I am the bread of life
Sermon at St James, Colwall, Sunday 12 August 2018
So you are hungry. You haven’t eaten for several hours. Perhaps you are at one of those interminable weddings where the photographer has whisked the bride and groom away to some romantic spot in the hotel grounds leaving the guests waiting for their food. You have that sinking feeling and then you go to your table and in front of you on the side plate is a freshly baked bread roll. You can smell it and you can’t resist nipping some of the crust into your mouth – delicious.
When Jesus said in today’s Gospel from John “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” we know what he means. The metaphor works for us. For the spiritually hungry Jesus is the one who feeds us. His life, his teaching, his death and resurrection and his presence here and now give us the nourishment which enriches our lives. We go to Jesus and he gives us life and inspiration.
The puzzle is why do so few people today see Jesus as the bread of life? Why aren’t more of Colwall here with us this morning? Perhaps their spiritual hunger is satisfied in other ways like music, art, family, nature and more, but it’s still a puzzle.
What you may have noticed when the Gospel was read was that Jesus words did not go down well with his Jewish hearers. ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?'
The point is that Jesus is making a claim which they see as arrogant and preposterous and it’s all to do with those three letters “I am.”
Jesus spoke Aramaic, John’s Gospel was written in Greek and we use an English translation, but “I am” works in all three languages and recalls a statement in the Old Testament written in a fourth language, Hebrew. When Moses was confronted by the Burning Bush as God called him to save the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, he asks “who shall I say has sent me? What is his name?’ and God replies, “I am who I am. You shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.”
So when Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” he is recalling God’s name and perhaps claiming God’s name for himself. No wonder his hearers were shocked, especially those who had known him all his life.
Now Jesus used “I am” in this way seven times in John’s Gospel. Seven ‘I am sayings.’
I am the bread of life; I am the light of the world; I am the door; I am the good shepherd; I am the resurrection and the life; I am the way, the truth and the life; I am the true vine.
It looks as though Jesus is revealing himself gradually to his hearers and always with reference to his Father who is I am who I am.
Some of you will know the last two lines of W E Henley’s poem Invictus - ‘I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul’? Perhaps it is this kind of bravado that gets in the way of any spiritual search or spiritual hunger. It is an easy delusion to make. After all, the only one who can truly claim to be self-sufficient is the one who is always there, the one in whom we live and move and have our being, the Great I AM of the universe.
I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.