Link to Video Reflection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxMv3uxdj5Q
Exodus 16:11-15 and John 6:28-35
In the name of the living God, loving Father, precious Son and ever present Holy Spirit Amen
This week there have been some examples of things with the Olympics that we might view as the first fruits of the harvest of sporting endeavours. On Monday morning, I had a coffee first thing that was somewhat overwhelmed by the synchronized diving competition on the television. Along side the seasoned campaigner of Tom Daley was the young and first time Olympian Matty Lee. The contrast between them felt like the first fruits for Matty with his gold medal, and a long awaited harvest of a gold medal for Tom Daley at his fourth Olympics. Somehow Tom Daley has grown up before our eyes as a nation (he was frighteningly young when the media spotlight first turned on him!).
As I was saying earlier the tradition of giving thanks at the start of the wheat harvest is actually a much older one than what is now our traditional harvest thanksgiving at the end of the season. Lammas involved parading and sharing in a special loaf made from flour ground from the first sheaf of wheat harvested. It was as much if not more about recognising bread as important to our daily lives and equating God’s love as essential sustenance for our lives, as it is about remembering Jesus taking bread and breaking it as something we do in Church as communion to remember him.
Jesus experienced a variety of types of bread – leven and unleaven, and bread which was significant in the rituals and festivals – like the unleven bread of the Passover, which he used so graphically at the last supper. In his day if we were poor bread was made of barley (coarse more like wholemeal) and if we were rich of wheat, coarse still due to milling techniques of the day. Making bread was a daily activity of the women folk as it went mouldy easily! This is one of the things our modern preservatives save us from! Most important Jesus diet would have been much less varied than ours and bread was likely to have been an every meal thing – very much the stuff of every day life. Let’s not get distracted by the variety of bread and food stuffs we have today, but concentrate on our need for wholesome sustenance.
The story from our first lesson, reminds us of the time of the Israelites in the Wilderness. It is very early in that experience, when they are first encountering the daily bread of manna. They were about six weeks into their wandering. The word they used to describe manna is a derivation of the Hebrew for ‘what is it’ as they really didn’t know what it was. Just before the extract we heard, God gave instructions to Moses about how the people were to collect it, and at the end of our extract Moses is very clear what it is. It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.
What really strikes in this reading is the Israelites vocally complaining about their lot. They had got into that particular groove and had already been vocalising their discontent earlier in chapter 16. This included that they had been better off in slavery in the land of Egypt – which it is a little hard to believe! They had what they needed for life but not necessarily what they wanted, thought they wanted or thought they ought to have. God was providing (and in all likelihood they were being better nourished than they had been before), but somehow the wonder of this got lost in translation. There is a big difference between what we need and what we want let alone getting towards the questions of what ought to be!. Consumerism has never been so dominant, and it doesn’t help us to keep in balance needs from wants. There is a lot to be said for keeping things very simple and at the daily bread level rather than getting caught up in the whirlwind of oughts or wants, and the potential for getting caught out complaining.
One of the many things COVID has resulted in, is not being able to have things exactly how we think they should be and how we might want them to be or how they have always been. We are on a more positive trajectory at the moment, and it is a great joy to sing after such a long drought. Yet we need to stay in the place which is thankful for what can be, and try to resist tempting complaining. None of us know how it is all going to go – let’s be careful about the difference between needs, wants and oughts, and be kind to each other, avoiding the tendencies of the Israelites in the wilderness. There aren’t guarantees in any of this, and we have to cater for a widespread of views and vulnerabilities as well. Let’s stay close to God’s heart of love and loving kindness, and the need to love our neighbours as ourselves.
When Jesus uses bread (as he does) in many sayings, he uses it in a variety of ways for example:-
Give us this day our daily bread (lord’s prayer – Matthew 6) to refer to everything we need for this day.
Feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fishes (in all the gospels) takes us a little further and reminds us how he used bread to meet everyone’s needs for that day.
We shall not live on breadalone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4), reminds us that though bread is needed for daily life, we need the guidance of God’s word to live well
Jesus saying – I am the bread of life (John 6), which is where our gospel ended shows to live and flourish we need Jesus dwelling in our hearts through the Holy Spirit with us.
Even though we have taken much of this to point to the ritual of sharing bread and wine through communion, I have increasingly begun to realise that Jesus also means that each time we eat he wanted us to remember him. To rest in his presence in our everyday activities, as this was stuff of his every day! A good holy habit for us is to acknowledge Jesus’ presence with us in our every day through the power of the Spirit, when we break bread, or share any kind of sustenance to feed our physical bodies. This helps us to balance our physical needs and with being mindful of ourselves as spiritual beings, relying on God and his love for us.
Interestingly in our gospel passage Jesus is looking back on the account of the manna in the wilderness story. The complaining part is very much glossed over and the people listening to Jesus recognise that the bread of God, which came down from heaven brings us life. Unlike the Israelites who were unhappily complaining within days of manna being their daily sustenance, the crowd who had experienced the feeding of the five thousand, recognised the importance of God’s provision for them. They said to him ‘Sir, give us this bread always’.
Our gospel reading ends with one of Jesus’ “I am” sayings. These sayings often have more to say to us than meets the eye and have deep depths to challenge us. Jesus said – I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Clearly this is much more than physical hunger or thirst but about our dependence on Jesus’s love for us as the sustenance we need for our whole selves, body, mind and spirit. That Jesus’ love is essential for a flourishing life in this world and the next. Many learned theologians equate this saying with one of Jesus earlier sayings – one of the beatitudes from the sermon on the mount – Blessed are those who hunger and search for righteousness for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5). Let’s keep it simple and faithful to Jesus being what we need to live our lives in the light of his amazing love for us. Let’s make Jesus love for us our daily bread. Amen
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995