This week – in yesterday’s Sunday readings – we continued our tour through Ephesians and John 6. There is lots that can be said about the context – but these texts are too rich to waste time. Let us read them carefully. Let everything else only be preparation to immersing ourselves in the Word of God. It contains the bread of life.
The Old Testament is the background to the Gospel. The writings of Paul are a commentary on it.
Our reading from Exodus tells of the manna in the desert. Today we will rush to the New Testament, only noting two details in passing.
First, they complained: “you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” God will provide – but their demands and their doubts make Meriba a place of bitterness and anger, not joy.
God’s response, then, is, “I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.” Our reading doesn’t tell us about the instruction and the test – it will be about keeping the Sabbath, trusting that God will provide even when they take time away from their “work” – but the point is, God does not just want to give to them, he wants them to listen to him; or, he does not want to give them just physical bread, he wants to teach their souls.
The Bread of Life discourse in John 6 begins with a transition from this manna in the desert. The transition happens on two levels. First, it is a transition from Jesus’s own giving of bread: “you are looking for me . . . because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Second, it is a transition from Moses’s giving of bread: “it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”
Jesus’s own giving of bread helps to show what this transition is about. We are moving from the religion of the Israelites in the desert, who demanded physical provision, to the religion of Christ, who demands our hearts – as already foretold when God said, “I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction.”
Jesus says something strange. “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill.” We would think getting food is a “sign.” But a sign points beyond itself. The danger is that they just want the food, and stop there. Jesus wants the giving of bread to be a sign of something else, leading them to discover the glory of God.
“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent,” he says. And later, “the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The manna sort of came from heaven, and did support physical life, but he wants to give them a greater bread, that gives deeper life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”
In the Eucharist, the bread becomes Jesus – and Jesus becomes our bread, gives himself to us so that he himself may be our food.
Our reading from Ephesians is about making Christ himself our sustenance – though this reading uses metaphors other than eating.
First, it speaks of delusion. “You must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds.” The Greek word for futility here is based on the image of a hand grasping blindly, getting nothing. A little later it says, “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts.” Here the image is that our passions (the Greek word is broader than just sexual lust, though it certainly includes that) cheat us, trick us. We are so caught up in earthly realities, our desire for merely passing bread, that we fail to see the truth.
Notice that he immediately ties this to action, “your way of life.” The spiritually blind act spiritually blind; those who see, act like it.
He says, “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” We are called to be changed, to change how we see. Notice how personal a word “mind” is here: not, “learn a technical theory,” but “come to see the truth,” taste and see.
To describe this enlightenment, first he says, “clothe yourself with the new self.” We lose nothing of ourselves, but gain something new. And we take responsibility: it is a personal transformation, that comes out in how we live.
But then he says, “created according to the likeness of God, in true righteousness and holiness.” It is our work – clothe yourself – but more deeply, it is God’s work in us, God making us like himself.
This is what we receive when we receive the Eucharist: Jesus, our new bread, our new sweetness, our new longing, our new way of life.
What kind of enlightenment have you experienced in the Eucharist?