One morning, not long ago, I was driving to church when a young boy on a bike suddenly rolled in front of my car, seemingly coming from nowhere. I slammed on my brakes and screeched to a halt, very narrowly missing hitting him. It was far too close! The child stopped in the street and, for a moment, everything felt like it was happening in slow motion. His father ran out and swept him up into his arms, first asking him if he was okay, and then turning to look at me. His worry quickly turned to anger and he started yelling at through the windshield, understandably upset. I sat there frozen and in shock. How had that happened? How had I not seen him? Was I going to fast? Did I miss a stop sign? My mind, and my heart, were racing.
Even after the scene had broken up I experienced the ripple effects of that moment. I kept thinking about how narrowly we avoided a terrible accident that would have caused so much pain. For weeks afterwards, I saw that young boy on his bicycle every time I drove that stretch of road. More aware of the power I wielded on road, I drove more slowly, more cautiously, and more humbly.
During this month of August, we will hear gospel readings that all come from the sixth chapter of John, often referred to as the “Bread of Life Discourse” because Jesus is in conversation about what it means that he is the bread of life. During the Sundays in August we will hear him engage with the large crowd, presumably the very same who had just been fed; the Judean authorities who “complain” when they hear him identify as being from heaven, not just Nazareth; and his own disciples, who complain because his teaching is“difficult”. There’s a lot of conversation going on!
All this conversation expands on the experience that happened just before, when 5,000 people (at least!) – having been drawn to Jesus because word had spread about his ability to heal – were fed. Sitting together on the a grassy hill by the Sea of Galilee of Tiberias, they started with only five loaves of barley and two fish. Soon, somehow, they had all had their fill and they were left with baskets full of leftover bread. In the immediate moments after this powerful experience, multiple peoples are struggling to make sense of it. It been paradigm shifting. The complaining, questioning, and teaching that makes up this discourse all flows from this one life-shifting moment. It shook people such that it had to be talked about.
Last Sunday, we spent time together in worship talking about our experience with communion, another meal that seems to happen in ways we don’t always understand. (We’ll hear some illusions to communion on August 19, when Jesus says, “…those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life.” Woah!) Sitting together in pairs, not on a grassy hill, but in our pews, we shared our challenges when participating in communion. One thing was clear, we all have questions about how it works and why we do it! Some of those conversations were rooted in powerful experiences – both positive and negative – and some came from a lack of power in our experience of communion. There can be a lot happening in our spirits in those moments around the table with bread and wine.
As we continue through this Bread of Life discourse together, you’re invited to stick with the questions and challenges. Don’t rush to answer or solve. Don’t rush to understand how it all makes sense or comes together. Rather than trying to understand how it all works, you’re invited to simply enter into the experience, where God promises to show up in Word and Meal. Simply be present at the meal that Jesus hosts and receive.
Yeast, that hundreds-of-millions-of-year-old microorganism that we harness to ferment grain and create the rise in bread, probably first made its way into dough through the air that surrounded it. Someone kneaded their dough together to get that gluten activated, set it down to do something else and came back to find little pockets of air. Or perhaps they didn’t notice a change until they baked it and were surprised to pull out a loaf that had multiplied in size!
During this Ordinary Time of the church year, were invited to spend this generous time listening to Jesus tell us who he is. We’ll also listen to our own internal conversations and to the words of our friends and family, something I imagine happened on that grassy hill when everyone was eating fish and bread together. Maybe we’ll discover more about our own hungers and those of the people in our lives. Let the experience be the experience,let the questions create some space, and perhaps the Holy Spirit will leaven our hearts.
The following are offered as prompts for reflection. You might write in a journal, sit in prayer or engage a sibling in faith in conversation. Happy wondering!
Yours in Christ,
- How do I feel when I participate in communion? What thoughts go through my head? What do I notice? Do I feel closed or open?
- What’s my relationship with bread? Is it comforting, enticing, or boring? Does it agree with my body when I eat it? How has my relationship with bread affected my experience of communion?
- When was the last time I felt physically hungry? Have I ever been worried about how I would get my next meal? How has my relationship with physical hunger affected my experience of communion?
- Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – John 6:35 What would it be like to never experience hunger or thirst? Does that sound like a good thing? How would I live differently if that were the case?