Why eat? Silly question. Because we’re hungry, that’s why. Well, sort of. Hunger is a sensation triggered by a need. Or sometimes not. Your brain senses a need, and therefore creates the feeling of hunger. Sometimes our brains are out of sync with out bodies, and so we’re hungry when we don’t need food, or we’re not hungry when we do. We call that disordered eating.
Eating incorporates food into our bodies for health, for energy, for growth. Take a simple loaf of bread, for instance. All the energy of the sun, the nutrients of the soil, the vitality of the life of the grain is baked into that loaf of bread. When you eat it, you incorporate and release all that good stuff into your bodies. As the Wonder Bread folks used to say in their ads, “Building strong bones and healthy bodies 12 ways.”
“You are what you eat,” we say. I’m not sure what that means exactly. I think it’s supposed to mean that it’s good to eat good food, a version of “garbage in, garbage out.” But it’s not literally true. When I eat broccoli, I don’t become broccoli. When I eat a steak, I don’t become a cow. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. What you eat becomes what you are. All the proteins, vitamins, minerals, sugars, fats of your food become part of you.
OK, now that I’ve stirred your appetites a bit for food, let’s talk about another kind of food. Not the food that becomes what you are, but the food that transforms you, the food that gives eternal life. Of course, I’m speaking of Jesus, who calls Himself “the Bread of Life” and “living Bread come down from heaven.”
Spiritual food for eternal life. All your other food, you eat to your death. That’s the outcome of Adam’s eating the food that was forbidden. And each of us is part of that death. Wonder Bread may build strong bones and healthy bodies 12 ways, but it can’t ward off death even in the healthiest of bodies. Even that miracle manna bread couldn’t save the Israelites from death in the wilderness. But Jesus, the Bread of Life, is an entirely different food on our diet. He is the Bread that conquers death; He is the Bread that overcomes our affliction; He is the Bread that brings life out of His own death. He builds life forever one way: by His death and resurrection.
Jesus is the Bread of Life. As I noted last week, He is not the chocolate of life or the caviar of life or the cotton candy of life. He is not some little delicacy you nibble at once a month or so. He is Bread. Daily bread. The staff of life. That’s why the church never treated the Lord’s Supper as something “special,” but something weekly and even daily. Bread is ordinary, daily food, and without our daily allotment of the Bread of Life, faith will shrivel up and die and anemic death.
When your eating is out of whack, we call it an eating disorder. There are spiritual eating disorders too. I’m afraid there are many Christians who suffer a spiritual eating disorder. Imagine trying to live on one meal a week, or one meal a month. It wouldn’t take long for the weakness to set in. You’d die. Yet some try to live on a starvation diet of the Word and the Sacrament. We make excuses about there being “no time” for church, no time for Bible study, no time for daily prayer and devotions. Yet there’s always plenty of time to stuff ourselves with the world’s idea of food.
We have churches offering “happy meals” instead of the Bread of Life, entertainment instead of the Lord’s bounteous table, principles and purpose-driven programs instead of the Word the kills us and makes us alive. Unfortunately, our natural appetites are drawn to that stuff like a sweet tooth pulls us to the dessert bar and away from the bread line. That’s what happens when you have Adam’s taste for forbidden fruit. Real food starts to taste bland, dull, boring.
I’ve read how kids today prefer artificially flavored ice cream to natural. Fake strawberry tastes much better to the modern set of buds than does real strawberry. Artificial flavors pack more punch and tickle the tongue more than their real counterparts. We actually prefer amplified digital music to the sound of real instruments. Our ears are tuned to the artificial sound. The same is true for our spiritual tastes. Sugary, sweet sentimentality is so much more enticing than sturdy, crusty bread. The artificial flavors of religion with all its emotion and fantasy and self-improvement tickle our spiritual taste buds so much more than that humble, homely Bread of Life that comes down from heaven to nourish us in His death.
Bread doesn’t seem like much of a meal, does it? Hometown Buffet is more to our palate. We’d prefer it if Jesus had said, “I am the Hometown Buffet of Life” – I am whatever you want, as much as you want, whenever you want it.
