Last Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, we began our worship series examining the seven I AM sayings of Jesus from the Gospel of John with “The Bread of Life.” As you all learned, the Gospel of John is different from the other three gospels in several important ways.
First, it was written much later, around the end of the first century or the beginning of the second. The Gospel of John is also a broader look at who Jesus is in the context of his character and nature, rather than a biography and collection of his teachings.
So, what does bread symbolize in the context of understanding who Jesus is? Part of the meaning is the bread of Holy Communion. By the time John’s gospel was written, holy communion was firmly a part of Christian practice and we see that reflected in the last verse of our reading from Sunday: “the bread I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Beyond that, however, we need to think more deeply about what bread symbolizes. It represents food, or nourishment, that sustains life. It also symbolizes fellowship — breaking bread together. And especially in antiquity, breaking bread takes on the additional quality of reconciliation, as in the 23rd Psalm: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
But there’s also something else.
When Jesus says, “I am the bread of life” he is telling us that there is something about following him, being in relationship with him, that will nourish us in a way that literal bread can’t — that gives us life in a way that food cannot provide.
Bread, in this sense, enables a quality of life — not just quantity — that John calls “eternal life.” This is clearly not just about what happens when we die, but more about entering into that life while we’re still here.
So, as we enter the season of Lent, let’s spend some time asking ourselves, “What feeds my spirit? What nourishes my mind and heart? When I think about bread, what does that symbolize for me?
I enjoyed discussing these questions and exploring how The Bread of Life provides nourishment for spirit, mind, and heart, last Sunday in the Sanctuary. This Sunday we will explore another I AM saying of Jesus from the Gospel of John, “I am the light of the world.”
Grace and Peace,
Dr. Tim Bruster
John 6:48-51 Common English Bible (CEB)
I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven so that whoever eats from it will never die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”