John 6: 51-58
August 19, 2018
– Carla Wilks
Some of you were here in church on Mother’s Day. That day I told you about my friend Joy. Joy is a friend of mine from Girl Guides. She has been a leader with me since 2010, but we met on the playground before that because our kids went to the same elementary school. My eldest, Angela, and her youngest, Lamar, were in the same class, and her older daughter Jasmine was in my daughter’s Guide unit (just one year older). Joy lived up to her name – she truly radiated joy. Joy was diagnosed in March 2017 with stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was expected to live only six months. She lived for 17 months. She was only 48 years old. Just before Mother’s Day she and her partner, Christian, phoned me and asked me to officiate a wedding ceremony after church that day for her and her partner of 18 years, the love of her life and father of her children. They had never had a marriage ceremony and decided that they wanted to. It was a beautiful ceremony and there was not a dry eye in the crowd, including mine. A month later, when she was too weak that she could not walk anymore, Joy entered hospice to live out the remainder of her days.
One day just after she entered hospice, she had to go to Burnaby hospital for a test and ended up staying there for a few nights, so I went and saw her there. It was that day that she asked me to officiate her memorial service when the time came. Through my tears, I told her I would be honoured and that we would remember her well. The hospice she stayed in was only a few blocks from my house, so I went as often as I could to see her. I spent much of my vacation in July at the hospice with her. Joy was so ready to be free of her pain, and her body finally let go two weeks ago. I was here at the church at the time for the Camp Spirit closing worship when I got the call from Joy’s husband that she had just died, and I so appreciated being here in this church, surrounded by people who I could be real with and feel supported by.
So this week, while I was thinking about the reading today about living bread and what I could possibly say about it, my mind and heart were completely occupied by thoughts of Joy’s memorial service, which was yesterday.
In this passage in John, Jesus says “I am the living bread that came down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” The death of which Jesus speaks was the death that threatened Israel under harsh conditions in the desert, and also this death represents the separation from God represented by the sentiment that life in Egypt was preferable. Manna was the solution God provided in that situation, and Jesus has been interpreting the scripture to identify himself as manna.
Jesus extends his interpretation in a new way in these verses. He indicates that the life he gives is “eternal”: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever”. The phrase “live forever” is a variation of John’s more common words for the gift Jesus provides, eternal life.
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus asserts that he is the bringer of eternal life for those who trust in him. The manna is already a story of God’s life-giving power. Jesus uses this opportunity to clarify that the life he brings as manna is this kind of life: it extends forever.
As is true elsewhere in the Gospel, this “life” Jesus brings is not limited to a future heavenly existence after death. When used in the other Gospels, the phrase “eternal life,” often refers to the resurrected life.
But John has something different in mind with the phrase “eternal life.” This life is available to followers of Jesus in the present and not only in the future. In this reading today Jesus says “those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” (John 6:54) and “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). The verbs are present tense. The life Jesus brings begins during the life of the believer and during Jesus’ own existence on earth.
In calling this life “eternal,” John shows us that the life Jesus offers is different from regular human life. “Eternal” (or “forever”) is a characteristic that belongs only to the divine: It is God and God’s initiatives that possess this quality.
But according to John, those who trust in Jesus and “have eternal life” participate in this divine life even now. When Jesus later says, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly”, he is saying something similar. Those who abide with him share in the creative force of the God who brought all things into being. This same life is embodied in Jesus.
The bread of heaven, the bread that Jesus says he is—that which comes from heaven—is a living gift offered us even now –not only in mountain-top, awe-inspiring spiritual miracles but in table-top, every day sizeable portions if we allow it into our living.
This week as I was preparing for my friend’s memorial service, I received this bread from heaven, this living gift over and over again.
In Girl Guides when we say goodbye to a Guiding sister, a sister in blue, we all show up to the funeral out of support and respect, wearing our uniform. I had a dual role, officiating as a minister and also being there as a sister in Guiding, so I was going to wear my alb, my white robe, but also wanted to somehow show my Girl Guide role as well, since my uniform would not be seen under my alb. We have an adult scarf that is worn for special occasions, so my plan was to borrow one from someone for the service.
Before I had a chance to borrow one, one of the Guiders in our district put a note in a Canada-wide Girl Guide Facebook group that she is part of, explaining the situation, and within about five minutes she had offers of scarves from all over Canada that other Girl Guide sisters were willing to send us at no cost to us for use in our send-off of Joy. We received one from Lethbridge and one from Victoria. I wore one and we put the other one on a display table with photos and Girl Guide memorabilia and Joy’s uniform. These scarves were accompanied by lovely cards of condolence and heartfelt words extended from strangers – but sisters in Guiding who felt the loss of a Guiding sister with us. Yesterday when I looked out over the crowd gathered to remember Joy, I was so touched by the sea of blue that I saw in front of me, a whole section of women and girls in uniform who came to give Joy a beautiful send off.
Another gift of living bread I received this week was from one of the fairly new Guiders in our district. She didn’t know Joy well, because Joy was sick and had stepped away from her Guiding responsibilities by the time she had joined us. So she was not specifically grieving the loss of a friend, like many of us were, but she wanted to support us in our grief. And what a gift that was. She would randomly show up at my house this week before work with a coffee, and even with dinner after work. She took on much of the work of coordinating the display at the memorial yesterday and was at the church in the morning when I was, to help get things set up and help in whatever way she could.
The family did not have a catered reception, but people showed up with food, and they were there to help set it up and even clean it up when it was done. No one was specifically assigned to these tasks, but people just stepped in and helped out where they saw the need.
After the memorial, as he was leaving the church to go to the graveside for the burial, Joy’s husband, Christian, could not start his car. As a Girl Guide, our motto is Be Prepared, so I had jumper cables in my van. His friends grabbed them and quickly hooked them up to both our vehicles and he was on the road in no time.
We were well nourished yesterday with many signs of living bread.
These gifts of living bread that I received and witnessed this week all gave me the strength to get through yesterday in one piece.
The writer of the gospel John wanted us to know Jesus as the sustenance of our life—the bread we eat and Jesus as the bread which brings eternal life.
This eternal life is here for us now when we notice the gifts. Jesus becomes for us the bread of life when we, when all who have been fed, live as nourished and satisfied. When our shared experiences allow others to come and receive then we participate in Jesus as living bread. When we share God’s love with those around us or experience God’s love through the gifts of others, that to me is the eternal life that John’s gospel speaks of in today’s reading. So as you go about your week, notice where you are experiencing living bread. You may be fed in an hour of worship or fellowship. You may be fed as recipients of justice or participants in making justice happen. Or you may be fed when you receive the hope you desperately long for. Or, like me this week, you may be fed in the coming together of community to uphold and support you through your grief. In whichever particular way it comes to you, be mindful of this gift of living bread. Eat and be satisfied.
August 19, 2018
6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
6:52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
6:53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
6:54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day;
6:55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”