So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
(John 6:41-51 ESV)
It is so easy to get caught up in the imagery Jesus uses here and completely miss the offer he is making. The “Bread of Life” image is both powerful and poetic. And many songs and hymns have been written over the centuries based off of this one fragment of text. The key here is not the Sacrifice of Jesus but is rather the Sacrament of Jesus.
The Jews grumbled in the wilderness after crossing the Red Sea because they were focused totally on God’s ability and willingness to provide for their most basic need: food. They received the manna in the wilderness, but they died anyway before reaching the Promised Land. This wasn’t because they refused to be fed by God, it is because they refused to be taught by God. All they could see was God providing bread for the day, when in fact, the reason they were in the desert to begin with was that he wanted to provide them with bread for life. Their continual grumbling proves that they had not learned anything deeper than that God had provisions to offer them.
Isaiah says, “All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children. In righteousness you shall be established; you shall be far from oppression, for you shall not fear; and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
(Isaiah 54:13-14) Surely peace, righteousness, freedom, and security in God are the lessons of the Bread.
If the Jews in the wilderness had ever taken the time to analyze what it was that God was really doing with them, they would not have forfeited their generation’s invitation to dwell in the Land. If you seek bread from God, you will likely get bread from God. And you will die. If you seek life from God – the peace, righteousness, freedom, and security that come from dwelling with him—you will get bread also, and you will live.
Jesus’ Sacrifice was giving his whole body without reservation so he might be a Sacrament. The remarkable thing about the Eucharist (Communion) is not that we who eat the bread and drink the wine are eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. As long as the Temple stood, the Jews ate the Korban Pasach (Passover Lamb) excpecting as much. The remarkable thing about the Eucharist is the invitation Jesus gives us to sit at table with him. We must not reduce dining to make it about food. Dining is a social event in which great ideas and great hearts can be exchanged. Sacrifice (giving out) without Sacrament (taking in) always results in death. But when the end of Sacrifice is Sacrament, we truly are taught by God. We are no longer looking for the bread as merely sustenance. We begin, as Paul says, to discern the Body of Christ.