Food (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
August 8, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: Psalm 78:24
PROPER 13/B (2018): Ex. 16:2-15; Ps. 78:24-26 (BCP); Eph. 4:1-16; John 6:22-35.
Food, “So he commanded the clouds above, and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down manna also upon [Israel] for to eat, and gave them food from heaven. So man did eat angels’ food; for he sent them meat enough” (BCP 1928, Myles Coverdale translation).
Our Introit references Israel’s wilderness manna as “angel’s food” to introduce Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse in Capernaum, his adopted hometown.
The Jewish Passover, Israel’s exodus celebration out of Egypt, was at hand (Jn. 6:4). Jesus had just fed 5,000 men with bread and meat; and then walked over the sea betokening his baptismal death and resurrection in JB’s water and heaven’s anointing in the HS. And yet as St. Mark observed last Sunday (Mk. 6:51, 52) his disciples, on account of hardness of heart, failed to understand either sign.
So important are these signs for the church’s understanding of Jesus’ identity that she interrupts St. Mark’s lection, three Sunday’s in a row, to drill down into our Lord’s teaching according to St. John.
The miraculously fed crowd in a deserted place near Tiberias (southwest shore of Sea of Galilee) deduced that Jesus departed to the northwest in Capernaum.
When the crowd caught-up to Jesus they were distracted by a curiosity about the impossible manner of Jesus, without an available boat, arriving in advance of them (Jn. 6:25). Jesus redirected their attention, accusing them of seeking him out merely as resource for their bellies, as Moses provided manna in the desert. But bread for bellies is not what Jesus brings, nor is it what Jesus gives today.
OT manna (angels’ food) was not of heaven’s substance. It was perishable and not intended to last other than day to day; nevertheless it was a sign out of heaven of true, substantial Bread to come, the man Jesus Christ sent by the Father to be our true Passover bread and meat to sustain us on journey out of death to Life.
Jesus by now has entered the synagogue of Capernaum identifying himself in teaching the Exodus texts for the day, that he is heaven’s true Bread, which in Jewish theology meant a claim to be true Torah/Word given from the Father for men to eat.
When the church prays, “Blessed Lord, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them…” she discerns that Jesus, incarnate Word and his Sacraments come to us as two sides of the same gospel coin, preaching and feeding.
How does Jesus, the NT church’s true Bread differ from its OT manna type? If manna sustained Israel into the Promised Land; then Jesus, true Bread of Life carries us into heaven’s true Temple of the Father’s presence dwelling in Jesus’ flesh.
Jesus compares the two breads of Scripture; OT Torah bread, manna given for physical feeding, only delayed Israel’s physical corruption much as one puts off death for a time by eating nutritious meals. OT manna only sustained the people until they arrived in the Promised Land, itself but a type of terminal restoration to God “which art in heaven”.
Today Jesus identifies himself NT Bread promised by the Exodus manna type. Implicit in this revelation lies the question; what does it mean that God’s Torah is a human person? The answer is that, Jesus is a different kind of Bread in which the church, new Israel, is to partake in faith.
Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “Capernaistic eating” and been confused. The charge derives from today’s Gospel that Jesus teaches, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (v. 53).
“Capernaistic eating” equates Jesus’ crucified/risen flesh and blood as ordinary flesh and drink, capable of being consumed and disposed out of our sinful bodies. Those charging Christians of a Capernaistic sacramental meal implicitly accuse, a cannibalistic worship.
Unlike Exodus manna, Jesus’ flesh crucified for the sin of the world and raised for its Life is incorruptible bread-flesh. Jesus’ flesh is the flesh of Mary united to the Father by the imparted HS. In Jesus’ incarnation and Baptism he is fully human, without sin except as he is sacrificial Sin-Bearer for man, in perfect obedience to the will of the Father.
Jesus is true man who is of the Substance of heaven; one with the Father as author of Life in God’s creation. As such Jesus’ incarnate flesh, Torah of God, is incorruptible; imperishable! As true man Jesus died on the cross, which is to say, his blood was parted from his body, poured into the earth for the life of the world.
But it is precisely his interment into the ground where his incorruptible flesh re-unites with his imperishable blood. This is the significance of Jesus walking over the chaotic sea. Jesus’ body cannot be contained by the grave to rot as manna or as our sinful flesh. Jesus’ flesh is different bread incapable of being swallowed up, but instead swallows up our last enemy, death and the grave.
In his flesh, the man Jesus is “the Life” out of heaven, which is to say he is Son of God; and so in his own right, and that of the Father, and the HS, Jesus bodily rises from the grave; and in the Ascension delivers his eternal body for sinful man’s eating and Life; new Israel’s Bread of Life.
Luther disposes the accusation of “Capernaistic eating”; “[Jesus’] flesh is not… fleshly, but spiritual; therefore, it cannot be consumed, digested, and transformed, for it is imperishable as is all that is of the Spirit, and a food of an entirely different kind from perishable food. Perishable food is transformed into the body which eats it; this food, however, transforms the person who eats it into what it is itself, and makes him like itself, spiritual, alive, and eternal.”
Jesus’ flesh is true flesh and so truly human; he is the Eucharistic spiritual food of our incorruptible Resurrection eating. What makes our eating “spiritual” is not of us, not even our eating in faith; rather it is the fact that Jesus’ flesh (unlike OT manna) is of the Substance of the Father and the HS, one God.
Jesus is true Torah/incarnate Word; he is true Temple in whom the Father dwells; and he is true Bread of heaven in whose flesh Life consists; he is fruit of the cross, sent and extended to us by our creator God.
In order that you may receive the spoils of God’s victory over sin, Satan, and the grave, by feeding on word and Sacrament, we in Christ are being remade in his image and likeness.
In today’s epistle St. Paul speaks of “the gift of [the ascended] Christ”(Eph. 4:7), his Office of the Holy Ministry through men. Through your pastor’s exercise of word and sacrament you receive, not only repentant hearts and gospel forgiveness; but peace as well of the church’s baptismal unity in the common catholic confession of the one, true faith.
By preaching and teaching that faith we are regularly nourished for growth from faith to faith in the knowledge and understanding of our true Loaf’s feeding, to the end that we confess with St. Paul, “it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal. 2:20). Amen.