The Bread of Life

John 6:25-35 25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

26 Jesus answered them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: You are not looking for me because you saw the miraculous signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

28 So they said to him, “What should we do to carry out the works of God?”

29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God: that you believe in the one he sent.”

30 Then they asked him, “So what miraculous sign are you going to do, that we may see it and believe you? What miraculous sign are you going to perform? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, just as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

32 Jesus said to them, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the real bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

34 “Sir,” they said to him, “give us this bread all the time!”

35 “I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Norman Vincent Peale once said, “In comparison with the Great Depression of the 1930s, the recent recessions are like Sunday school picnics.” During the Great Depression, many people went hungry. Others stood in long lines for soup kitchens. Someone with a light touch said, “We occasionally see signs: ‘Keep off the grass.’ In the Depression they read, ‘Don't eat the grass.’”

The multitudes who came to Jesus in the uninhabited area in John 6 were told to sit down, for “there was plenty of grass in that place” (John 6:10). But the hungry people didn’t have to eat the grass; Jesus had real food in mind for them. He satisfied the hunger of all by miraculously multiplying five barley loaves and two small fish. He increased a young boy’s lunch to be lunches thousands of men, women and children.

As we gather together for Thanksgiving, we are mindful that Jesus usually doesn’t feed us with miraculous lunches. That miraculous meal was a one-time event for those people on the grassy hillside. Jesus provides for us daily through normal means. That’s why we pray in church and in our homes, “Give us this day our daily bread.”

By “daily bread” we mean more than bread baked in ovens. Daily bread includes clothing, housing, vocations, medical care, education, good government and the like. Daily bread includes all that is needed for body and life. Bread is sustenance and life.

But there is a bit of irony in Jesus’ words, “I am the Bread of Life.”

Tomorrow we are going to have various breads around the table: the old favorites like rye and wheat, and possibly my personal favorites of pretzel buns and Hawaiian sweet rolls. We will top our breads with melted butter or homemade rhubarb jam or some roasted turkey or baked ham. As good as it tastes, bread is the food of the Fall. God gave this curse to Adam in the Garden of Eden: “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19 By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17-19, ESV).

Doctors will tell you to limit the amount of bread you eat. And especially stay away from white bread. I found an image in a Google search that declares: “White bread equals death.” Bread is the food of death. Not because bread will actually kill you. But because bread represents the sweat of toil and work to earn that bread to sustain our bodies until we return to dust.

When you plop that dinner roll on your plate tomorrow, think about how much work it took to get that bread onto your table. Seeds are sown. The farmer harvests. The miller grinds. The baker bakes. The truck delivers. The shelves are stocked. The grocer sells. Then you buy, with money earned from your labor. God uses bread to remind us what it takes to keep us alive.

Bread has a long history in the Bible. Manna in the wilderness. Bread in the sacrifices of the temple and tabernacle. Bread in the Passover. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, which is Hebrew for “House of Bread.” Jesus fed thousands with loaves of bread. Jesus broke bread when He ate with sinners. Jesus is the Bread of Life.

God sustained His people through miraculous or daily bread. He does the same for us.

The national holiday that President Lincoln started during the Civil War and President Franklin Roosevelt signed into legislation is about remembering. For we Christians, it is a time to remember the gift of bread and the Giver of that bread.

In our thanksgiving, we thank the farmers, butchers and bakers – all those people doing the dirty jobs serving others. We give thanks knowing that God works through others to provide and protect His creation. God is hidden behind these extraordinarily ordinary “masks.” God could certainly have bread fall from heaven or multiply fish in our refrigerator or cause our jars of cooking oil to never be empty. But God doesn’t do that. He provides through ordinary means. Daily bread.

Thanksgiving is all about remembering. As we sang in our Psalm: “Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations” (Psalm 100).

But we don’t always enter with thanksgiving. We fail to come into God’s courts with praise. We know that the Lord is good, but we don’t tell Him that. We trust that God’s love endures forever, but we forget to thank Him for that love.

