Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Lent

Psalm 101  Jeremiah 18:1-11  Romans 8:1-11  John 6:27-40

John 6:35: “I am the Bread of Life”

 A more literal version of the Greek: “I myself am the bread that gives life.” No one else is, and nothing else is—not the actual bread on which the multitudes have just fed; not even the manna that once fell from heaven. Jesus, this life-giving bread, takes away not only our hunger but our thirst as well—a superfood that can do so much more than we can ever ask or imagine.
Christ’s discourse on bread brought out the best in early Church thinkers. For Ignatius of Antioch, the Bread of Life is pharmakon athanasias, a “medicine that confers immortality.” According to Cyril of Alexandria, this bread is also the Word—which comes forth from the body of Christ like manna from the tabernacle.  For Origen, to feed on the bread that Christ offers is to nourish our faith by contemplating Him in the gospel. St. John Chrysostom marvels at the offer of bread as a sign of Christ’s love for his people everywhere. St. Augustine is elated by the idea of this bread as a feast from which no one is barred (John 6:37). Yet he imagines it as somehow simultaneously inclusive and intensely personal:

Grand centermost room of the temple, and sweet private refuge!  Refuge where no one is weary, refuge from the bitterness of bad thoughts, from the interruption of temptation and of pain! (Jo. Ev. Tr. 25.14).

This is my own experience of that Bread: it is a transport to something at once infinitely public and infinitely private. When I consume it (the Body, or the Word) I am changed. And as Aquinas saw, the Eucharist is unique among the sacraments in that it affects not only the communicant, but the priest too, and not only them, but the whole Church—it even unites the living and the dead! (Lecture on John 964).  Martin Luther saw a connection with the Lord’s Prayer. When we say “Give us this day our daily bread,” we may see, with Luther, that we are asking for the Lord’s sustaining presence in our lives.
As it happens, the idea of Christ as Bread is even inscribed in the language of our worship. When we say ‘Lord,’ we are using a word that in its origin—Old English ‘hlāfweard’—meant something like “loaf-guardian” or “guarantor of the bread.”  When we pray to the Lord, we are praying to one who by His very nature offers the promise of nourishment and salvation, of a feast for mind, body, and spirit.  Taste and see!

— Matthew Carter

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