Living Bread
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19. Living Bread

Jesus Feeding The 5000

Long before the institution in the Scriptures of Holy Communion, Jesus speaks in masked terms of his ability to renew and invigorate his disciples with "the living Bread." He is recorded as saying in John 6.51a, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever." Jesus is probably referring here to the indwelling of his person and his presence in them through faith rather than to any sacramental meaning found later in Holy Communion. The disciples discover other meaning in Jesus' words. The saying, "I am the living bread" is essentially the name for God, the "I am," followed by a characteristic of God, "the living bread." These words emphasize the mammoth work and purpose of Jesus who is God's power to nourish and sustain Christians with living bread. Jesus' ways are at once so wonderfully simple and yet so mysteriously complex. Not only does Jesus start us on the Christian walk by faith in him but he also brings us into the Mystical Body and becomes our day-to-day spiritual nourishment, our daily bread!

Living Bread

Name of GodThe phrase, "Jesus the Living Bread" probably reminds the crowds who hear him of the feeding of the five thousand in Galilee as recorded in Matthew 14.19-20, "And he (Jesus) directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied!" Some people may also be reminded of the story of the miracle of the manna in the wilderness in the Old Testament. In Exodus 16.4 we read, "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day.'" This manna was a white nourishing food that miraculously appeared upon the desert floor each morning except for the seventh day. The word "manna" translates as "what is it?" The people gathered enough to eat for one day except on the sixth day when they picked up two days' worth. If not used it rotted quickly! "Manna" is also in another sense a sacrament of the Christian's spiritual food that God alone gives. Jesus himself is the sustainer of all spiritual life. He is the bread of life for all Christians!

Incarnate Creator

Modern BreadJust as God creates from nothing at the Creation wheat growing up from the earth and fish swimming in the sea, so Jesus miraculously supplies both the physical and spiritual needs of his followers in the Mystical Body of Christ. Jesus the Living Bread exhibits this same provision in the feeding of the five thousand and the four thousand too! Jesus' spiritual food is given to his followers by the Lord himself and he is even tempted by Satan with it. Jesus our spiritual food is of far greater importance than physical nourishment. The Devil tempted Jesus in Matthew 4.2-4, where the Apostle repeats the narrative, "After fasting forty days and forty nights, Jesus is hungry. The tempter comes to him and says, 'If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.' Jesus answered, 'It is written: 'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.''" This is a quotation from Deuteronomy 8.3, "He (God) humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord." The "bread of life" means literally "bread that is living" or "bread that gives life."

My Flesh is Real Food

RiceJesus explains in extremely graphic and un-Jewish terms in John 6.55, "For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink." The Protestant view of Holy Communion hinges on the words, "do this in remembrance of me" for Jesus is here talking about spiritual food and drink. The Communion is, therefore, a memorial of Jesus' great act of suffering and reconciliation at the cross. The elements of bread and wine are in memory of this. For the Christian, though the manna in the wilderness spoiled after one or two days, our spiritual bread never goes moldy for our spiritual food is Jesus himself. Saint Paul writes of his ancestors in 1 Corinthians 10.3, "They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ." This truth is illustrated by the first Canadian Presbyterian missionary to China named Jonathan Goforth (1859-1936). He once spoke in a chapel in Southern China, and afterward, a man asked to talk to him. "I have heard you talk three times, and you always have the same theme. You always speak of Jesus Christ. 'Why?' Jonathan replied, 'Sir, before answering your question, let me ask, 'What did you have for dinner today?''" "Rice," replied the man. "What did you have yesterday?" "The same thing." "And what do you expect to eat tomorrow?" "Rice, of course. It gives me strength. I could not do without it. Sir, it is," the man hesitated as if looking for a strong word, then added, "Sir, it is my very life!" The missionary responded quickly, "What you have said of rice, Jesus is to my soul! Jesus is spiritual food like the rice or the bread of life to those who trust in him." The Lord Jesus Christ is himself the essential heavenly bread or living bread at the Last Supper and as such provides all a Christian's spiritual needs.

My Very Life

Communion WaferAll Christians at some time or another struggle with the meaning of the words in Luke 22.19, "This is my body given for you, do this in remembrance of me." The words "this is my body" were used in the sacrament of Holy Communion. The word "body" here is a difficult phrase and its difficulty is compounded by a further statement concerning it from Jesus in John 6.51b, "this bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Many have struggled with what Jesus means here. Is the essential heavenly bread transformed into Jesus' flesh as the Roman Catholic Church believes by transubstantiation or are Jesus' words at the Last Supper purely a reminder of the crucifixion? Protestants believe "do this in remembrance of me" to be an important memorial to the Passion of Jesus. Is there a sacramental interpretation of The Lord's Supper or is there a real transformation taking place?

Paul's Lord's Supper

Bread and WineSaint Paul tells his account in 1 Corinthians 11.23-24 of the beginnings of the Lord's Supper. He writes, "for I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you. 'The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body which is for you, do this in remembrance of me."' Here Saint Paul describes what different denominations now call by various names the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist, the Mass or Holy Communion. Jesus equates the living bread with the body of Christ. How denominations understand it is widely varied but deeply important to each one of them and even by different persons in each congregation. In the Early Church, Holy Communion with the elements of bread and wine has its beginning as part of an "agape" or an "agape feast" which is a meal followed immediately by Communion in a Household of Faith. Christian family, friends, and relatives gather to eat the meal together, then at the end to celebrate the Lord's Supper later called "The Eucharist" meaning "thanksgiving." The Agape love meal precedes the Lord's Supper in the Early Church but is phased out later because of abuses.

Meal Plus Communion

The Lords SupperIn the very early Christian document "The Didache" which is also called "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles" the words, "And after you have had your fill, give thanks thus," is thought to be the introduction to the Holy Communion part of the fellowship meeting after the Agape Love Feast is finished. In another place, the writer of the Didache, which could be either a first or a second century AD document urges, "On the Lord's day, come together, break bread, and give thanks." The Lord's Day here indicates Sunday being commemorated in the Early Church as the day of the Resurrection of Jesus. Though this seems to be the norm, some groups of Christians choose to continue their worship on the 7th day as a commemoration of the Jewish Sabbath.

No Agape Survival

Holy CommunionIn Justin Martyr's second century account, there is no survival at all of the agape. By this time, the sacrament is separated from eating and drinking at a meal to avoid abuses that have arisen between the "haves" and the "have nots." In Paul's writings, we find that there is already a problem in combining an agape feast with the Eucharist. Saint Paul writes of the problems in 1 Corinthians 11.20-21, "When you come together, it is not the Lord's Supper you eat, for as you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry, another gets drunk." To restore order to the sacrament, the feast portion is phased out. If Holy Communion had not broken away from the agape love meal, the Christian community around the world might still be a series of small households of faith around a dining table rather than the institutional churches we have today. There's a thought!

"Living Bread"
by Ron Meacock © 2019

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