Scripture: John 6:24-35 (NRSV)
So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, 'Rabbi, when did you come here?' Jesus answered them, 'Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do to perform the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat." ' Then Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.'
Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
I remember a festive meal at a restaurant one time when I was a child. As my family waited for our entrees to arrive, the waiter brought us a basket of rolls, hot from the oven. As my brother and I buttered our second - or was it our third? - rolls, my father told us, "Don't just fill up on bread." It seemed silly to us, but he wanted to make sure that we saved room for the even better food that would be arriving shortly and, maybe, even for dessert.
The crowd following Jesus had filled up on bread, along with fish, that Jesus had given them: a small boy's lunch pail miraculously transformed into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Because they filled up on bread, they couldn't really appreciate what else Jesus gave them. Lolling about on the grass in a carbohydrate-induced stupor, they let Jesus' message wash over them, hearing the words but failing to take them in. It wasn't until their bellies rumbled again, that they chased Jesus across the water to see what else he could give them.
Though the crowds followed Jesus, looking for more bread and asking for miraculous signs so that they could believe, he offered them still more. "I am the bread of life," Jesus told them. "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry."
On one recent Communion Sunday, as I tore through the hearty crust, my nose caught the pungent scent the sourdough boule. One by one, as the congregation ripped pieces from the loaf, I spoke the ancient words to them, "This is the body of Christ, the bread of life." After the service was over, one of the children pressed forward through the crowd and asked if she could have more of the bread. Soon, several of the church's children returned to the communion table, breaking the leftover communion bread and sharing hunks of it among themselves, enjoying the flavor and texture of the morning. These children weren't "just filling up on bread." In the shared sacrament and in the community of the church, gathered around the table, they had found the bread of life.
Often, O God, we think only of our physical needs and appetites. Remind us that you provide not only for our bodies, but for our souls. Feed us, we pray, upon the bread of life, so that our bodies may be nourished and our spirits may never hunger. Amen.
Director of Spiritual Care at St. John’s Riverside Hospital in Yonkers, NY. He also serves as pastor of the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury, CT.