Bread doesn’t seem like much of a meal, does it? Word and Sacrament don’t seem like much of a religion either. Remember the prophet Elijah, who traveled 40 days in the wilderness on bread and water. Ordinary bread becomes extraordinary food in the hand of God, joined to His Word that says to you “Take, eat, drink.”
When the Bread is the Son of God in the flesh, you have food you can find nowhere else. Notice all the “exclusives” in today’s Gospel. “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life.” “Everyone who hears the Father and learns from Him comes to me.” “No one has seen the Father except the One who is from God; only He has seen the Father.” No one but the Son of God can speak this way. And no one but the Son of God can make this promise: “He who believes in me has eternal life.”
To eat is to believe. To trust in Jesus is to live off of His life and death. To say, “Not my works, Lord, but your work. Not my sacrifices, but your sacrifice. Not my crosses, but your cross. Not my blood, sweat, and tears but your blood, sweat and tears are what save me from my sins, from my death, from hell itself. I cannot save myself. I can only dig myself deeper into my own grave. But you, dear Son of God, sent by the Father, you have become a human being, a man born of a human mother, to save my own wretched flesh from the grave. And baptized into You, clinging to your promise, I have eternal life now, and I have this promise that keeps me: ‘I will raise you up on the Last Day.”
Resurrection. That’s what Jesus, the Bread of Life, does that no other bread in the world can do. No other religious figure can make that promise. Only Jesus died and rose. And only Jesus can make this promise to His believers, three times in this morning’s Gospel: “I will raise him up on the last day.” That’s our Christian hope. Not that we have an easy and happy life; not that we are bailed out of every difficult situation that befalls us; not that we are successful at everything we do; not that we are spared every sickness or even death itself. But that Jesus, the crucified and risen One, will raise our bodies on the last day. Jesus is the Bread of Immortality – eat of Him, trust in Him, and you not only live forever, He will raise you from the grave on the last day.
Those who heard Jesus grumbled when they heard it. It wasn’t the grumbling of empty stomachs yearning for bread, but the grumbling of hardened empty hearts unwilling to receive the gift given. They grumbled over Jesus claim to have come down from heaven. They knew His father (so they thought!). They knew His mother and His family. They knew where He was born and where He grew up. How can He call Himself living Bread come down from heaven?
It’s the scandal of the Incarnation. God became man, a flesh and blood human being. It’s utterly scandalous to our reason, our senses, our religious sensibilities. It’s the first thing you have to deny when you want to write off Jesus. You must deny His Incarnation, that He is the eternal Word become flesh. That’s what is often missed at Christmastime. Christmas is about the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us. God is now man in the Son. And the world is still scandalized by this today. Jesus the teacher, the family values policeman, the ethical philosopher, the moral example – all of these are perfectly acceptable to the world. But Jesus the Son of God, the infinite God in finite Flesh, the Word Incarnate – unthinkable! Islam denies it; Judaism denies it; Buddhism, Hinduism, and every other -ism all deny it. They have to deny it, because if it’s true that Jesus is true God as well as true Man, then they’re all out of business, which they actually are anyway.
Only the flesh and blood of God become Man can save your flesh and blood from the grave that is our lot in life. Only the blood of God’s Son can cleanse from sin. Only the flesh of God’s Son, offered up for the life of the world, can raise your flesh from the grave. Faith in Christ feeds on His death, much the way scavenger birds feed on roadkill. Jesus said of His kingdom, “Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.” Where the death of Jesus, there the faithful gather to eat and live off the one Death that brings life.
In eating, we incorporate all the energies and vitalities of our food, releasing them for our life. Hearing Jesus’ Word of forgiveness, hearing His word “this is my body given for you; this is my blood shed for you” and actually eating His Body and drinking His Blood, trusting Jesus through the gift of faith (and faith is a gift given by God, not the result of our doing), all the energies and vitalities of the crucified and risen flesh of the Son of God are incorporated into you. Eat this Bread and you have life forever. Eat this living Bread and He will raise you up on the Last Day.
With this food, you are what you eat.
In the name of Jesus,