August 1, 2021, Bread for the Journey, John 6:24-35 – Mtr. Kathryn Boswell

The Old Testament reading today is from the book of Exodus, that tells how God delivered his people out of slavery in Egypt, and led them through the wilderness, to find a homeland. This happens very near the beginning of their wandering in the wilderness. Just a few weeks before this, God had parted the waters of the Red Sea to let his people escape from the armies of Egypt. The waters had stood up like a wall and they had walked on dry ground through the Sea. And when Pharoahs armies tried to follow they had watched the waters come crashing down on them, so that they were all drowned. But now they were facing the reality of the journey into unknown lands. The memory of God’s miraculous deliverance was fading away like a dream when you wake up in the morning, and harsh reality was beginning to set in. It was true, God was with them, leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. But still, they had begun to feel the discomfort and uncertainty of it all, and they came to Moses and Aaron with their complaints. “What are we doing out here?” they grumbled. “If God was going to kill us anyway, he might as well have killed us back in Egypt where we had plenty of meat and bread to eat.”

And we read that God heard the complaining of his people, crying out for meat and bread. He heard their complaining, and in his lovingkindness he sent them what they asked for. He sent flocks of quail that settled down on the camp in the evening so that they had meat to eat. But more important, in the morning, he sent a flaky white substance that covered the ground. The people would go out to gather it up, and there was exactly enough for everyone each day, to bake or boil or make into bread. On Fridays they found that they would collect twice as much, so that there was enough to eat on the Sabbath as well and they would have a rest from gathering that day.

Moses wrote that the manna tasted like wafers made with honey. In Psalm 78 the psalmist says that manna was the food of angels. But most of all, manna was bread for the journey. Forty long years the people of Israel traveled through the wilderness, and every morning God sent the manna so they had bread for that day, every day, year after year, without fail, until the day they entered the Promised Land.

The crowds came seeking Jesus because they had seen the miracle of the loaves and fishes that had fed thousands of people. But Jesus told them God had something better to offer than loaves of barley bread. He even had something better to offer than the manna that had fed his people in the wilderness for forty years. They had come seeking more of the miraculous bread that had made a meal for so many. But the true bread, Jesus told them, the real thing, comes down from heaven and gives life to the whole world. And then he told them this, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me won’t be hungry anymore. Whoever believes in me won’t be thirsty anymore.” Manna was bread for the journey of the children of Israel for forty years of wandering in the wilderness. But Jesus is the true bread for the journey, and not only for the children of Israel, but for the whole world.

Jesus is the bread for our journey. Jesus taught us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” and that certainly means that it’s not wrong or bad for us to pray for our basic needs, our physical necessities. But more importantly, we need to know that the bread that will truly bring us life each day isn’t the bread we spend so much time and energy and anxiety working to obtain. The true bread, bread that is life-giving, that is a gift, pure and simple. The true bread is Jesus, who nourishes us with his very self. He gives us life for the journey by the words he teaches us. “The one who hears my words, and puts them into practice, is like a wise man who built his house on solid rock. And the rains came down and the floods rose and the winds pounded on that house, and it stood firm. But the one who hears my words and doesn’t do them is like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. And the rains poured down, and the floods came, and the winds pounded on that house, and it collapsed with a great crash.” Jesus feeds us for the journey with the words he gives us, words of wisdom, words of compassion, words for life.

And Jesus also nourishes us by his Spirit that comes and makes a home with us. “When I’m gone, the Father will send the Helper to you, the Holy Spirit,” Jesus said, “and she will teach you all things, and remind you of everything I have taught you.” The Spirit feeds us for the journey with words that sustain and strengthen us every day. She corrects us when we lose our way. She gives us hope when we are tempted to despair.

But most clearly, and most wonderfully, Jesus has given us bread for our journey in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Martin Luther wrote, “The glory of our God is precisely that for our sakes he comes down to the very depths, into human flesh, into the bread, into our mouth, our heart, our bosom.” On the night of the Passover feast, in celebration of God’s leading his people out of slavery in Egypt, Jesus sat with his disciples. And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

Within a very few years the church was celebrating Holy Eucharist with the very same words we use today. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church: “I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus, on the night when he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

And again, writing to the church in Corinth, Paul wrote, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” So, Martin Luther wrote, “…the bread which is broken or distributed piece by piece is the participation in the body of Christ. It is, it is, it is, he says the participation in the body of Christ. Wherein does the participation in the body of Christ consist? It cannot be anything else than that as each takes a part of the broken bread he takes therewith the body of Christ…”

When we come together as a church, then, we come to be fed. We always begin with what we call the “Liturgy of the Word;” we are fed by the reading of the Word of God. And especially we stand to receive the words of the Gospel and hear the teachings of our Lord so that we can put them into practice. But the heart of our worship is always the table where we gather, together with all who believe in Jesus Christ, to be nourished by the body and blood of our Lord, who is the true Bread, sent from the Father to give life to the whole world. He is our manna, the bread for our journey, as we walk through each day, nourished and sustained and guided by him.

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