The Bread of Life Part III
A friend of mine told me a story about how he was giving communion on Sunday and a little five year old boy came up to receive. At five years old the kids in his church stay in the service and so this boy had just heard his first sermon on communion. The minister could tell he was listening intently on the communion liturgy and his explanation of what was going to happen during communion. At this church they did communion by coming to the prayer rail and then the minister would walk down and pass out a piece of bread to everyone. Then he would walk down with one of those things that held a bunch of Jesus juice and everyone would take one and drink it. As he went down the prayer rail with the bread everyone partook of it. As he followed with the juice he got to the little boy, who looked up and said, “Preacher, I ain’t drank blood yet and I ain’t starting today!”
As the church was just being started there were rumors about it that it was a cult of cannibals. Now we may find that shocking but you can see why in the scripture today and when we do communion. “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.” When we come to the Lord’s Table we feast on his body and blood. In the scripture today Jesus says, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” This is in the Bible, not a Twilight book. You can tell why some people were hesitant about this whole Christianity thing if they had to eat a body and drink blood.
This railed up the crowd there listening to Jesus. “Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But this doesn’t stop Jesus, he continues as he says later, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them.” So as we eat his flesh and blood then he dwells in us? To an outsider this may sound just like a new summer horror movie plot. The way it sounds is that we will be possessed if we eat Jesus’ flesh and blood. I have seen less gory things on a Quentin Tarantino movies. Yet this is still Jesus Christ saying these things…so what does it mean?
If we remember last week we learned that in John’s gospel the author loved to use metaphors. Seven times Jesus says “I am…” something in order to give us a metaphorical look at who the Son of God truly is. He continues the metaphor, “I am the bread of life,” in today’s passage and uses the eating and drinking analogy to discuss the sacrifice he will do later in his life. When we partake in communion we take the bread and say this is the body of Christ broken for you. We take the cup and we say this is the blood of Christ shed for you. There are other denominations that state that in this act of Holy Communion the bread and wine turn into the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ. There are others who say that this is only a symbol of Christ’s sacrifice and is not the actual body and blood. We United Methodists do what we do best and that is we hold down the middle of the road. We throw down the mystery card and say we don’t understand how the Holy Spirit does what he does, but that in the act of communion it is both a symbol and actual body and blood of Jesus Christ.
So Jesus is using this metaphor of the Bread of Life to give us a better understanding of who he is. He is trying to tell this crowd that keeps following him and wanting to know more about him that he will give the world salvation through his body and blood. If we want to receive this salvation, this gift of eternal life we have to understand the sacrifice he will be going through. “Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” This salvific act that Jesus is doing is the bringing about transformation within us. When we truly understand and accept what Jesus has done, by giving of himself for our sake and for our salvation, transformation happens within us. The bread of life enables us to live this life as those who go on to live in the next.
Peter Reinhart, in his 2008 TED Talk [which I will post on our new Facebook Page this week for you to watch] says that bread is transformational food. Bread actually goes through four major transformations. Pop quiz, what are the three basic ingredients in bread? [flour, water, and yeast] The very first transformation that happens in the bread making process is where the ingredients come from. Flour is what happens to grains as you grind them up. But how do you get the seeds from the wheat to then grind up to make flour, which is one of the basics in a ton of the food we eat. Just ask anyone who cannot eat gluten and you will find out how much flour is in everything we consume. But how do we get there.
I did what any 21st century preacher does these days, I surfed the internet and I found this video clip showing how to harvest the seeds from the wheat. Just to warn you the sound is not that great but the information is.
I know the sound was a little bad but this is probably a lot like how those in Jesus’ day harvested wheat. There are three basic steps to get from the wheat in the field to the grains ready to grind. First you harvest it or to put it another way you kill it. You cut down the wheat that has ripened and is ready. We constantly forget that most of our food was alive at some point but then when we picked it or harvested it, it died. In the process to get flour it has to happen.
