Sunday 6 October 2019: Harvest Thanksgiving
Jesus on Bread
By David Muskett
Methodist Minister in the East Solent and Downs Methodist Circuit, Tutor with the College of Preachers, author of ‘Jesus on Gardening’ and the forthcoming ‘Jesus on Food’
Context: Methodist Church, Harvest Festival; several items of food both fresh and tinned/dried, displayed and offered, will be auctioned or donated for the local food bank.
Aim: to make a connection between bread/food and the bread of life which endures to eternal life, i.e. a sacramental understanding of Harvest via the food bank
People get hungry. Go without food for long and you get hungry. Some seem to need to graze all day and feel hungry if they haven’t eaten for half an hour, others don’t seem to be hungry for hours but eventually everyone needs to eat. Gifts from Harvest Festival contribute to feeding those who would otherwise be hungry.
What hungry people need is real food. When they find a source of food they’ll come back to it, especially if it’s cheap – or free! The crowds around Jesus had been fed when they got hungry and they continued to follow him. They might have been amazed by his teaching with authority; they might have been impressed by his signs and wonders in healing people. Jesus sees behind that and points out that they have a primary need. They get hungry; they need to be fed. Jesus is a source of food.
John’s account of Jesus’ life and ministry is structured differently from the other three Gospel narratives. John is less bothered by chronology and more thematic; he wants to make connections. John’s depiction of Jesus is as a person who makes connections and turns conversations from the physical and material concerns of those he encounters to the spiritual aspects of life in relation to God.
So, in a conversation two chapters earlier with a woman about the need to drink water from a well he starts to talk about ‘living water’ and where that comes from. Now, faced with a crowd that he sees who are hungry he talks first about food that endures to eternal life. This is not bread – that will go mouldy. This food is doing the work of God, believing in the one God has sent.
When that seems problematical Jesus goes back to bread and points out the difference between the bread God gave through Moses and the food that endures. The Manna went mouldy and those who ate it died. In physical terms that bread sustained life on earth for a while but didn’t give eternal life. Jesus wants to talk about bread that endures.
But Jesus is never so heavenly minded that he’s no earthly good; always what he says and does in reference to eternity have application in the here and now. Jesus talks of spiritual things, but they have an earthed, material reality.
In this case Jesus talks about bread from heaven that endures to eternal life, but it is present in the here and now and works through a belief in him, a reliance upon him, a faith in him to make that connection between earth and heaven – between humanity and the Kingdom of God.
In a sense John summed it up in the prologue to his Gospel: the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It provides the scheme for all that he has to say about what Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection are all about. Jesus is the connection between earth and heaven and makes it possible for us to live now and in eternity.
It means that at Harvest we can celebrate food and give thanks that we will eat because we have gathered in another harvest. We give thanks that there are many who work hard all year round mostly unseen to ensure that there is food in our shops and on our tables day by day. We give thanks for the material, physical food that we have and that we can help to distribute to those who do not have enough. Jesus helps us see beyond the practical and physical to the spiritual. We do not live on bread alone but on the word of God that endures for eternity.
As we take and eat, as we give and distribute through the food bank, so we pray for and know his presence to feed for eternity because we do the works God requires.
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