Talk for 1st August

Reflection for Sunday 1st August 2021

By: Rev Caroline Raby

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John 6: 24-35 and Exodus 16: 2-4, 24-35

The longing for food is a shared human experience. In our reading from Exodus the whole community of Israel complain to Moses and express their longing for good food. They have their new freedom, but that doesn’t seem to satisfy them. They crave better food than they have! The slavery of Egypt is behind them, but they are now looking back on it as the place where “we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted.” They express their complaint to Moses and Aaron, “but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” The Israelites are tempted to make a U turn to Egypt, to follow their craving for good food rather than focus on the freedom which awaits them. Slavery with good food looks more attractive to them at that moment than freedom on a starvation diet. God hears the complaints of Israel and promises that they shall eat meat and have bread to their heart’s content. In the morning they found “thin flakes like frost” on the surface of the desert. When the people ask Moses what it is, he tells them it is “the bread the Lord has given you to eat.”

In today’s Gospel reading another crowd follow the promptings of their stomach and express their longing for food. This time it is the crowd of Galileans who, on the previous day, ate to their heart’s content when Jesus offered them a meal of barley loaves and fish. Now as they continue to follow Jesus, they find themselves hungry again.

The three questions the people ask Jesus are quite revealing. They tell us about what the people thought they were looking for in Jesus. As so often happens, Jesus doesn’t answer the first question – ‘when did you get here?’ He simply tells them that the only reason they are looking for him is to fill their bellies again. They are not interested in how he had provided for them the day before, just that he had, and they wanted him to do so again. They are short sighted, only looking as far as the next meal.

Jesus tells them that they are only following him because they have enjoyed the food that physically satisfies them. What you should be working for, says Jesus is the food that will lead to eternal life. The answer to their next question of how is quite simple – believe in the one whom God has sent.

They then promptly ask Jesus for a sign to aid their belief in him – a sign like the manna their fathers ate in the desert. Their response always bemuses me! They were there when he fed in excess of five thousand people with five loaves and two fish. They were there when Jesus walked on the water and they had surely heard of the miracles of healing Jesus had performed, yet they ask for further signs that he is the one whom the Father has sent! They refer back to our reading from Exodus – the manna that God provided. Bread from heaven. But that too did not last. When they tried to keep it for another day it rotted away.

Jesus declares that he himself is the bread of life, the bread came down from heaven. Whoever believes in him will never be hungry. This bread is very different. It is not bread for the stomach but for the soul. Jesus will not let them pretend that they have not understood. He will not let them go home and talk only about the amazing things they have seen. Jesus’s mission is not a spectator sport. Salvation requires something of us. A commitment to follow Jesus and to obey his commands. A commitment to put him first and to allow his spirit to change us inside.

We don’t know very much about the people who followed Jesus. They can’t have had steady nine to five kind of jobs, because some of them obviously followed him around for days. Perhaps they were very largely from the strand of society where the source of the next meal is a continual worry. Jesus doesn’t seem to be angry with them, but he is definitely trying to make them look beyond lunch time. For many of them, the conversation is to be a turning point. Up to now they have been largely spectators and recipients, but Jesus is forcing them to think and make choices. They have followed, watched, eaten and had a really exciting time, and most of them hope it will continue. But now they are confronted with the annoying question of meaning. What do Jesus’s signs and miracles tell us? They have a decision to make, as we do too. Do they want to keep following this man watching him perform amazing tricks, or do they want to understand who and what he is and receive the salvation he offers? By the end of this chapter of the Gospel, quite a lot of the crowd will have gone home, unwilling or unable to answer satisfactorily. That situation is still with us today.

The promise that Jesus held out to the crowd that day is one that is held out to us. It is a promise fulfilled in the act of Holy Communion. If there is one thing we share as Christians, it is the same hunger. We hunger for a love that does not disappoint; we hunger for a word that does not fade away; we hunger for bread that does not fail to satisfy. In the Eucharist the love of a tender God is offered to us in word and sacrament.

When we take part in Holy Communion, we are nourished by God’s word and the bread of life. The word spoken is opened up to us, the bread offered is broken for us to share.

This is not something we come to look at, like a still life painting in an art gallery; rather it is something we come to do. The Eucharist is a word that flows into deed; it is an action. It is the act of sharing in the bread of life, participating in the life of Jesus himself. One of the responses we make is this: “Father, we do this in remembrance of him: his body is the bread of life”.

We continue to worship together, and receive Holy Communion because we are hungry for God, because the food that physically satisfies is not enough for us. There will be times when we will wish we were elsewhere, times when what happens will leave us untouched, times when we will be distracted by a list of worries that refuse to go away. But that doesn’t matter. Sometimes we have to be content with the act of faith that brings us, a public admission of our need for God and the people of God. In coming to Communion, we declare that we cannot fall back on our own resources: we need Jesus, the bread of life to sustain us. Staying hungry for his bread means that we do indeed long for the food that endures to eternal life. That is what Jesus asks of us.

 

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