I really love these passages from John’s gospel about Jesus being the bread of life. I could talk about Eucharist, our great Thanksgiving around the altar and taking Jesus into our bodies forever, or at least for several weeks. I never tire of being reminded of the gift that the body and blood of Jesus is; perhaps because I NEED to be reminded; like all of us I sometimes forget and take for granted the gift that Jesus gives us at this altar each week. This bread from heaven is the spiritual food that gives us the strength and the grace to do life. God never said it would be easy, but he gave us communion so that he would be with us in the midst of life, helping us to get through the darkest valleys.
If we are to imitate God, as Paul directs us to in today’s lesson, then we will truly become more and more like Jesus whom we take into our bodies today. Any imitation that we do will be a poor one at best, but this reading can be for us a prescription of what it means to be followers of Jesus. As I said at the beginning of this church season, these are the weeks where we really hear and learn about discipleship; we hear lessons that help us to grow in our own vocations as disciples.
Sometimes we see discipleship as this hard, unattainable thing, when really, discipleship is a series of small actions that add up to something big. When we read about Jesus, what do we see? For the most part, we see him going from place to place, building relationships with the people around him. He tells them the truth; he feeds them; he brings healing into their lives and their communities; he is kind; he notices people that no one else notices. While these things may not be easy, they are doable. We can act like Jesus in the world, we can be imitators of him because he has given us the gift of his Holy Spirit to guide us; and he has given us the gift of his body and blood to feed and strengthen us for the journey.
One of the words that is in our prayers around the altar that we don’t talk about much is “sacrifice”. A sacrifice is something that is given to God. In some of our prayers we ask God to accept our sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving; when we are gathered around this table together we give praise to God and gather for the Great Thanksgiving, where we thank God for his loving action in history and the gift of his son who restores the broken relationship between us and God forever, even in death. That is our great sacrifice; that is our gift to God, praise and thanksgiving. In other prayers we ask God to accept each one of us as a living sacrifice. WE become the gift that we give back to God. How do we do that? We do that by being imitators of God, doing the kinds of things that Jesus did. When we do the things that Jesus has done, when we become like him and we bring forgiveness to the world. That is a gift that pleases God; because God desires to be reconciled to all people. The goal for us as living sacrifices, is to turn our whole life into a gift for God. We are created out of love and joy, and our gift, our sacrifice is to bring love and joy back to God. Sometimes we do that through our worship and sometimes we do that in how we treat our neighbor.
So today we take Jesus, the bread of life, into our bodies. We take the bread of heaven and we are fed by it because of God’s great love for us. God has given us Jesus, who has become the great sacrifice and gift that is given back to God; Jesus is given back to God in part, through the actions of his disciples, that means through the actions of you and me. How will you and I embody sacrifice today? Will others know what you and I have eaten today, or should I say, whom we have eaten by what we say and do? Go from this place and become what you have eaten.