John 6:51-58 – The 12th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for August 19, 2012
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven…”
Jesus never announced, “I am the living Dunkin’ Donuts that came down from heaven.”
Silly me. You knew that!
In John’s Gospel, he of course described himself as the living bread. But wouldn’t you prefer something other than just plain old bread? So, what if we invigorate Jesus’ image as the living bread, and give folks other metaphors to chew on?
Since I’m not a big fan of Dunkin’ Donuts and nutritional experts have dubbed breakfast as the most important meal, are you a blueberry bagel believer or whole wheat English muffin disciple or a Pop Tart follower?
Or what about . . .
I am the living cinnamon bun. Why not a pastry fresh from the oven, with its yeasty smell wafting through the house? That’s what I call a good start to the day! Let’s keep Jesus sweet and tasty and easy to go down. Since it’s my bun, I’ll toss on toasted pecans and make sure to fold a little extra real butter into the dough so that my Jesus bun will please everyone (well, please everyone based on my nutty view of the world). Isn’t Jesus supposed to be a nice beginning to the day, a little sugar high of love-your-neighbor . . . that alas wears off when you leave home to grapple with the cruel, cynical world where faith seems as helpful as a cassette tape deck for an iTunes download.
I am the living slice of Wonder Bread. Well, maybe not. I’m mature enough to remember the commercials hyping how great Wonder Bread was for families. Builds your body in 8 ways! Packaged in plastic, with enough preservatives to survive a nuclear war. Slap on some peanut butter and a dollop of jam and you have a great sandwich to tuck into a kid’s lunch pail. The old, odd Wonder commercials linked buying the tasteless slices of white bread with the American dream, of life in the safe suburbs where everyone looked like you. Too often, to this day, we blend Jesus into the American dream, a wonderful guy who wouldn’t raise taxes (for Caesar or the middle class) and thinks consumerism is the answer for whatever ails you.
I am the living tortilla. As a United States citizen, I can’t ignore our divisive emotional arguments about illegal immigrants (or, worse, those aliens). Rather than sharing a table, it’s as if we upend tables to construct walls to “protect” our borders from strangers who aren’t like us. Even though they pick our food or mow our lawn, doing jobs nobody wants to do, we’ll label them criminals or cheats. And yet at the same time, in God’s holy and welcoming eyes, they are no different than me. Let Jesus be a living tortilla and let white bread me help transform the walls back into tables.
I am the living gluten-free option. At a church where I recently guest-preached, the worship leader instructed me about the communion bread alternative for people on a specific diet. Some people are born with a chronic digestive disorder called celiac disease. Whether it’s the sacrament of Holy Communion, or toasting a quick slice of wheat bread for breakfast, they shouldn’t eat gluten. How thoughtful to understand the differences and needs of others. I can’t help but think of the ongoing tension around gay rights, most recently felt in the Chick-fil-A restaurant controversy*. The living bread becomes stale whenever we exclude others. (And please, with my poor celiac/gay analogy, don’t think I view being queer as a disease, any more than I see people born with blue instead brown eyes as diseased.) Yes, it’s a struggle to be inclusive . . . but it’s a blessed and righteous struggle because everyone is born as a gift brimming with promise.
I am the living bowl of rice. But actually not! When I read in scripture about Jesus sending out his disciples “everywhere,” I consider a grain of rice. According to tradition, the Buddha achieved enlightenment after he was offered a bowl of rice milk. This legend emerged long before Jesus’ birth. For thousands of years, and to this day, millions—billions!—of people in the world don’t think of bread as a daily staple, but instead choose and enjoy rice. While Jesus may be the bread of life for me, there are religious traditions—Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Sikh and more—that embrace a different form of nourishment than mine.
I am the living croissant. While serving a rural Wisconsin church, where small family-owned dairy farms were plentiful, I served communion during Easter worship. For the “body of Christ,” I brought croissants. I wanted those farmers to see and taste a “new” thing. The living bread, in all the ways we imagine it, should help us experience the world with wide-open and curious eyes. When those weary farmers came forward, I enjoyed the surprised looks on their faces. But I was also startled. To this day I recall them enthusiastically receiving the living croissants . . . as I witnessed how dirty and gritty their hands were. 365 days a year, they toiled in grime and shit and muck and no matter how hard they cleaned their hands, they couldn’t remove the life-long stains of relentless work.
In a way, we all come forward with stained hands. We symbolically sweat and virtually gasp for breath in the hurly-burly of twenty-first century life. We literally and metaphorically have backs bent from toil; some of our work delights with a sense of accomplishment, some seems meaningless, but all of it never stops.
Come to the table. Break the living bread, in all the forms and at all the tables where it beckons with the nourishment of God’s loving, diverse community.
If you’ve read this far, how would you finish this sentence:
I am the living ___________________ . . .
*If I revise this essay in a year or five years, sadly I’ll bet I’ll easily find another example of a moronic attack or insult directed at gays and spewing across headlines and social media. Chick-fil-A will come and go. Our insensitivity will always reappear as long as we blame, judge and vilify others.