A sermon for Trinity 9, 2/08/15 by Roberta Berke.
“He has brought himself.”
“I am the bread of life.”
Why should we believe in Jesus Christ? How is Christ unique? Or is Jesus just another moral teacher, no different from many other founders of world religions? Sometimes people ask us what is unique about Jesus Christ. In today’s gospel reading, the crowd asks Jesus why he is special. “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?” The crowd say that Moses gave them manna from heaven. They demand that Jesus perform a miracle as a sign to prove that he is as great as Moses. In his reply, Jesus gradually reveals who he really is, by describing himself as the true manna from heaven, the living bread.
How is Jesus Christ unique? “He has brought himself.” This was the answer Bishop Irenaeus gave to those who questioned the unique nature of Jesus Christ. Writing in the late second century AD, Irenaeus was surrounded by the diverse religions and exotic cults of the far-flung Roman Empire. People wondered, how was Jesus Christ any different from all these assorted pagan gods? Irenaeus replied, “He has brought himself.”
The first way in which Jesus Christ has uniquely “brought himself” is that he is Emmanuel. He is literally “God with us”. In the person of Jesus Christ, God has become human. By experiencing human life and undergoing human death, Jesus Christ brings us into a new relationship with God. Our God is not a remote being, seated on a cloud far, far above us. Our God is not an abstract philosophical concept. By becoming human in Jesus, God has known our sorrows and is acquainted with our grief. Jesus Christ is both “Son of Man” and “Son of God”. He is fully human and fully divine. As the Son of God, Jesus Christ reveals God in a unique way. Jesus told the sceptical crowd that on himself, “God the Father has set his seal.” To “set his seal” means to mark with approval, to anoint, as kings and priests are anointed. To “set his seal” can also mean to stamp with his own likeness, as coins were stamped with the ruler’s image. One of the oldest Christian hymns proclaims that Jesus Christ, “…is the image of the invisible God.” When Philip asked to be shown God the Father, Jesus told him, “Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father.”
“He has brought himself.” The second way Jesus has brought himself is by sacrificing his own body as the means of our salvation. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross so that free from sins, we might live to righteousness.” Unlike the high priests of old, Jesus did not sacrifice an animal, but he offered up own body as the sacrifice. He could have easily escaped the men who came to arrest him in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what an agonising death awaited him. He prayed that, if possible, he might be spared the cross. But ultimately, he submitted himself to the will of God, his Father. Through his sacrifice on the cross, Jesus has saved us from sin and death. “He has brought himself.”
The third way Jesus Christ has brought himself to us is in Holy Communion. At his last supper with his disciples, “He took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'” He gave his own body and his own blood to his disciples. And in a few moments we too will receive Christ’s body and Christ’s blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. This very morning, Christ has truly “brought himself” to us. The bread of Holy Communion is far more than a re-enactment of a meal long ago. This bread is a symbol of eternal life to come. Christ is the “Living Bread” that gives us eternal life. “Living bread” means bread that gives life, it is “the food that endures for eternal life.” Jesus promises, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
These words of Jesus’ are misunderstood by the crowd. They imagine that Jesus has offered them a never-ending supply of baked goods. They demand, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus had already told them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life….” Here we must be careful not to misinterpret Jesus’ words to mean that working for material food is worthless or even bad. We do need to work for our living, we do need to put physical bread on our tables. In the prayer that Jesus taught us, we pray, “Give us each day our daily bread.” Jesus told us to work but not to worry. God realises that we need to work to supply our physical needs. Ultimately, all “bread” comes from God’s providence. God’s “gift” of the new manna, the living bread, is Jesus Christ.
Jesus Christ brings himself to us. He brings himself to us as Emmanuel, God with us. He brings himself to us as his redeeming sacrifice on the cross. He brings himself to us today in his body and in his blood in Holy Communion. What does he ask us to bring to him? He simply invites us to, “come and believe”. Belief in Jesus Christ is only one “work”, unlike the many “works” which the crowd thought were necessary. Jesus asks us to come to him and to believe in him. This is not always easy. Our coming to Christ means asking hard questions and making difficult decisions. Believing in Christ, coming to Christ, is a process, not a final arrival at absolute certainty. Yet even as we search for him, he walks alongside us, as he has promised, “I am with you always”. He has truly brought himself to us. AMEN.
Note: “He has brought himself” is in Irenaeus, Against All Heresies, chapter 34.1, in Roberts & Rambaut, eds. The Writings of Irenaeus, vol.II p19.
Copyright (c) by Roberta Berke 2015. All rights reserved.