Ephesians 4:1-16

John 6:24-35

As I promised last week, the Revised Common Lectionary spends this month in John 6. Jesus feeds the five thousand, walks on the water, and then talks about the feeding. Jesus talks about food a lot (he’s our kind of Christ), and here most of all, he goes into great depth about this feeding, about the Eucharist. John takes us back through Eucharist 101 with an overview of what this meal means. And it means many things at once.

Jn is the revisionist gospel. He makes sense of Jesus’ life differently than do Matthew, Mark, and Luke – he adds another layer to the story. John doesn’t simply fit with the other three gospels. He follows a similar overall plot, but with huge differences. Scholars usually assume that John is less historical than the others, but we can’t leave the assessment at that. Maybe John was a little looser wit the facts, as if Matthew, Mark, and Luke were all Joe Friday, but all four gospels see a different dimension of the story they tell. John sees such different depth that the story itself changes. If we only conflate the stories into one, we miss that depth. Instead, we need to look at the differences and ask what God says through them.

Here, God says not to miss the importance of two easily misunderstood meals – the feeding of the five thousand and the Eucharist. People did misunderstand, as J says: “you followed me because you ate the bread, not because you saw the sign.” Of course they “saw” the sign. Stop SignIt’s like claiming that someone didn’t see a stop sign. Of course they saw it – it’s right there. But a sign is more than just what it is. A red octagon with some writing is not itself a “Stop Sign.” You can see one without really seeing the other. You have to know the meaning of the sign (thankfully, there’s a test), and to do that, you have to look deeper than its surface appearance.

There’s something deeper to the feeding story. It’s not just a miracle that provided physical needs; the people already had that story. In fact, they bring it up here when they refer to Moses giving them manna in the wilderness. God provided food to sustain the people when they had no home or country of their own. The people took that story as a reason to trust in God, Restaurant Arrow a sign that God would care for their needs. That’s an easy sign. Like “Stop,” it tells us what to do. It shows us how to go through the world, in clear, certain terms. As I mentioned last week, Jesus doesn’t give us that sign. Two Ways, courtesy Ted AndersonLife with Christ doesn’t come down to a simple imperative.

The crowd wants an imperative. They want Jesus to tell them to do what God wants of them. But Jesus says not to do, but to believe, to arrange your life around trust in him. Faith works for a different kind of food, the bread from heaven. Jesus’ miraculous feeding is a sign of this bread. What is this bread? Jesus says, “I am.” Christians recognize the imagery when he says “I am bread” – it’s the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist. We’ll skip the metaphysics of the Eucharist, but eating and drinking together is a sign of Christ, of God’s life in the physical world.

Jesus talks about the Eucharist here, and John insists that we see that sign. Uniquely among the gospels, he rewrites the story to reflect it. The other gospels write the Eucharist at the last supper, when Jesus shares the bread and cup, then commands us to “do this in remembrance of me.” EatThat makes the Eucharist an “imperative” sign that tells us what to do, but in John, Jesus says that all we do is trust. John doesn’t have Jesus institute the Lord’s Supper at the “last supper,” he does it here when Jesus “gives thanks” before breaking the bread. The word “Eucharist” is just Greek for “thanksgiving,” and I’ll invite us all to give thanks in our celebration later, just as Jesus did. In our Communion liturgy, I’ll quote “words of institution” from John, rather than from 1 Corinthians. There’s no imperative “this do in remembrance of me” in this version. John’s Eucharist isn’t an imperative. Crocus in the SnowIt’s a sign more like a crocus sprouting through the snow: a sign of Christ’s abundant life.

Jesus compares the living bread he provides to food that spoils, as the manna rotted if people kept it overnight. Our signs go bad if they’re left in the past. Signs are for the living, not the dead. This meal is not holy because people ate it long ago, but because we eat it today. The world is not made holy by Jesus’ life two thousand years ago, but by Christ’s life with us today, through this sign that points within itself to him.

The Treachery of ImagesThat’s how signs work. They point within themselves to something else, so you have to know how to look at them. This bread is nothing special – it’s something we might share at every meal – but it stands in for food in general. Jesus says, that’s what I am. John doesn’t care how the bread points to Christ (by becoming him, by sharing with him, or just by provoking the memory of him), and neither do I. The reality of God is somewhere in there, deep within these ordinary things, if you can see the signs and not just the stuff. God is there if you see it or not, but you see it when you put your trust in Christ and focus your life on seeking God’s deepest desire for the world.

This table is a sign of truth, a deep truth that unites us with each other and the world around us, beyond all the surface differences between us. It’s not just an indication of something, it makes it happen. Sharing this meal brings us closer to each other. The experience of worship – these moments of reflection before eating and drinking – this time of simply being together – brings us closer to each other. Men WorkingBeing together teaches us new truth and builds us into a deeper knowledge of God. This is a sign that God is still working on us, still living within us. It’s a sign that life is still growing in this world that God loves so much.