Friday, August 17, 2012
Yesterday's bread or tomorrow's?
Long memories are not always blessings; they can hold us captive to the past. Those listening to Jesus were focused on the past. Once they had passed through the Red Sea by God's blessing. Once Moses had given them manna in the wilderness (the miracle bread from heaven). Once they had known God's presence and His glory in a dynamic way. Now they were looking for a repeat, for more of the same. But Jesus refuses this call for a repeated sign. He IS the sign from God. His flesh is the bread of heaven given for the life of the world. Jesus refuses to point back when He has come with a future and to give the bread that is the foretaste of this feast to come.
In many respects we are still much like these people of God. We tend to dwell on the long memories of the past, holding more tightly on these than the hope that is our future in Christ. Sadly, we are easily tempted to settle for yesterday's bread – for the memory of what was and is now gone, than to expect or anticipate the future which is Christ's promise. We are sorely tempted to settle for a restoration of old glory that was and is no more than to hope for the greater glory of Christ's promise. Our vision of tomorrow looks remarkably like the best memories of our yesterday – more than the future which Christ has already prepared for us.
What does this mean? Like Israel of old, we long for the glory days in which life seemed simpler, when it was easier to pick out the good guys from the bad guys, and when our earthly struggles did not seem so difficult. We are greatly tempted to pray to God not for the future He has prepared but for the past we miss. God's people do not live in the past. God's people have a forward looking faith. We carry with us the past and God's merciful intervention for us. Yesterday is fully kept and fulfilled in Christ. But we aim for the future He has prepared for us!
What we need is not a rerun of manna – a golden older to help us get through this moment – what we need is the bread that bestows the living tomorrow of God's promise. We do not need an encore repeat of what God did in the past but the actual future made possible by Jesus' death on the cross for us and His resurrection from the dead that we too might rise. We are an anticipatory people. Our past in Christ points us to the future Christ has made possible. We live each day pointed toward the tomorrow Jesus' death and resurrection have made possible.
Jesus refuses to identify the bread of His flesh with the past. His bread is tomorrow's bread – the down payment and the foretaste of that which is to come. His flesh does not feed us merely a memory, only to leave us vulnerable to hunger again. No, He satisfies all our hunger and quenches all our thirst. Jesus give us the gift of Himself, the Christ of the cross where salvation was won and the Christ of the future who has prepared a place for us and secured our new destiny, that we may be where He is.
He is come down from heaven not to give us a yesterday cleansed of all its difficulties but to bestow upon us the future He has prepared for us. He is come down from heaven to raise us up to heaven. Eat of this bread and not "you will feel better now" but eat of this bread and you live forever. Faith is not a past memory regularly rekindled but the past that bestows the future Israel wanted a future that was a repeat of its past. God could not and would not give them this expired gift. He gave them a new future, a new hope, and a new destination.
Growing up we often ate bread bought at the day old store. It was still good but its future was limited. It was expiring. It had a past but not much of a future. Eat it or freeze it. We are always tempted to settle for day old bread from God. We are tempted to hope for a future that looks like a highpoint in the past. Maybe that is because the past seems more real to us. Maybe it seems easier to imagine a repeat of what was than to hope for what is not yet. But this is not the faith of Jesus. Christians are forward looking people.
Jesus did not come to repeat the miracle of the loaves and fishes or the manna in the wilderness or a new covenant with the same old terms. These were the signs that point us to the new God has done in Christ – the bread that satisfies forever, the life that is eternal which death cannot touch, the covenant promise written in the blood of Christ that makes its own future.
We are always grumbling about the future. We are always complaining about that which is to come. Whether our doubts about tomorrow or our fond remembrance of yesterday, we are so much like the children of Israel. As Jesus said once to the grumblers then, He says to us today. "Do not grumble among yourself. No one comes to Me except the Father draws Him. And I will raise him up on the last day." The last day. That is our focus.
Now we come to the Lord’s table. Here is Jesus welcoming the hungry and the thirsty with the promise that if we eat of Him we shall not hunger again or and if we drink of Him we shall not thirst for more. For everyone who looks upon Jesus and believes in Him will have eternal life and Jesus will raise us up on the last day.... Your fathers ate manna in the wilderness and they died. But not you. If you eat of this bread which is My flesh for the life of the world, You will live forever." Their miracle bread was a sign. It could not stave off death. This bread of heaven come down from above gives life to us and to the whole world. It has the power to overcome death so that even its memory will be banished from the future of hope and blessing God has already prepared for us in Christ.
We remember the past for what it is – the domain in which God has revealed His eternal mercy. But our hope lies not in yesterday. It lies in the future which Christ has promised, in the bread that feeds us the foretaste of what is to come, and of the hope that now we see dimly but soon we shall see face to face. The bread of Christ’s flesh has no expiration date. It is not bread with a only a past. It bestows the future He has promised. Because of this, we are free to live today fully and without fear and because of this death no longer holds us captive. We have a life, a future, sealed in Christ's death and resurrection, imparted to us in baptism, kept alive by the voice of the Word, and fed in tomorrow's bread.
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St. Jerome writes somewhere, in discussing the meaning of the word "epiousion" (the adjective modifying "arton," or "bread") in the Lord's Prayer, which he translated into Latin literally as "superstantialem," but which others translated as "quotidianum," or "daily," that in the Aramaic version of the prayer in common use the word is "mahar," ("crastinum" as he rendered it in Latin), "the bread of tomorrow give us today," which he took as fulfilled in the Eucharist.
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