Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Sustained by the Bread of Life

I have long been fascinated by John 6. It is a passage of Scripture that proved to be highly influential among high church Anglicans and Nonjurors in the 19th century. John Johnson, vicar of Cranbrook wrote a lengthy book titled: The Unbloody Sacrifice and Altar Unvailed and Supported (1718).  The chapter, which features the feeding of the 5000 and Jesus' discourse about him being the bread of life has been used to define the idea of real presence.

Today in our bible study we will be looking at John 5-6, with most of our attention directed to John 6. While the passage does lend itself to eucharistic interpretation/usage, it may go deeper. In preparing for the session I encountered this nugget from Karoline Lewis, in her book: John: Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries.  She focuses on what John has to say about abundant life, and how the relationship with God in Jesus relates. She writes:

Jesus as the Bread of Life cannot be understood as merely metaphor, but rather as a literal revelation of who Jesus is and what abundant life entails. Bread, an essential component of daily life in the ancient world, is what Jesus is. This promise hinges on John's central theological claim of the incarnation. If the incarnation is only euphemistic imagination, then it defies its own logic. To stake and entire theology and Christology on God becoming human requires that at every turn the incarnation is completely present. As a result, Jesus as the Bread of Life, first and foremost, before rending its interpretation through the lens of the Old Testament or eucharistic liturgical practices, must be grounded in bread as a necessity for sustenance as a human being. Anything less could very well undermine what is at stake in the contention that the Word became flesh.  [Lewis, John, p. 84]. 
 If we are to understand John, especially here in John 6, we need to always keep in mind the premise that Jesus is understood by John to be the Word (Logos) who became flesh and dwelt among us.  Our connection to God comes through Jesus. As we abide in him, he abides in us. Thus, the message of John 6 is one of relationality. It is an invitation to be in complete communion with God through Christ, who is the Word become flesh.

It is easy to understand how John 6 can be misread. It requires a spiritual imagination to understand how this works -- even as the Son is one with the Father, we are one through the incarnation with the Son and the Father.

When we are feeling like we might want to walk away, perhaps we might heed Peter's words:  “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God." (John 6:68-69).  

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