Sermons from St Faith's     


The Bread of Life
Fr Ian Wynne, August 12th, 2012 

I am the Bread of Life.
The first of the seven great “I am”s in the fourth Gospel.

I am the Bread of Life
I am the Light of the World
I am the Gate for the Sheep
I am the Good Shepherd
I am the Resurrection and the Life
I am the Way the Truth and the Life
I am the True Vine.

These seven statements are solemnly emphatic in the Greek written as an echo of God’s charge to Moses in Exodus when the divine name was revealed to him at the burning bush. Jesus is clearly identifying himself with God and this would have been clear to the readers of this gospel. These were dangerous claims for Jesus to make opening himself up to a charge of blasphemy for the name of God was sacred. Right at the start of his Gospel the evangelist affirms the divinity of the Word of God, the light of men and this is a recurrent theme running through the book to the ending where the evangelist tells us that these things were written to show that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God.

I am the Bread of Life.
Bread was – and still is an important staple in the diet. A shortage of bread has an emotive effect and throughout history has been the driving force of political slogans. Wasn’t it Marie Antoinette who hearing that the people were short of bread said “let them eat brioche?” look what happened to her. In the first reading this morning we heard how God provided Elijah with a scone – not a fruit scone with jam and cream, but in effect a hot bread roll. In the wilderness Moses had been in trouble, having journeyed from Egypt the people were running short of food and grumbling. Their rescue from slavery forgotten they were grumbling about God and Moses. In his overflowing love and generosity God sent Manna, a thin wafer-like substance – rather like the small individual hosts we have at Mass. This bread from heaven was collected every morning. Bread to the Hebrews became not just a staple, not just a political tool but a sacred gift from God. As a sign of this the priests would later put Bread of the Presence before the Lord in the Temple. Bread became associated with the very presence of God.

I am the Bread of Life.
From the point of view of the religious Jews, Jesus’ teachings got worse. Not only was he associating himself with God but was pointing out that their ancestors who ate the manna had all died but that he would provide bread from heaven which people would eat and then not die but live for ever. So here we have a carpenter from Nazareth whom they had all known from him being a lad claiming to be greater than Moses. Was he mad deluded, or bad blasphemer?

I am the Bread of Life.
These discourses come hard on the heels of the feeding of the five thousand. Compared with the manna credited to Moses this was seen as a mere nothing; people fed once with ordinary bread just did not compare to bread from heaven for a generation. There was a strong rabbinic tradition that when the Messiah came he would surpass the deeds of Moses and just as the first redeemer of Israel provided manna from heaven so would the second messianic redeemer provide manna. It was thought that a pot of this manna had been hidden in the Arc of the Covenant in the First Temple and this had been hidden away by Jeremiah when the Temple was destroyed at the start of the Babylonian exile; the expectation was that the Messiah would produce this manna. How could a carpenter from Nazareth produce this?

I am the Bread of Life.
What a claim. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever. What a claim. This bread is my flesh. Horror. To the orthodox Jew eating human flesh was a total no no; completely abhorrent. No wonder that St John goes on to inform us that many stopped following him after this discourse. Interestingly the Jews do not seem to have tried to stone Jesus at this point, presumably they had concluded that he was just mad.

Many scholars think that this Gospel was written very late in the first century. At that time a heresy called Docetism was becoming a threat to orthodox Christianity. The Docetists denied the humanity of Jesus, asserting that he only seemed human. In these discourses we see how the evangelist affirms and stresses the humanity of Jesus as well as his divinity. Bread is a very physical thing. Jesus talks about his flesh, the Greek word is ‘sarx’ the same word used for meat from the butcher – a stark graphic image.

I am the Bread of Life
In the Western Church we have spent a lot of energy over the centuries agonising and arguing about what Jesus did, why did he die in the way he did. Our friends in the Orthodox churches find this difficult to understand; they concentrate on who Jesus was. These 7 great “I am”s are a good starting point.
Yes Moses was a great deliverer, yes Moses asked and God provided bread from heaven for the Israelites; bread for their physical hunger. Jesus takes this provision of bread to a new level. The bread Jesus gave as his body he continues to give to us today in the Bread of the Eucharist. As he promised he becomes sacramentally but very really present in the host that we shall consecrate in the Mass this morning. Spiritual food, not merely satisfying a physical need but uniting us to the Godhead; and his promise is for all of us today: eternal life for those who put their faith in him.

Have you been watching the Olympics – haven’t team GB done well! And you know the athletes didn’t just turn up and run or swim or jump; there was a lot of preparation. Part of the preparation was their diet – no junk food and chips for breakfast every day! They needed the correct nourishment. We are on a journey, a race as St Paul put it, towards our eternal home. We need to prepared and the Eucharist, the Bread of Life, the Bread from Heaven is given to us for our spiritual nourishment and development.

I am the Bread of Life.
How typical of Jesus to take something ordinary like bread and make it extra-ordinary. Bread becomes a staple of our diet and through Christ our spiritual food. The physical universe is drawn into the sacred by the God who became incarnate as a human being here on earth in real-time history.

And here comes our responsibility. We are all made in the image of God. Jesus gave himself not for the small group which is called the Church but for the whole of humankind in all ages in all places and in all conditions. Jesus gave us this amazing gift but he also left us with a command – to go and tell everyone about him. The Israelites kept the manna for themselves, we are to do the opposite – to spread the good news about the gift of eternal life through Jesus, to the whole world. Starting with our home parish; there is still plenty of room in church for more people.

What are you waiting for?


The sermons index page

Return to St Faith's home page