tried . . . he tried real hard to explain to them the difference between what they had received and what they really needed. There is “bread” and then there is the “bread of life”. One feeds the body, the other feeds the soul. You can go to any market and buy the bread that feeds the body, but you can only receive the bread that feeds the soul—the “bread of life”—through Jesus.
Jesus is the “bread of life”.
Now remember, we human beings are concrete thinkers. When Jesus tells the people: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If a man eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” As concrete thinkers this does not make any sense . . . and, on top of it all, it goes against all the rules and tenets of the Jewish faith . . . it reeks of cannibalism. Their response to Jesus? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
The people are hungry . . . they are longing for food—for bread—that satisfies the hunger. In this story, as far as the people are concerned, it is actual bread that is the focus, but in reality it is more. They cannot see beyond the words that he uses . . . “flesh and blood” . . . a gory, yucky proposition forbidden by God way back there in Genesis 9:3-4 where God forbids Noah and his family from eating blood. Besides, the people might not get what Jesus is attempting to explain to them, but they are not stupid. There is only one of Jesus . . . how in the world would ever be able to offer himself—his flesh and blood—to feed the multitudes of people before him?
When Jesus invites the people—and us—to eat his flesh and drink his blood, he invites us to ingest God’s Word, to feast on God’s light, God’s life, God’s truth, God’s love. He invites us into a relationship . . . an intimate relationship . . . with God that allows us the opportunity to be healed of our ancient wounds and to live once again in ways that truly satisfy our deepest longing—our longing to live in ways that truly reflect our love affair with God and with one another. It is not his physical body that Jesus is offering, but his life as an example . . . even to the point of giving one’s life for another as he did for us.
In the life of Jesus is the “bread of life”. In the words that he speaks . . . he gives life. In the actions that he takes . . . he gives life. In the miracles and healings he performs . . . he gives life. In the way that he relates to others—with care, grace, and love . . . he gives life. In the way that he takes the time to pray, worship, and love God . . . he gives life. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” Through him comes life . . . everlasting life . . . sustaining life.
Thus the invitation to “eat his flesh and drink his blood” is an invitation to embrace him and his life as our lives . . . to become like him in our lives. It is to walk as Jesus walked . . . talk as Jesus talked . . . love and care as Jesus did . . . to pray and worship as Jesus did . . . to become like him. To become like him and to live our lives as he lived his. This is to “eat the flesh and drink the blood”. This is to discover the bread that always feeds . . . the bread that sustains . . . the bread that promises eternal life. That is the invitation that Jesus offers to the people in the story and to us.
Needless to say, not everyone is going to jump up and down and join Jesus after this little speech. No, there will be those who walk away from the invitation . . . those who turn their backs because they either don’t get it or they don’t want it. But, that is okay. That is their choice. The invitation is just that . . . a choice. A choice to accept or to decline. To eat or not to eat. It is up to each individual who hears the invitation.
Which brings it back to us this morning. We have been invited to receive the “living bread” . . . bread that is Jesus himself. We have been invited to come and “eat of his flesh and drink of his blood” . . . a symbolic and metaphorical invitation to come and live life with God through the life of Jesus. The invitation, like the gift we receive, is eternal . . . it is always there. The choice always remains ours . . . to eat or not to eat. That is always the question. Amen.