The Parish Church of St John-at-Hampstead
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11am Holy Communion      8th August 2021
Christ - the Bread of Life
Graham Dunn

"I am the bread of life. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die."
There’s a lot of bread in the bible. 
When I was training for ministry and learning New Testament Greek, one of the first pieces of vocabulary we were taught was the word used for bread in today’s Gospel reading: ARTOS. It is estimated that words for bread appear nearly 500 times across the Old and New Testaments.
Perhaps this is in part because of the absolutely fundamental place that bread has had and continues to have in human existence. So much so that it often stands in as a kind of synonym for life itself. 
It was interesting to note that during the first lockdown, along with online exercise and art classes, one of the activities that people returned to was making bread – and in particular sourdough. 
I’m sure we’re not the only household in the congregation to have a sourdough starter in our lives. The key with sourdough is that you can’t just leave it alone. You have to nurture it, to take care of it, to feed it – it’s a living thing. I must admit that sometimes, our sourdough starter has felt more like a pet than a food item. Many was the morning when we would nervously enter the kitchen to see whether or not it had grown in size – on occasion it had in expanded so much that it had exploded out of its plastic pot altogether.
As well as it’s basic function of providing sustenance and nourishment, bread of course also has a deeper meaning in scripture.
When Jesus talks to his audience about the bread that came down from heaven, he makes the direct link with the bread that was provided to their ancestors as they journeyed through the wilderness, the manna that appeared and formed part of the bond between God and his people. 
A sign of the people’s dependence on God for their existence and wellbeing; something which scripture shows, they frequently took for granted.
In our reading this morning, as he does so often, Jesus says something extraordinary – something which shakes his hearers to their core. He doesn’t just talk about the bread that came down from heaven – he says that he himself IS the bread that came down from heaven. The bread of life itself. 
This audacious claim has sent his audience into uproar. How can this man, whose parents we know, claim such things? The way they talk about him is akin to saying: Isn’t this Dave, whose mum and dad run the pub round the corner? Who does he think he is?
What Jesus is saying and doing is part of God’s transformative intervention in human history – God is has come to live and walk among his people. Jesus is the bread of life and whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. The bread that Jesus will give for the life of the world is his own self. Of course in saying this, he points ahead to his own suffering and death. 
In being the bread of life, Jesus becomes every bit as essential to human existence as the bread that was provided to the people in the wilderness and as essential to us now as any food we eat.
And just as we regularly and rightly concern ourselves with physical food – not to mention the vast and scandalous numbers of people across the world who remain without food on a daily basis – so we are urged to retain our focus on Jesus, the one who is the bread of life itself. 
Keeping our focus fixed on Christ can be a tough ask. There is much with which we can get distracted and caught up. Personal life, work life, even church life can easily become caught up with things which don’t nourish us or indeed which positively damage us.
As we heard in our first reading from Ephesians, the early church was no stranger to such difficulties. Clearly there have been troubled times as they are urged to put away bitterness, wrath, anger, wrangling and slander. Instead, they are urged to be imitators of God, and to live in love as Christ loved them and gave himself up for them.
We too are called to be imitators of God. Not just believing in God but imitating God. Modelling ourselves on God. A daunting task. How would any of us even begin to approach it.
The only way we can even begin to follow such a path is by returning to that focus on the bread that came down from heaven, the bread of life, Jesus himself. 
Only by being nourished by him, can we begin to think about what imitating God in our lives might look like.
I know from personal experience how easy it can be to get distracted, how difficult it can be to maintain a sustainable regular prayer life when the rest of life comes crashing in or indeed crashing down. Sometimes, only small baby steps are possible. I well remember times when a snatched few moments of silent prayer on the tube to work were all that seemed manageable in terms of spiritual nourishment.

But God is abundantly generous, even when all we can muster is the smallest response to him. Whatever our circumstances are, Jesus remains there as the bread of life, the one to whom we can come in sorrow or in joy, the table to which we can return again and again, the nourishment which will never run out.
Through doing this, we can indeed draw closer to God, we can indeed begin the task of attempting to be imitators of God and all that that might mean in our own lives, that of our community and in today’s world of injustice, hunger, war and environmental turmoil. We can begin the task of being kind to one another, tender-hearted and forgiving, as our first reading has it. By returning again and again to the bread of life, we can be refreshed, renewed and resourced for whatever the next days, weeks or years ahead may hold. 
It is in Jesus, the bread of life that we find nourishment for the here and now and hope for the life to come.

Amen.

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