Psalm 34:15-22, Joshua 24: 1-2a, 14-18, Ephesians 6: 10-20, John 6: 56-69
“Jesus said to the crowd: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them….so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
Words from today’s Gospel, but as with the people who heard those words then, they can still be hard to fully take in and understand. It is an indisputable truth that to be Christians we must openly accept Jesus into our daily lives as that ‘bread of life’, as we will do shortly when we partake in the Eucharist. It is in this sense that we today partake in the ‘body of Christ’.
Many years ago now, for a short while, I had a job delivering bread etc. for Dikes of Stalbridge then a small family run bakery firm in Dorset. This experience of working for Dikes, now a much heralded independent supermarket, taught me a few lessons that have carried on with me through life. Firstly, that getting up at 4.30am on a dark, cold, wet, or even snowy winter’s morning is not something that I would ever wish to make a life’s habit, although I still often wake early in the morning. Secondly, delivering bread to a large area of the local countryside taught me the highways and byways of Dorset and beyond. Something that proved very useful over the years when showing visitors the many beautiful and diverse parts of that lovely county.
It also showed me the hard work and dedication that goes into making all those different types of bread, rolls, pies and pastries; lastly it taught me the role of the head baker, in this case Frank Dike, who was always there first in the mornings, always leading by example. if you did what Frank said, and showed you, then that ‘daily bread’ would be produced and delivered successfully.
If it is said that, ‘none can live by bread alone’, it was certainly not evident from working for Dikes. The early morning smell, and on occasions taste, of freshly baked bread, pies and other delicacies sustained one for a good part of the day. Indeed, for some it was their idea of heaven.
So, here in John’s Gospel, Jesus is trying to tell those people following him, that to trust, believe, and follow on the path that he was showing them, would not only sustain them in this life on earth, but would also promise them a place at the table at that final glorious banquet at the end of the age.
Patiently, Jesus tries to explain, as he does so often in John’s Gospel, that he is not making claims for or about himself, but simply building on what they, and also us, should already know about God and His promise to His people.
Jesus had told those who were following him, just a short while before, “Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me” (John 6.45). Yet those who were following Jesus, like so many others in our world today, are tempted by the promise of those good things on offer, but they, as sometimes with us, do not have the faith to step inside and make that commitment, to buy into that promise of ’the bread of life’. Jesus is saying, ‘I am that bread that will sustain you for ever, not like the bread that your ancestors ate in the desert.’
Paul is telling those early Christians in Ephesus, that we are called together to live as ‘imitations of God’. We have come, through the gracious and costly work of God’s Son, Jesus, to know the Father, and to know that we are His children too. They must “therefore take up the whole armour of God”, the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation and the sword of Spirit, “which is the word of God.” Thus clothed, we as with those early Christians, will be ready to face the trials of everyday life as good and true followers of Jesus.
Many who had been following Jesus turned away that day in Capernaum, where Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, as they could not or would not accept the path that he offered. Many saw him, as they do today, simply as an easy answer to their needs, or as a ‘get out of trouble’ card. When it came to full commitment, to putting on the full armour of God, as Paul told those followers in Ephesus to do, they turned away, went home, looked for an easier life.
If only all of those who had followed Jesus around the Sea of Galilee had listened to our Lord. If only all of us, more often, did what we knew to be right, said the words that would heal, rather than hurt, offer the hand of friendship, instead of the back of disdain or rejection. If more today were like Simon Peter, who when asked by Jesus if he and the remaining disciples wished to leave him also, replied:
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” So let us all, as instructed in John’s Gospel, “Be imitations of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (John 5.1-2); and let us all accept him as the true and living bread of life. Amen Michael Tonkin