When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?”
“For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”…Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.”
One of the strange things about us is that we have difficulty talking about what we find to be most important. And, the more important, the more central to our lives something is, the more difficulty we have expressing it. You would think life would be just the opposite. So, we may speak quite easily about, say, “bread”, but fumble for words to express our feelings about such topics as faith, or fear, or beauty, or love, or God. Yet, something in us yearns to express our deepest thoughts and dreams. So, we compose music. We make art. We tell stories. We use symbols and metaphors to illumine what we cannot reveal in mere words.
Evidently, it has always been this way with humans. The story of the Exodus is a story that expresses what is central to the faith of Israel, and it is something like this: We are a people that God has called. When we trust God in this wilderness wandering of life, of history, and sometimes, even when we don’t, God provides for us, so that his purposes come to pass among us. It seems to me that this is the message of the Old Testament in a nutshell, and it may be pretty close to the New Testament’s message as well.
The story of bread appearing daily to sustain the people of Israel in the wilderness, is a case in point. The slave nation of Israel is tired and hungry and wants to go back to Egypt, where at least they knew from where the next meal was coming. They find freedom and faith to be less desirable than slavery and security. And so, in response to their need and their complaint, God sends what they need to survive: bread from heaven. They call it “manna” which literally means “What is it?” What is this flaky, sweet stuff that falls every morning like the dew, like sticky, ephemeral potato chips that we gather and eat? The story is meant to tell us that God’s provision is real; as real as the dew in the morning; we would be lost, we would die without it, but we have a hard time putting it into words. What is it?
Like the Egyptians, we Christians are delivered slaves, wandering toward the promised land, wondering quite often if God is really with us and if it wouldn’t be better for us to go back to Egypt, back to living without this wild story of a God who provides for his people and guides and leads them along the way; without this command to trust Christ and not ourselves and our own interest; without this command to love when we feel just the opposite; without this way that he places before us in which we are asked to walk in the moment, day to day, seeking his presence and living in his love and mercy and grace, walking out every morning to gather what he has left for us, the provision for the day’s life.
The Gospel is really quite simple. We are told that to live without him is death….and we know it is true. Our true bread is not the stuff we find we can easily speak of: Money and politics and health care and sports and sex and bread, and all the other stuff that consumes us. Even Church! What? Who is this bread?
John says that he is the Word made flesh. That is, the God of all things – the God who provides the wherewithal for all the bread of all the world, the Creator and Sustainer of life itself, has spoken his Word, has expressed himself, has revealed himself in this one, this Jesus. He is like the manna, who comes to us from God, to give us what we need most. And what is that? Well, it is the conviction that we are loved of God…..so much that he died for us, his body broken, his blood spilled over the very real dusty, rocky, heartless, earth of a hill outside Jerusalem.
And what he came to do is to free us, to say to us that this is God’s way, that life is found not in the suffocating accumulation of bread that does not satisfy, whatever it
may be for you, but in the crazy freedom of giving ourselves away to God and to one another. That is what love, New Testament love is. That is the Bread of Heaven offered to us. It is difficult to put into words, of course. But it is as real as the morning dew. It is as real as the experience of love for family and friends that seems to have no bottom. It is as real as the bread and wine we share in the sacrament of Holy Communion.
The next time you take the Holy Bread remember that it is yours, given to you. You don’t have to do anything to receive it. You don’t have to be somebody else. You don’t have to understand theology, or even to believe everything folks may tell you to believe. All you have to do is receive… receive the amazing news that Christ is the Provision of God for us all.
Tupper Garden – Raleigh Court Presbyterian Church