Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day."
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." (ESV)
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Hungering for the Bread of Life
Friday After Reformation Sunday
30 October 2015
In 380 Gregory Nazianzus had suffered much opposition from the Arian majority in the imperial city of Constantinople. On top of this, meddlers from Peter, the Bishop of Alexandria, had come to set up an anti-bishop of Constantinople in opposition to beleaguered Gregory. This caused an ecclesiastical kerfuffle; although the imposter imposed on Constantinople was at last expelled by Gregory. Soon after, an Egyptian fleet landed at the imperial city bringing the regular grain shipment from the bread basket of the ancient world on either side of the Nile River. The Sunday after they arrived, the Egyptian sailors, who were Christians, walked past the grand and imposing Arian churches and trekked to Gregory's little St. Anastasia church, which was nothing more than a house turned into a place of worship. This act was remarkable given the attempt of their fellow Egyptians to depose Gregory in favor of another patriarch. How heartened Gregory was that the sailors disdained all the pomp of the Arian churches in favor of his humble little chamber.
It is hard to imagine hardened sailors having the kind of zeal for the orthodox faith as was shown by these Egyptian men. Yet, these humble fellows brought great joy to Gregory in the midst of his struggles with the enemies of the faith. He took the opportunity that Sunday to discourse about the Bread of Life, who was come down from heaven (Jn 6:32-35
). He expressed his appreciation for the bread which originated in the Nile Valley. But that's not all. He honored them because they bore with them the Bread from heaven. They were delivering the divine Word, a Word by which they confessed that Word who had become flesh and dwelt among us (Jn 1:14
). By bearing that Word of truth through the grand avenues of Constantinople, which coursed past great palaces and magnificent churches until they were able to wend their way to out-of-the-way St. Anastasia Church, they were bringing the Son of God once again out of Egypt for those who hungered and thirsted for Him (Hos 11:1
These humble laymen knew whom they confessed and confessed Him rightly as God of God, unlike the clerics of their country who opposed Gregory. Of course, it is always easy to rail against the clergy; they deserve it and more. Are they wicked men? Why, yes of course they are! They are no more exempt from sin than any other person. They are susceptible to indiscipline even while they are making disciples for the Lord Jesus. They might fail to be saved, while they are giving the saving Word to others. We do not respect them because they respect us, but because they respect the Word of God, calling us to repentance. We do not honor them primarily for their freedom from the burdens of sin that others bear; we honor them when they bear to our mouths the Bread that comes down from heaven, so that sin can be remitted, both theirs and ours.
Such grains of faith as were borne by the sailors were baked into the loaf of the church. The grains of wheat in the holds of the Egyptian ships were consecrated into the body of the Lord and received by hungry souls. No boundary kept the sailors from enriching their fellow believers in Constantinople as they had no doubt done in their Egyptian towns and villages. The Bread of Life was their daily bread more than the grain which their ships carried. Famine of daily bread counts for very little when compared to a famine of the Bread of Life.
"I will address myself, as is right, to those who have come from Egypt. For they have come here eagerly, having overcome ill will by zeal, from that Egypt which is enriched by the Nile, raining out of the earth, and like the sea in its season, if I too may follow in my small measure those who have so eloquently spoken of these matters. And Egypt is also enriched by Christ my Lord, who once fled into Egypt, and now is supplied by Egypt; the first, when He fled from Herod's massacre of the children (Mt 2:13
); and now by the love of the fathers for their children, by Christ the new food of those who hunger after good (Jn 6:33
). Christ is the greatest blessing of wheat of which history speaks and men believe. He is the Bread which came down from heaven and gives life to the world, that life which is indestructible and indissoluble, concerning whom I now seem to hear the Father saying, 'Out of Egypt I called my son' (Hos 11:1
"From you have sounded forth the Word to all men; thoroughly believed and preached. As far as I am concerned, who am not only a lover of such food, but also its distributor, you of all men are the best bringers of food, specially of those who now hold the right faith, and you do it not only at home but also abroad. You indeed supply bodily food to peoples and cities as far as your mercy reaches. You supply spiritual food also, not to a particular people, not just to this or that city, circumscribed by narrow boundaries, though its people may think their city very illustrious, but you supply spiritual food to almost the whole world. And you bring the remedy not for famine of bread or thirst of water (Amos 8:11), which is no very terrible famine and to avoid it is easy. Instead you bring a remedy to a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord, which is most miserable to suffer, and a most laborious matter to cure at the present time, because iniquity has abounded (Mt 24:12), and scarcely anywhere do I find its genuine healers."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 34.1-2
Almighty God, heavenly Father, we give thanks that You refresh us with the bread which has come down from heaven. Grant that this heavenly food which we have received will strengthen our faith that we may bear all crosses and trials with patience and trust until You grant us deliverance and peace. Enable us to share it that others may be nourished on Your body and blood together with us; through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For President Obama, that we might faithfully offer prayers and petitions for those whom the Lord has placed over us
For the gift of pleasant weather, that the Lord would grant to us an abundant harvest to feed the poor of the land
For the gift of faithful people, that they would continue to bear the bread of life to those who are hungering for it
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015