This isn’t my sermon from worship tonight, but it does represent the basic heart of the content.
The text is a continuation of Jesus’ discussion with the people about his claim, “I am the bread of life” that comes down from heaven. They have already introduced the episode of manna being provided for their ancestors in the wilderness in the text just preceding these verses. Also, this whole discussion of bread of life, manna, seeing and believing in Jesus, etc. follows soon after John’s account of the feeding of the 5000.
When Jesus talks about being the bread of life, that the bread is his flesh that he will give, and that people have to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life–admittedly, some pretty odd claims if you’re not open to hearing Jesus out–John (the gospel writer) is referring to Holy Communion, the Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper (depending on your terminology of choice). John is wonderfully creative in the way he appropriates his historical material as he frames the telling of the Jesus story in such a way as to infuse it with theological zip that is unique to the fourth gospel. In this passage, he’s at it again. This is the first of the “I AM” sayings of Jesus in John’s gospel (“I AM” being the translation of the Divine Name given to Moses at the burning bush–YHWH or Yahweh. Jesus mirrors this name, linking himself with God in his being).
So, here’s the thought. The Jews in this text bring up the manna of their ancestors’ time in the wilderness. Jesus addresses it a couple of times, the gist being that it wasn’t ultimately satisfying. It was good for the moment in which it was given and for the purpose that it served, but it wasn’t the ultimate in God’s provision.
I want to posit a parallel.
The manna in the wilderness (in Exodus) is to the Passover meal as the feeding of the 5000 is to the Eucharistic meal.
Think about it. Both the manna and the feeding of the 5000 are spectacular episodes of provision that satisfy a stomach-deep hunger. Both the Passover and Eucharistic meals are symbolic events to be re-experienced that embody God’s saving grace given generously in the Exodus and in the Cross. They satisfy a hunger that is soul-deep. The manna in the wilderness and the bread and fish on the hillside made manifest God’s power and compassion. But when they are over, we must stop and ask, “What now?” With the Passover and the Eucharist, we say, “Thanks be to God, may we live in his love all our days.” The manna and the 5 loaves were “wonder bread,” but the unleaven bread of the Passover and bread of the Eucharist are “promise bread,” “salvation bread,” “reconciliation bread.” These meals nourish and sustain a people in the promise of Almighty God.
May we not be so enamored with the “wonder bread” that we miss the centrality of the “promise bread” for our lives.