Anyway, then they take the heads of the wheat and place them in a pillowcase. I am not sure if this is how they did it in Biblical times but it still works. They beat it with a shoe or as the video had on it, “wack it” with a shoe. What this does is seperates the seeds from the husks, shafts, and hulls. It frees them up. Then the final part is the winnowing. To tell you the truth I have said that word many of times in preaching because it is used all the time with what John the Baptist talks about and in some of the other parables. Until I watched this video I really didn’t understand it. Winnowing, in this case using two buckets and the wind provided by nature, separated everything out so that the seeds were the only thing in the bucket. Then these seeds would be ground up and turned into flour, which then we add to water and yeast and we have dough.
The first major transition in the bread process is the death of the wheat. It was alive in the fields and then it is dead on our counter tops. The second transformation is when you add all these ingredients together. You take the flour and the water and you mix those together. That is called a clay. Do you know the Hebrew word for clay? Adam. Then you add a leaven to it. Leaven means to bring to life. In the case of bread we add yeast, a live bacteria. Soon this dead clay now has life. This is the second transformation, life is added. As we witness those three ingredients come together and then rise we are watching life happen. Remember that Peter called bread, “yeast burps and sweat and starch guts.” This yeast eats and releases gas and continues to rise. Now stage 9 of the steps in making bread is what? Proofing. It is in this stage that we wait for the dough to show us it is truly alive. The second major transition is life. What was dead is now alive.
Then we put this alive dough into the oven. Then Peter Reinhart says we reach TDP, which stands for Thermal Death Point. This is the temperature at which all organisms of a culture will be killed by heat either instantaneously or within an arbitrary brief finite period. (This is really turning into a gruesome sermon) But this is the temperature, after 140 degrees Fahrenheit that the dough dies and turns into bread. This is the third transformation. We have gone from alive in wheat, to dead in flour, to alive in dough to dead in bread. Until that TDP the dough is really uneatable. I am sure there are some people out there that enjoy eating raw dough but it isn’t like the goodness of cookie dough, it really is tasteless and bland. But after that TDP, that Thermal Death Point, after the dough dies, the taste is brought out. It is something that is great to eat.
So there are the three of the four transformations. Alive to dead – we get the flour; Dead to alive – we get the dough; Alive to dead we get the bread, but what about the fourth? Where is that fourth transformation happen? In happens within us. When we eat bread, when we eat the yeast that has given itself up to die for the sake of making dough into bread, we are the final transformation. What is dead provides life again, our life. Bread is referred to as the staff of life. It is the first product that was domesticated. Every culture has some sort of bread in its history. When we think of simple, basic foods, we think bread. It is bread, dead dough, that gives us, humanity life.
I am sure you can see the symbolism here. Jesus is introduces himself as “The Bread of Life.” In order to give us life means he will have to be put to death. But death was simply for Jesus a transformation. Without death there would be no resurrection. What was alive in a human form was Jesus Christ who then was placed upon a cross and died. He truly and simply died. But then he was alive again.
Of course the people there that day did not understand what he was talking about. Many of us here today read parts of the Bible like this and walk away scratching our head. Remember metaphors are not supposed to be easy to understand or something that is clear cut but simply a way of understanding or a way of knowing. Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Since we stand on the other side of the first Easter, we understand what he is talking about but do we truly know it for sure?
That final transformation still needs to happen within us. When it comes to being a follower of Christ we have to understand that what was Alive was then dead but then alive again. Unlike bread, Christ is alive and promises to allow us to be alive forever too. His death and resurrection makes life possible for us. It is that sacrifice, that gift, that grace that transforms who we are and who we grow to be.
Are you hungry for the bread of life? Are you hungry to grow in that transformation? Then let us get to know this person, this savior named Jesus Christ. Let us sink our teeth into the creator who took Adam, simple clay, and created life. Let us fill ourselves up on the gift God gives called the Holy Spirit and allow us to live as transformed people. Let us rise like dough and face the world alive and full on the bread of life.
And all God’s people said…Amen.