We overlook God’s hidden work through earthly means. We idolize the gift and ignore the Giver. We treat Jesus like a divine bread machine. We’re no different than the Old Testament Israelites. After eating this miraculous bread from heaven year after year, the Israelites complained, “We have lost our appetite; we never see anything but this manna!” (Numbers 11:6). Manna could be boiled, baked or eaten raw. My Catechism class decided that if the Israelites would have deep-fried their manna, they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it so quickly.

We grumble and complain about our daily bread. It isn’t enough. It isn’t what we want. It doesn’t come at the right time. It is boring.

We’re no different than the crowds following Jesus – anxious, worried and grumbling about what we don’t have, so we forget what we do have. That’s why Jesus reminds us in our text: “Do not continue to work for the food that spoils, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Thanksgiving is remembering. But remembering works two ways. Thanksgiving begins, not in the poverty of our heart, but in the richness of a giving God. Before God, we are all beggars. Thanksgiving isn’t about what we give to God, but about what God gives to us.

Jesus doesn’t benefit from us thanking Him. It’s the other way around. Christ gives into empty hands. The more we thank God the Father through Jesus Christ His dear Son, the more we recognize how generously and bountifully He deals with us.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Eucharist. We don’t use that word too often in the Lutheran Church. But it’s a good word. Eucharist is Greek for “thanksgiving.” It’s another name for the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. And true Thanksgiving is to receive the Lord’s Supper. All other thanksgiving feasts are but a shadow. There is no higher worship of Christ than to receive His gifts. We Christians are a Eucharistic people. A Thanksgiving people.

For man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Jesus explained: “I am the Bread of Life. 49 Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that anyone may eat it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats this bread, he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:28-51). We eat ordinary bread to our death. Even the manna in the wilderness didn’t save Israel. But the Bread of Life is different.

In the Eucharist, Jesus takes ordinary, earthly bread and turns it into an extraordinary, heavenly meal. Jesus takes the bread from the fall and redeems it in His death. The food of the curse is now the food of blessings. It is not metaphorical or symbolic or figurative language. Jesus means what He says. Jesus is your Bread of Life. The Eucharist is your Bread of Life. It is the bread and body, wine and blood that grants you the forgiveness for your grumbling, worrying, selfish and ungrateful attitudes.

Jesus is the Bread of Life. Consider how bread is made. Wheat grows in the field, then it is cut down, winnowed, and ground into flour. It passes through the fire of the oven and is then distributed around the world. Only by this process does bread become bread. Each step is essential.

Jesus grew up as a “small plant before the Lord” (Isaiah 53:2). One of thousands in Israel. Indistinguishable from the person down the street or the child in the next chair. Had you seen him as a youngster, you wouldn’t have thought he was the Son of God. He was just a boy. One of hundreds. Like a staff of wheat in the wheat field.

But like wheat, He was cut down. Like chaff He was pounded and beaten. “He was wounded for the wrong we did; he was crushed for the evil we did” (Isaiah 53:5). And like bread He passed through the fire. On the cross He passed though the fire of God’s anger, not because of His sin, but because of ours. “The Lord has put on him the punishment for all the evil we have done” (Isaiah 53:6).

Jesus experienced each part of the process of making bread: the growing, the pounding, the firing. And just as each is necessary for bread, each was also necessary for Christ to become the bread that gives life (John 6:35). “The Christ must suffer these things before he enters his glory” (Luke 24:26).

“I am the Bread of Life,” Jesus told them. “The one who comes to me will never be hungry, and the one who believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus and His Eucharistic Meal is the one feast that won’t run out or leave you full and feeling sick afterwards. This meal endures – unlike the mashed potatoes, gravy, and drumsticks. The Eucharist is a meal that you can enjoy tonight, on Sunday, and every Sunday and festival service. And if you can’t come to receive the Eucharist here because you are hospitalized or homebound, then the Eucharist will be brought to you. It is that important of a meal!

Now there’s a reason for thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving is remembering. Remembering that Jesus’ death is your life. And Jesus remembering your sins no more – all our grumbling, doubt, worry, and ungrateful sinfulness – forgiven.

Come to the altar, eat, drink, and live. In the Eucharist, Jesus, the Bread of Life, is your host and meal. Amen.