Over the last couple of Sundays, we’ve been focussing our attention on the Gospel of John chapter 6 which is full of rich, symbolic and metaphorical language about who Jesus is, what he’s all about, and what his life’s purpose and mission is.
And, to be honest, this passage can raise a lot of questions.
For example: What does Jesus really mean when he says things like:
“I am the bread of life”… “the living bread that came down from heaven,”….
And: “All who eat my flesh will live forever” ….
Eating Jesus’ flesh?
Jesus, as someone to eat, as we would bread?
These are strange, peculiar statements, especially when considered from the perspective of our modern, rational, scientific, Western culture, and certainly, from that of someone completely unfamiliar with the Christian religion and the Bible.
Now, to those of us more familiar with the faith, we see the obvious connection to the practice and sacrament of Holy Communion.
When we eat and drink the bread and wine of Holy Communion, the bread, like other foods, enters, nourishes and sustains our bodies, becoming very close to, uniting with our bodies in a way that is sustaining and life-giving.
In the same way, in Holy Communion, God in Jesus comes to us, enters and becomes a part of us, uniting with us, giving us life.
We’re reminded that God indeed is with us, that the big, often incomprehensible God of the universe, also is willing to become small and finite, to become human in Jesus, and the bread of Holy Communion, who comes close to us, to comfort, encourage, sustain and love us.
This is immensely comforting and encouraging, and ultimately, life-giving.
It inspires hope.
God is, by God’s very nature, life-giving.
Everything about the Christian faith, at its best, is life-giving, energizing, and good, for all people.
What is life-giving for you? What gives you energy?
What activity, work, preoccupation or hobby makes you feel more alive, excited, energetic, bringing out the best in you?
If it’s life-giving and good, it must be from God!
I suppose we also ought to ask: What in your life is draining, wearying, dissipating your energy, seemingly sucking all the life out of you?
Good questions to ask, because they help us realize that God, if nothing else, is a life-giving and good God, always wanting what is best for us, and others, so that we would be happy and fulfilled.
Jesus says, “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)
Not only is God life-giving, but also, God wants that we might be life-giving toward others.
And in this way, we join in the life-giving Spirit of God filling all creation, uniting the hearts of followers of Jesus with the heart of God, which is love.
We heard a lot in the news last month about the wild fires burning in Alberta, B.C. and the prairies.
Of course, the concern always is when these fires threaten populated areas, towns, cities, camp sites, trailer parks and property.
Fires are dangerous.
It’s so easy to imagine fire as inherently evil, wicked and dangerous.
But I learned something about these wild fires in forests and fields that turned my understanding of them on its head:
That the fires’ destructiveness, can also be regenerative.
First, these forest and grass fires throughout history have always been really quite common, even necessary and important, in the renewal process of forested areas.
These fires burn up the dying or dead older trees, making room for younger trees to take root, grow and flourish in a healthy way.
Secondly, after a fire has swept through, the ashes and burnt vegetation and charcoal left on the ground makes the soil even more nutritious for young seedlings and trees to take root and grow strong and healthy.
And so, counterintuitively, the destruction and death in the aftermath of a forest fire, actually leads to new life!
It’s the ubiquitous pattern of creation.
The pattern of life.
The pattern of Christian faith and spirituality:
Life only happens after a death.
New life, new beginnings, a fresh start, can only happen when something else first has been let go of, allowed to die, when something else first has been given up.
And there’s pain involved. Self-sacrifice. Sorrow and suffering. Letting go.
Like the amazing birth of a child can never happen without first some pain and suffering.
What might you and I still be hanging on to, that we need to let die, for something new to be born, so that we might have new and abundant life?
Are we ready to endure some pain, some letting go, in order for that new life to spring forth?
In our own personal lives?
In our congregation? Our church?
We see so clearly this self-giving, this self-sacrificing in the life, ministry and death of Jesus.
Jesus was the embodiment of life-giving, self-giving love…
…In his compassionate and healing ministry,
…in his speaking the truth as hard as it was to the religious and political authorities of the day,
…in his teaching and exhausting travelling schedule,
…and finally in his dying to self for the sake of others on the cross–
This love that Jesus demonstrated is the greatest love around.
Because ultimately, at the end of the day, it gives life, to us, and others around.
I want to leave you with a wonderful example of the self-giving and life-giving love of God as seen in the actions of a certain church in Russia, as told recently by the General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation Rev. Dr. Martin Junge.
A true story of a congregation that had always worshipped in this wooden building.
Now, the village in which the church was located happened to be going through an unusually harsh winter, with long periods of no electricity, no heat.
Many in the village were falling ill, and some even dying, because of the cold and misery.
The people of the church decided to do something quite drastic.
They decided to disassemble their wooden building, and give the pieces of wood to their neighbours in the village, so they could use this wood to burn in their fireplaces, to keep warm and cook nutritious meals.
And the villagers lived on, and not only survived that particular winter, but thrived thereafter into the future.
The church people had first to give up, and let go of something important to them – their building – so that others might have life.
Something first had to die, in order for others to have life.
We pray that our hearts, minds and souls may be turned toward God, open to God’s Spirit, so that we may be a life-giving, life-enhancing presence to others.