Bread of Life

A Sermon for Eleventh Pentecost

Jesus said to the people, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. (John 6:35)

Sometimes your children surprise you. That is what my daughter Megan did last week. She came into the kitchen where I was working on my sermon and asked me what I was going to preach about on Sunday. I told her the Gospel lesson was about Jesus being the Bread of Life and that was going to be my focus.

Megan sat down at the kitchen table, paused for a moment, and then said, “You know I think some people believe that coming to church and taking communion is all there is to the Bread of Life. But it is more than that to me. The Bread of Life is an experience. An experience when you realize that something special has happened – and that you are closer to God because of it. Moments in your life that make you feel spiritually full, not physically full. So happy and complete, that you can’t imagine anything better. And it is those moments that get you through the tough times. Communion serves as a reminder of the true meaning of the Bread of Life. ” I smiled at Megan, job well done, especially from someone whom I bribed - not with bread, but with donuts to come to church every Sunday!

If you have been following the lectionary, you know that over the past few weeks we have been reading from the Gospel of John. The stories have all been about Jesus’ message that he is the Bread of Life. Over and over again, Jesus tells his disciples, his followers, and even the nonbelievers that he is the Bread of Life and only through him can we fully experience the magnitude of God’s redeeming love and eternal life.

Jesus uses the metaphor of bread because it is tangible; the people of his day visualize bread. They and we understand that one needs bread to live – to nourish and sustain our bodies. But, he is not referring to bread as physical nourishment; he is referring to bread in a more symbolic and transformative way. He promises that through him we will know a life that is a deeper and fuller life with our loving God, something bigger than any of us can imagine.

In today’s Gospel lesson we find the Jews – that is, the crowds – arguing with each other. They do not believe what Jesus is saying. They discount him before they allow themselves to stop and absorb his words. They see him only as the son of a carpenter who could not possibly be sent down from heaven. They are skeptical of Jesus and what he is saying. Instead of embracing his words, they reject it altogether by interpreting his message literally.

Each day we are given opportunities to receive the Bread of Life, moments in time that are placed before us by what my mentor refers to as “divine choreography”. Do we miss these opportunities because, like the crowds in today’s Gospel reading, we discount the messenger? I know for me that I may fail to hear what someone is saying because I am too busy thinking how I am going to respond. Or I am rushing around and don’t stop long enough to listen to what someone is saying or doing. I fail to recognize the holy, life-giving bread right before me.

Recently I heard a story on NPR. It was about the monks at Holy Cross Abbey in Cross County, Virginia. In their heyday, they boasted 60 monks in their community; today they have 13. They know they cannot continue with business as usual - something needs to change. The monks are being proactive and they are trying to think outside the box, but nothing comes together until they receive the Bread of Life in an unexpected way. The story goes that one of the monks was receiving care from a hospice worker. Through conversations with the monks, she learned of their difficult situation. She approached the monks with a suggestion. She has lifelong friends who have been farmers in the county for over 40 years. In fact, only a river separates her friend’s farm from the Abbey property. She suggests that the monks speak with her friends, Mark and Kate. Perhaps they will be interested in leasing a part of the 1200 acres on which the monks live.

The incredible part of this story is that Mark and Kate were seeking more land to farm. Both they and the monks believe in farming that uses fewer pesticides on the crops. They have begun a thriving partnership. Where cattle once grazed there are vegetable crops and fruit trees. The monks, all of whom are vegetarian, are getting an added piece of grace by receiving the benefits of the crops right in their backyard.

Will Holy Cross Abbey thrive well into the 21st century? No one knows, but what we do know is that they now have renewed hope through a lasting relationship with their neighbors. This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of the Bread of Life, moments of divine choreography that make one’s life fuller and more complete. Moments that easily could have been disregarded if these unlikely partners did not approach their new relationship as loving neighbors with open hearts and minds.

Today we celebrate the 200th anniversary of laying the foundation of the Parish Hall. I wonder what Bread of Life our forefathers and mothers received in order to step out in faith and build the second church of All Saints’ Parish, the first church on this campus. What gave them the courage and the vision? This was not an easy undertaking. Prior to the start of the construction, the parish had fallen on difficult times. Clergy presence was scarce and a period of weariness prevailed over the small congregation before the lay leaders reorganized. Twice they had to raise additional funds to continue the building project. And I am sure they had no idea that years later, right in that space, a new service would be born, our contemporary “Great Hall” service that will resume in September – in this space.

We continue to give the Bread of Life to each other, in big and small ways. Each and every day we have the opportunity to receive these gifts. But I also know we provide the Bread of Life for the greater community who use our facilities. It was a few years ago as Senior Warden I received an email from someone who was struggling with a difficult issue and sought comfort and solace – sought the Bread of Life - in the quiet solitude of our historic church. In his email he said that All Saints’ is the only downtown church that keeps its church doors open throughout the week for those who are seeking a peaceful sanctuary. He said because of this, he has always considered All Saints’ a Body of Christ that cared about those outside their brick walls.

We may not know the impact we have on those who use our buildings, but I imagine the two congregations that use our space each week because they have no church of their own, receive the Bread of Life. And maybe the young musicians who take lessons in the classrooms below the Parish Hall, experience the Bread of Life through the music they create. Or those who are struggling with addictions receive the Bread of Life through the 12-Step meetings and support networks that meet here weekly. We will never know the full extent, the full magnitude of Jesus’ loving touch in the lives of the greater community through the bread of life that has been served at All Saints’ Episcopal Church for 270 years. But I guarantee you, that this week, through all our ministries and by keeping our doors open for those in need of comfort and safe, sacred space, we are doing what Jesus calls us to do – what he is to us, the Bread of Life.

By receiving Jesus’ offer of the Bread of Life, it means that we will experience the true life that God intends for us. A life that is deeper and fuller, a life beyond our greatest imagination. A life that extends beyond our life on earth, into eternity.

Today, as you come forward to receive the Bread of Life I ask you to approach the altar with an open heart. Be willing to receive the gift of love and the gift of life through the Eucharist. Take that love and life out into the world when you leave here today. Because my brothers and sisters, this is what God is still calling us to do as followers of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

—Nancy Hennessey
August 12, 2012