Proper 13B RCL
BREAD FROM HEAVEN
Refs: Sydnor; Interp. Dict. Bib. ad loc., Our Church Times 8/1/82 pp. 2,3
Prev. preached, 82,97,03 w/revisions
For a couple of Sundays now, the Gospel and other readings have led our thoughts to the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus. Last week, we heard of the actual feeding, and today, we hear of St. John's interpretation of the feeding - his passage about the Bread of Life. The feeding of the five thousand must have been one of the favorite stories about Jesus since it appears in all four Gospels, and twice in Mark. The part of John we heard today looks back to the manna from heaven in the wilderness, and it looks forward to the meaning of the Last Supper, as the supplying of a kind of bread which will not fail or perish, as the manna did.
I. Christian worship is deeply rooted in the idea of bread from heaven, given by God, and it looks back to the manna with which the wandering Israelites were fed in the wilderness. We heard about that in the first reading, from Exodus. Let us think a bit about the manna; what it was and what it means.
There was a lot of murmuring and grumbling going on during those wanderings, and Moses and Aaron taught the people that their complaints were really complaints against God. That is to say, God is the object of their faith, not Moses or Aaron.
And God is the generous provider of His people, even when it looks as if there is nothing to eat. The people found, with the morning dew, on the ground, a deposit of droplets which could be gathered and made into bread. When they looked at it, they said, in Hebrew, Man-hu -"What is it?" And in English, those words Man-hu came through by way of the Greek, as MANNA. You can still find those droplets in the wilderness of Sinai. They come off certain kinds of tamarisk trees that still grow there, in part of the area where I have traveled.
The people gathered enough for each day, and certainly a theme of our first reading, besides God's generosity, is the need for people to be content with the gifts which God provides, and to avoid all greed. The whole passage is background for our Lord's teaching in the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread."
II. Now, the fact that the Manna was found in the morning with the dew gave rise to the belief that the manna rained down from heaven, as people believed that the dew did. So the belief begins to grow, of bread sent from heaven by God. We can see it in the Psalm passage used this morning, where the manna now becomes the bread of angels (vs.23-25):
"So (God) commanded the clouds above,
and opened the doors of heaven;
He rained down manna upon them to eat,
and gave them bread from heaven.
So mortals ate the food of angels;
He provided for them food enough."
So you can see how the belief begins to grow, and we can see what foundation Jesus could build His teaching on, about the Bread of Life, which does not perish or fail, while the manna from ancient times did spoil.
III. So the theme of Bread from Heaven, provided by God, is in the Old Testament, and it gives background for what the Lord taught about the true Bread from Heaven. The Manna was only a pointer. Jesus was and is the true Bread from Heaven.
There are many substitutes being manufactured today, and it is easy to forget what the original was. Items are being promoted as being "as good as" whatever. And it is true that some products are constantly being improved. Washing soaps are a good example. I don't know of anyone who would rather go back to having only bar soap for laundry. Most would rather use detergent. But Jesus is the original for which there is no substitute, and He doesn't need to be improved upon. Of course, the devil is always encouraging us to improve upon Jesus.
But we have our Lord's own words on this: "My Father gives you the true Bread from heaven, which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I am the Bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst."
All this is background for our understanding of the Eucharist as Bread from Heaven, given by our Lord. And when we receive Holy Communion, we do it with a rich foundation of preparation from the Old Testament. But the preparation is just that, and no more: it points the way to the real thing, which is Jesus Christ. He is the true Bread from Heaven, enough for every day, and with all the sweetness that we will ever need.
Let us pray:
Thou gavest them bread from heaven containing within itself all sweetness. Oh God, who in a wonderful Sacrament gave us a perpetual memorial of thy Cross and Passion: Grant that as we receive the sacred mysteries of thy Body and Blood, we may ever perceive within ourselves the fruits of thy redemption, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.