A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin
Jesus says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven, unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.
The Lord is comparing two things. He is comparing the living bread to the manna that fed the Israelites in the desert.
Israel escapes from slavery in Egypt. They make their painful way through the desert in a 40 year journey until they finally come to the Promised Land. This morning may I share my thoughts with you. I want to make a few points on this powerful, spiritual metaphor.
What is Egypt? That place of slavery. That stands for sin, addiction, self-absorption. It stands for all the ways that we are held captive. How beautifully the early church Fathers said this long ago that the Egyptian slave-master stands for the power of sin. The Israelites stand for all that is good in us. Think of mind, and will, and creativity, and imagination. All of our spiritual and physical powers. The problem is they are held captive. We all know what this captivity feels like.
The Israelites escape through God’s intervention. They escape from slavery. And now they are making their way to the Promised Land.
What is the Promised Land? That is the fullness of redemption that we will find in heaven. You know, the land flowing with milk and honey. It is not just describing a geographical place in the Middle East. It is a spiritual symbol for the total fulfilment that we will have in heaven.
What is heaven? Heaven is love. It is love brought to fulfilment and completion. There are many images in the Bible for heaven. Think of eternal life, eternal rest, the banquet, the wedding feast. All these say something true and right about heaven, but all fall short of that reality which eye has not seen and ear has not heard. The human spirit is structured in such a way that it pushes beyond itself toward the good, the true, and the beautiful. (https://researchonline.nd.edu.au/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1116&context=theses)
Thomas Aquinas reminds us that our mind seeks the truth, our will seeks the good, and our soul seeks the beautiful. There is a kind of holy longing in us. There is a restlessness that pushes us beyond anything in this world towards a greater vision of reality. Alister McGrath points out that voices seem to call to us from the ends of the earth. It points to something deeper and better than anything we now have or know.
Isn’t it true that the most exquisite experiences in life (pleasure, intimacy, relationship) are always accompanied by a sadness: a sense that there must still be something more. Our engagement with the world awakens this sad but deeper sense of longing. We want to be part of something deeper. For things of this world are just signs. We must let them lead us to their source.
Peter Kreeft, a professor at Boston College says, ‘Highways that lead somewhere are well maintained; dead ends are not. So if we see life as a road to heaven, some of heaven’s own glory will reflect back onto that road, if only by anticipation’. Heaven is what corresponds to that desire beyond desire and that searching beyond searching.
What is in between? What is in between is a tough journey. Nobody said this was going to be an easy forty years, wandering in the desert. That is not a place where you find great comfort. Well, it is a symbol of everybody’s spiritual journey. We have left behind (if we’ve embraced Christ, we’ve entered the life of the church) We have left behind the slavery of Egypt. But we are not in the Promised Land yet. And so, how do we experience the in between time? It’s a place of trial and difficulty. It is an uncomfortable place.
What is the temptation? And you see it, don’t you, clearly in the book of Exodus. What is the temptation? To go back! You know, they say to Moses: look, at least we had something to eat in Egypt! At least we knew what our lives were about! That is the permanent temptation of all of us as we are trying to make our way towards the Promised Land. We long for the life in Egypt. We long for the old ways of sin and death. You know what I am talking about. The ways of addiction, the ways of self-absorption, the ways of sin. We want to go back. And Moses has to keep saying: no, no, no. Don’t look back: keep going, even through the difficulty of the desert.
What do the wandering Israelites keep complaining about ? They want food. God heard their cries and sent them Manna to eat. Moses rebuked them: God let you be afflicted with hunger and then fed you with manna. Stop complaining. Look towards the Promised Land.
What do we need? We need the bread of eternal life. We need the manna from above.
What Jesus is talking about in today’s Gospel is the bread he is going to give us, and it is the bread that will sustain us for the journey and will prepare us for the fullness of the banquet of eternal life.
Stay with the image now of going through the desert for a bit. How naive it is for us ever to think we can make our way through the desert, we can make our way on the spiritual journey, without being fed. You know what is going to happen? What is going to happen is we will long for the life in Egypt.
Jesus says: This is the bread that came down from heaven, unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever. Now, Jesus is not talking about endless life in this world.
I mean, it will not be fun to live an endless life, will it? Let me tell you why I don’t want to live an endless life. Imagine, if I were to say to you in the future: ‘Good morning, welcome to worship God with us, my name is Peter. I am in my 155th year as a curate at St Peter’s Cathedral in Adelaide. I am also very happy to introduce The Right Rev’d Wendy Morecroft as our preacher today. You must be whispering to each other, “Hey, look, his predecessor Wendy now is the Bishop of Belair. This poor guy is still stuck here as a curate after more than 100 years of learning to be a priest.”‘
Ok, seriously, we don’t want endless life in this world, do we? What we want is eternal life. That’s the Promised Land. That is the life on high with God. Jesus says: I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.