Wonder Bread and the Real Bread

by Elaine Maust
John 6: 24-35
August 6, 2006

Come with me down by the lake, to the sea of Galilee. Turn to John 6 for an encounter with Jesus I like to call, “Wonder Bread and the Real Bread.”

We know of them only as “the crowd,” the gang of folks who jumped in boats and crossed the lake in search of Jesus. (24) Just the day before they sat on the grass, watched and listened as he gave thanks. Then they chewed the barley loaves and were amazed.

That’s the first part of John 6. Now they couldn’t get enough of him, couldn’t figure him out. Who was this man? They didn’t know. They didn’t have the benefit we have of the treasure of the New Testament and 2000 years of teaching and tradition to help them understand. All they knew is that yesterday they were out in the middle of nowhere listening to him teach and then out of nowhere he fed them all. Thousands.

As they splashed to shore the next day they found him. How had he gotten to the other side ahead of them? Amazed they asked, (v25) “Teacher, when did you get here?”

Jesus seemed to have anticipated them coming, their questions. The night before he slipped away. (15) Disappeared even from the disciples. Mark tells us he went to pray (Mk.6). I wonder if he prayed for them that night, the crowd. I wonder if he asked God how to help them understand. What could he say so that they would understand who he was and what he was really up to? Maybe there was some symbol….

In any case, he was ready for them. (v26-27) He got right to the point. He saw people who needed him but had other things on their minds. They just wanted their next meal. Life in Palestine was difficult under Roman occupation. But he had more to offer them than they could possibly imagine.

Then out the crowd someone yelled the question (28) I can feel them holding their breath. Would he remind them of the commandments? Would he ask them to do something impossible? Could this carpenter guy, this ordinary looking guy, even know what God expected?

Believe. That’s what Jesus said. (29)

They were starting to put things together. Someone remembered the story of the manna. The mystery morsel in the desert. It was a sign of God’s care. Could it be? Was there a chance the lunch on the mountainside the day before and the manna were connected? What sign will you give us?

(32-33)

They are enthusiastic. Maybe desperate. “Sir, from now on give us this bread.” (34)

That’s when Jesus looked them in the eye and said what are now familiar words to us, but were completely incomprehensible for them. “I am the bread of life.” (35) Bread. Simple and necessary. Part of every diet in every culture. Jesus was that simple, that necessary, that earthy, that tasty. “He who comes to me will never go hungry.”

In their book, Sleeping with Bread, the Linns take us back to World War II during the bombing raids. Because parents were killed in the war, many children were orphaned. These orphans were gathered up from the streets and taken to refugee camps where they were safe and fed.

But the children could not sleep. Nothing seemed to reassure them. At last someone came up with the idea that helped the children sleep.

As they went to bed, each child was given a piece of bread to sleep with. If they woke during the night, they would find the bread in their hands and remember, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.” Never hungry again.

Wow. It was better than they could ever have imagined. Never hungry again.

But Jesus wasn’t talking about them never having to eat again, was he? He wasn’t talking about that kind of hunger. He was talking about the hunger he saw in their eyes. The ache for forgiveness. The desperation for meaning. The hopeless hunger of their souls.

At the cost of only believing, they would have food for their souls. Food that would never burn up, never disappear, never go bad. They could have Jesus. The bread of life. Why it was even better than manna. Imagine that.

(48-51a)

The folks who jumped in boats in search of Jesus in John 6 were looking for wonder bread, miracle bread, the bread he fed them the day before from the boy’s lunch. But Jesus had more to offer them. They came to him for a sack lunch. He was offering them a bread factory.

What did you have for breakfast? I had toast, among other things. Now I can’t explain how it happens, but that bread or whatever else we ate goes into our bodies and becomes the energy to live. To drive to church, and sing and preach and whatever else we do today. We get energy for life from the food we eat.

And Jesus does that in our hearts where the real life is going on, the life we can’t touch with our hands. He comes into us and becomes our energy for life. Trying to live without Jesus is like trying to work or play without eating.

When I was a kid, I thought the greatest bread in the world must be Wonder Bread. It was advertised extensively. “Look for Wonder Bread,” the ad said, “It’s the one with the red yellow and blue balloons right on the package.” The day old bakeries my family frequented did not sell wonder bread, so we didn’t buy it. All we could do was wonder about this bread that was all the rage.

Now that I’m older, I like a different kind of bread. I call it “real bread.” It is neither white nor sliced. The harder and darker the better. I call this “real bread” and as long as it’s day old, I buy it.

Jesus came to the folks by the lake and he comes to us this morning offering something real, something hearty, something healthy. The bread Jesus offers isn’t about a sharp ad campaign or fancy packaging. It is his own life. And it is real.

For Jesus came to satisfy our deepest hunger. Not the hunger for lunch, but the quest for belonging and significance, for peace with God and forgiveness of sins. What would it be like to get up in the morning and all there would be are your family and your job? That’s it. No more propose in life than to get through another day. Sometimes we underestimate how hungry people are for God. When the Holy Spirit fills our lives, there is a reason to get up and when everything goes wrong, there is a reason to go on. I’m not perfect and neither is my life, but I have peace with God and a reason to live and that hunger for meaning? It is gone. Forever.

Though the crowds were thrilled with the miracle of the loaves and fishes at the beginning of John 6, they were not enthusiastic with Jesus’ announcement that he was the bread of life. (v60,66) But the twelve, the inner circle of the disciples, stayed with Jesus and tucked the lunch on the mountainside and the lessons about bread into their hearts. In fact, Jesus became know to them in time for the way he broke bread. (Luke 24:35)

A couple years later they sat together in the upper room. It was the night Jesus was betrayed. (I Cor 11:23-26) At the meal that was to become known as the Last Supper, Jesus took bread, and gave thanks. Then he broke it. “This is my body,” he said, holding the bread in his hands, “which is for you.”

The bread of life about to be broken. His body, broken for them. His life given for us. Karl Rahner wrote, “The Lord gave himself to us precisely as food to be enjoyed.”

This morning as we share in the Lord’s Supper we give thanks. We praise Jesus, the bread of life. We praise the Holy Spirit who fills us with life and makes us a family. We praise God who will one day call us all, living and dead to the marriage supper of the Lamb when we will eat with him.

Prayer.


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