August 12, 2018 Reflection
John 6:35, 41-51/ Ephesians 4:25-5:2
Bread of Life, Bread of Unity
When I was a graduate student in Montreal, I had to take a course on research methods. Every semester offers different methods to focus on; mine happened to be something called memory theory. I had difficulty grasping the concept of memory theory in general, but my research paper was on collective memory. Collective memory is about a group of people preserving their identity by collectively remembering their stories, mostly through rituals. For example, every Lunar New Years Day, Koreans eat rice cake soup and bow to their parents, relatives, and teachers. Jewish people host a Passover Seder to remember the story of how God lead their people out of Egypt through Moses. Even we have our own traditions as a congregation, don’t we? There are certain things we do, or we do things a certain way that might be different from other congregations. If we want to talk about our identity as Christians, I would have to say, the most important ritual we do to preserve (or to remind ourselves of) our religious identity is the Holy Communion.
Holy Communion started because, before he was arrested and killed, Jesus shared Passover Seder with his followers and gave a new meaning to the bread and wine they shared, which is not unrelated to the saying, “I am the bread of life.” Early Christians observed the Holy Communion as a regular part of their community life. Because they said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood” as Jesus had said, non-Christians listening to their worship from outside thought Christians were cannibals. There were rumours that Christians ate their children’s flesh at their gatherings. Yikes…
Both at the Last Supper and in today’s text in the Gospel of John, Jesus uses the analogy of bread for himself. In Palestine, it is natural to use the analogy of bread because bread is their staple food. To translate it to the Korean context, we might hear Jesus say, “I am the rice of life.” In Kenya, Jesus might say, “I am the maize of life” since maize, or corn, is their staple food. The idea is that bread is essential to the people’s survival. When the Israelites were wandering through the wilderness for 40 years after the Exodus and complained about their inconvenience, God sent the heavenly food manna every day to feed the people. Exodus chapter 16 describes manna as “fine flaky substance, as fine as frost.” Manna was a bread substitute that fell from heaven. God sent manna in the morning and quails at night, so the carbohydrate and protein were covered. No fresh fruits and vegetables then, eh? I guess you can’t be too picky wandering in the desert. There is a meme on the internet about Jesus feeding the multitude; Jesus produced bread and fish, and people were saying, “Is that bread gluten free?” or “But I’m a vegan.” Anyway, when we say, “Jesus is the bread of life”, it’s about how essential Jesus is for us disciples to survive. Palestinians can’t survive without bread. Koreans can’t survive without rice. Likewise, Disciples of Jesus cannot survive without a daily dose of Jesus and his teachings. Jesus is the spiritual sustenance for us. Jesus also said to the Canaanite woman he met at a well that he is the living water. Therefore, Jesus is the bread of life and the living water for us followers. Have we ever felt so very hungry and so very thirsty? I know you can remember what it’s like to be hungry or thirsty. Jesus is what we need for our spiritual hunger and thirst.
Jesus is the bread of life and water of life because being exposed to his teachings and spirit, and following his ways not only sustains us spiritually and leads us into life, but also leads us to giving life to others. This “life” we’re talking about here is not just being alive, biologically. Anyone whose heart is beating is alive, but following Jesus leads us to living a full life; a true life full of heavenly joy, and a lifestyle that brings a true life full of joy and meanings to other people. Remember that saying, “if you call THAT a living”; “living” doesn’t necessarily mean truly living, living to the fullest. Living as the followers of Jesus brings true and meaningful life to both ourselves and others; and this includes protecting Mother Earth and all God’s creation, which should be included in our daily spiritual practice. For example, we produce too much waste, and our out-of-control plastic waste is killing sea animals. Let’s reduce waste, especially plastic waste.
Jesus as the bread of life is a perfect symbol of our relationship with God. Jesus is God incarnate, God who came down to us in flesh and lives among us. It is by sharing bread (both literally and metaphorically) that we feel God’s presence. It is by loving one another that we love God; it is by serving one another that we can serve God. Because God is invisible and intangible, this is the only way we can show our love and allegiance for God. When Jesus ate with his disciples or the people who were considered unworthy, it was much more than about food or the mere act of eating. It was a subversive act, a bold statement about God’s reign on earth “as it is in heaven”. Sharing food is an act of humility, love, and even justice, because sitting at the same table and sharing food is an expression of equality; servants never ate with their masters, did they? Exactly. Pharisees and priests would have never sat at the same table as those they considered unworthy.
Sharing food together, whether at the Holy Communion or at a potluck dinner, is an expression of our faith on the God who comes down to be with us in our daily lives. Christianity is a religion of relationship; we live in relationship with God and with one another. Through learning from and following Jesus, whom we believe is God in a human form, we can live in relationship with God. Living in relationship with God causes us to become more like God; as Paul said in Ephesians 5:1, “Imitate God.” If we live in relationship with God and let God’s spirit guide us, we are transformed to be more like Jesus. Being more truthful, not letting anger consume us, not stealing, not using unkind and abusive language, getting rid of all bitterness and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior, as Paul lists in today’s Ephesians text, are some of the ways in which we are transformed as the result of our relationship with God.
Jesus is the bread of life because our relationship with him transforms us to live more fully, in union with God our creator. This is a fuller life also because our acts of love, compassion, and justice brings fuller life to other people. While sharing bread with one another, let us remind ourselves of God’s love for us, our love for God, and God’s call for us to love one another with the love with which God loves us. Let us remember countries around the world where they don’t have unity and peace. This Wednesday is the anniversary of liberation and division in my home land Korea. Our United Church of Canada is praying for the peace and unification in Korea. Let us remember my people back home in our prayers for peace. We dream of the day when people of the two Koreas can share bread together. Let us also keep remembering the refugees around the world; those in various refugee camps and those detained in the US border, where they take the children away and their rosaries, symbol of their faith onto which they place their only hope and trust in their desperation. Claiming to be a Christian nation and taking children and religious symbols from the desperate people? Seriously?
Let us remember our sisters and brother around the world and work towards giving them life as Jesus leads us into a truer and fuller life. Let us be united in Christ and bring peace and union to our sisters and brothers. May God of bread and water, God of unity be with us. Amen.
Rev. Sunny Kim