Today our readings take us further into the discussion between Jesus and the crowd. They continue this two-level mis-conversation about bread. The crowd want food, and Jesus is offering a more profound reality, a deeper truth, but a less simple and quick answer.
The crowd start to complain, something that often happens when we feel out of our depth. They have a point – is this Jesus, the son of Mary and Joseph, really what he says he is? This is the question that is being asked again and again through John’s gospel, as John, like a good lawyer makes the case for us to believe, describing key events, key signs which point to Jesus as God.
But Jesus uses language which is so “dense” or rich or even indigestible that the crowd cannot make sense of it. What does it mean to eat of the living bread, if that living bread is Jesus? We know part of the answer is found in the sacrament of Communion.
Maybe our deeper question is around the “living” – despite being believers, we still face death, we are still mortal, we grieve for friends and family, we live with illnesses which can destroy the body, destroy the mind, even destroy the soul it seems. Maybe our question is not so different from the crowd, but we may not be so forward as to ask it. In a few chapters Martha and Mary will confront Jesus – “If you had been here our brother would not have died!” On this occasion Lazarus is raised, brought back out of the tomb, still wrapped in the shrouds. He is restored back to life.
Later still, the disciples will see the shroud and head-band folded, laying where they were. The risen Jesus, the first-fruit of the new Creation, has not come back to life still wrapped in the cloths, but risen to new life where those cloths are not needed.
We are and remain mortal, fragile, potentially damaged even destroyed by illnesses or the actions of others. But in Jesus, we are held, kept, brought into eternal life, new life, the new life which we can barely glimpse. Jesus speaks in metaphors and double meanings – that is the only way we can begin to get it. The human restrictions around hunger, thirst, mortality and death are broken through, subsumed, overcome in Jesus and his promise.
Big stuff, not easily digested, but we should chew on it and discover its goodness.
Rev’d Peter Reiss