Laetare: The 4th Sunday in Lent
10 March 2013
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Bread? Really, Jesus? That's not very 21st century. You're disrespecting the disciples of Dr. Atkins. The serious South Beach Dieters will be looking at Your fiber content, to see if Your bread is acceptable. And the Paleo Diet folks are right out.
From the very beginning, at the Fall of man, the Lord God tells Adam that he will be eating bread. It is a very basic element to the human diet, and a tool for the Lord to give you nourishment and sustenance.
Of course, there it is part of the punishment. "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return." You are mortal, and you will die. In the mean time, you will have to work for what you eat, and it will be difficult.
I'm sure many of the little ones here could tell you the story of the Little Red Hen. Every step of the way, while growing wheat, harvesting, milling, and baking, she asks around the barnyard, "Who will help me?" and no one lifts a finger. So in the end, she keeps the warm, fresh-baked bread all for herself and her chicks. It is all Law. "Whoever will not work, will not eat."
Today, Jesus turns that all around. Today, you can rejoice, for He is the One who has worked to bring you the Bread of heaven, while you simply receive. Rejoice, because having the Bread of Life placed in your mouth does not come only if you are worthy enough or sincere enough, or have worked hard, like the Little Red Hen. The blessing of the Bread of heaven is that it is purely a gift, from Jesus Christ to you!
You will never be able to work hard enough or perfectly enough to earn this Bread, and so you can rejoice that when Jesus asks the Little Red Hen's question, "Who will help me eat this bread?" He gifts you to answer, "I will!" Jesus gives His very Body to be the bread that keeps you steadfast in the true faith, to life everlasting.
And yet, how often do you stand there and think of yourself as more of an Atkins' Diet kind of Christian? "I think I'll pass on this bread, Lord. I'm kind of watching what I eat, and I just think I'd better hold off on this." "I don't need to come to services that often. And hearing the sermon is just fine; I just communed last week. I'm not that bad; I don't need it yet, right?"
Wrong. Dr. Luther would remind you to look at yourself and touch your body, to make sure that you are still on this earth, with flesh and bone. If so, you are a sinner, and need God's mercy and grace that come through His Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.
In today's Gospel lesson, the Passover was at hand. The rescuing of Israel some 1,400 years earlier, delivering them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm was in the forefront of everyone's mind. That was the amazing night when all the people heard the promise of the Lord and ate His meal, feasting on the Passover Lamb, and eating unleavened bread. And then, as the people of God wandered in the wilderness, He nourished them with Manna--bread from heaven. He kept them alive with this gracious gift.
So when Jesus suddenly and miraculously provides bread from heaven, in the wilderness, at Passover time, it is most definitely a sign that He is the Christ! He is the same Lord who brought Israel up out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
Of course, even many who experienced this had their own thoughts. They set aside their spiritual needs, and thought with the gods of their bellies. "If Jesus were King, we wouldn't have to work anymore! He could always make us bread! We'd be set!"
Don't look at today's Gospel, and see only a bunch of people being fed. Do not focus on the Lord keeping that multitude from starving. Yes, He did that, but that is not the main point. If you gloss over Jesus as Christ and Savior, the Lord of the Eucharist, giving Himself as the Bread of Life, then you are overlooking the heart of His message for today. You are treating Jesus like some Protestant church's symbol or image, rather than the real deal.
Jesus took bread, gave thanks, and distributed the loaves. He did this, foreshadowing His own Last Supper at a Passover in the not-so-distant future. And pointing ahead to our own liturgy, rejoicing at His altar, where week after week you hear: "Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the same night I which He was betrayed, took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and gave it to the disciples, saying, 'Take, eat, this is My Body.'"
Then He gathered up the fragments so nothing would be lost. Why? First, this was a miracle! A gift from God, and none of it should be wasted.
And then, He is teaching His Church about the future. When He regularly provides His own Flesh and Blood week after week, He is showing that none of it should be wasted. It is holy, and precious, even if some remains after the celebration.
This is why Lutherans keep consecrated elements separate from unblessed bread and wine. We do not mix the Body and Blood of Jesus with common things. We either eat and drink it all, or keep it saved and separate, to use for another celebration of the Lord's Supper. All will be consumed. None of it lost. And we rejoice.
Rejoice, dear friends in Christ, Jesus IS the Bread of Life, feeding you Himself to keep you steadfast in the true faith, to life everlasting. Rejoice! The Lord who provided for Israel in the wilderness, provides you with the Body of Christ Jesus, feeding you forgiveness, life, and salvation as you wander in the wilderness of this earth, until you cross the Jordan of death and the grave into His Promised Land. Rejoice, your Jesus is not some "Bread King," but the real, true, and everlasting King who provides for you and protects you, body and soul. Yes. Rejoice!
Now. In addition to the Body of Christ, who will help me eat this bread? Amen.