Last week, I was scheduled for an informal conversation with a pastoral colleague at the Atlanta Bread Company. After arriving there a little early, I was quite hungry, to say the least, and gravitated to the counter lined up with an eclectic mix of people. At first, I was quite frustrated but finally got enough nerve to go up to the counter for some handcrafted, whole grain, rusty, exotically flavored, chewy, melt-in-your mouth complimentary "artisan bread."
At that moment, I proclaimed without hesitation that this was the best bread I've ever tasted. As I watch the consistent streams of customers, I thought about how we as a church and society can be bread for the world "cast bread upon the counter and it will come back to us tenfold."
Jesus knew wholeheartedly there's no substitute for the character, nutrition, taste and experience of fresh, filling and fulfilling "real" bread.
In a shocking reinterpretation of this tradition, Jesus offers himself to the world as "bread" -- the means through which God and humanity become bonded for eternal and abundant life. "Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me ... he who feeds on me will live forever" (v. 57-58 NIV). "Feeding" on Jesus is a means of taking in all that he offers -- the satisfying fullness of salvation, the daily nutrients of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the strength to live life to the full with an eternal perspective.
Jesus is the bread -- a concept too weird for many people. The disciples' response to Jesus' offer is that it's a "hard teaching" (v. 60 NIV), and John tells us that, "From this time, many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him" (v. 66 NIV).
Maybe it's because they couldn't get past the ick factor -- the seemingly cannibalistic language that Jesus was using.
Maybe it's because they simply couldn't accept the gift that Jesus was offering them -- there was no way they could "earn" it, no list of righteous boxes to check, no requirements to clean your hands and use proper table manners.
Or maybe it was because of the exclusive nature of Jesus' offer -- if he's the only "real bread," it eliminates all the others. In the search to fill the gnawing emptiness inside, people turn to a wide variety of cheap, processed, mass-produced "breads" that ultimately leave them starving to death: money, sex, power, "stuff."
Jesus' call is to bypass these well-stocked shelves and the stale supermarket spirituality that the world offers. Instead, he calls us to go a little out of the way to the intimacy of the corner bakery for a free slice of the Bread of Life -- bread with a unique and life-giving character crafted by the Artisan's loving hands especially for us.
The whole of John 6 is really a lesson in artisan baking. Jesus is the bread. But Jesus isn't interested in making bread for subsistence; he is the Bread of Life -- the "true bread from heaven ... that which ... gives life to the world" (vv. 32-33). He is bread conceived in the mind of a master Artisan. In his own sacrifice on the cross, with his own flesh and blood, Jesus the Bread of Life is uniquely and incarnationally crafted to satisfy the recommended nutritional allowance for eternal life for all who feed on him and his words. His own flesh and blood, freely offered for the salvation of the world, is "true bread" and "true drink" (v. 55).
Jesus is the bread -- let's share the bread. When we enjoy a slice of "real" bread, we usually don't keep the experience to ourselves. Artisan bakeries know that the best advertising they can invest in is not only their product (what goes in the mouth), but the word-of-mouth advertising that comes from customers who've had a great experience.
What is the church but a bakery outlet, offering the real Bread of Life? A hungry world is lining up and looking for something to fill the gnawing emptiness in the pit of its collective heart. Create a sensory experience in your worship, know and love the fantastic "product" you have to offer in the love and grace of Jesus Christ, invite everyone in the door and freely give what God has given you.
Follow Reverend William E. Flippin, Jr. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@pastorbilljr