OS 18B Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15, Ephesians 4: 1-16, John 6: 24-35
This week I have been at Arthur’s Pass with the middle school camp. It was great to be with our children as they explored the winter environment. For many it would have been a first, and I was most impressed how the children rose to the challenges they met of many kinds. Some hadn’t been away from home before, and for others the alpine environment was new and somewhat strange. The river crossing in the freezing waters of the Bealey River was particularly challenging. It was so cold legs and toes couldn’t be felt any more, and the children in groups of four helped each other across with adults hovering nearby. In these kinds of settings we become much more focussed on basic needs and indeed our own survival. When we go beyond our own resources then we need to trust God and other people. On a school camp we work to extend the children’s confidence in their own abilities, their knowledge and discernment of when they need to trust the wisdom and strength of others and of God.
God had the Israelites out on a school camp and they were very hungry. In their hunger they complained and remembered the comforts of life back in Egypt. The Lord used their hunger to teach them. The Israelites found a white flaky substance on the ground when the dew lifted each morning a bit like the frost on the ground at Arthur’s Pass. They asked Moses, “What is it?” He told them it was the bread that the Lord had given them to eat.
This question, “What is it?” is also central to understanding today’s gospel reading. Through the passage of time the Israelites got the idea that it was Moses who gave the bread from heaven. (This is what we might call ‘creeping clericalism’ where the leaders get the credit for things that are really the works of God.)
Jesus challenged the crowd to realise that it was his Father who gives the true bread from heaven, and indeed that the bread of God comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
The heart of what John’s Gospel says about Jesus is that in him the Word became flesh and lived among us. In this we understand Jesus saying, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus challenged the assumptions of the crowd on two levels. Firstly, the crowd saw the gift of bread or manna as being in the past, whereas Jesus claims it for the present. Secondly, the manna gave life to the Israelites in the wilderness. The bread of God, Jesus says, gives life to the world.
In the Lord’s Prayer we pray, “Give us today our daily bread.” There can be no past when it comes to bread: it soon gets stale and mouldy. When we go into the supermarket and we find shelves full of daily bread. The earthquake taught us how quickly those shelves can empty when disaster strikes. It is the same in the life of faith. Each of us will have important experiences that, in the past have made faith real for us. They are to be treasured for the foundation they are. But today, and every day Jesus says, come and believe. Each day we need to come to Jesus, in our prayer, in our reading of the bible, in our care for those in need that we meet. In St Michael’s we have the wonderful privilege of the Reserved Sacrament held in the Whakahuia. Whenever we come into this church we have come to Jesus. When you come here, take time to sit and listen.
When we sit and listen each day, we realise that Jesus is giving the gift of himself not for the church but for the world.
That is such an important insight that we call attention to with particular depth every time we celebrate the Mass. Indeed the word Mass is derived from the Latin word missa which means dismissal. The church has come to understand this is a dismissal into the mission of God in the world. Each day we offer the Holy Eucharist with thanksgiving for God’s grace, for this city, for the world: God’s response is to feed us with the bread of life for the world. This is the sustenance which ensures the body works properly as it builds itself up in love.
There are many ways of carrying that bread to the world, which we all do in our daily lives and ministries. We need to be ready, though, for the question, “What is it?” We can do all kinds of good works, but unless we can answer that question we will be depriving the people we help of the food that endures for eternal life. We need to find words, appropriate to each situation, which say, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” It’s not about being excessively pious. It is about remembering who we are and whose we are.
Perhaps in your own life you are in the middle of a difficult crossing at present. Like those children in the Bealey River your feet are frozen, the rocks are slippery, the river fast. Today the Lord offers you bread for the journey. In this Mass he offers you the help of others to get across and the everlasting arms of the eternal God are underneath to be your refuge.