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This lectionary covers the next thirty days. For full lists, see the seasons and years below.
Sunday, July 25, 2021
The Feeding of the 5,000 is one of the few episodes that both the synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John take the time to recount. The repetition of the fourfold action (took, blessed, broke, gave) is reported in every single Gospel narrative. This critical detail proves how the Gospel writers were alert to how the miracle prefigured Jesus’ institution of the Eucharist and its miraculous properties. Unique to John’s account is the identification of the bread as barley loaves, recalling Elisha’s miraculous feeding in 2 Kings 4, which places Jesus as the fulfillment of that prophetic line.
In the next episode, Jesus’ walking over the sea symbolizes how Christ’s very body subdues death. Jesus’ answer ego eimi is frequently mistranslated as “it is I” but it is actually one of Jesus’ famous “I Am” statements, identifying himself with God. When the disciples welcome him into the boat, they miraculously arrive at shore, signifying how Jesus himself is the destination for the believer. Wherever you are in life, when you’re with Jesus, you have arrived. There is no further shore.
Sunday, August 1, 2021
Today begins a four part series spanning Jesus’ Bread of Life Discourse, and the texts lie so close to the center of Christian worship that these commentaries will run a few dozen words longer than usual. This Scripture does not offer the preacher the latitude to pick out or hone in on one of a menu of themes. John 6:24-69 is about two essential things which the preacher should inform the congregation about up front: faith in Jesus Christ and communion with him in the Eucharist.
Fortunately for the preacher, they divide neatly: Propers 13 and 14 are more about faith, and 15 and 16 are more about receiving Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist. As we shall see, however, the two themes are inseparable. The discourse is a movement from belief in Christ to faithfully receiving him at the Table.
Today’s text sets out how death is the fundamental problem for humanity. Even a miraculous multiplication of loaves of bread only postpones the problem, since ordinary food only sustains the body. This is “the food that perishes” since it does not have the power to save it from the body’s natural death—the manna in the wilderness in Exodus was God’s provision, but it also signified the temporary quality of earthly sustenance, since it rotted overnight, leaving the matter of life over death unsatisfied. So when the crowd shows up at Capernaum asking Jesus for a sign, they are really asking for another multiplication of ordinary bread. Jesus is telling them that they are shortsighted since their minds set only on prolonging earthly life, not eternal life.
The preacher should make Jesus’ reply in v. 32-35 the center of the sermon. First, even earthly sustenance, signified by the manna, does not come from men (Moses) but from God. Second, God wants to share another kind of bread with the world that will actually give life rather than just stave off death—Jesus himself.
The difference between earthly life and eternal reward is too often simplified as a matter of location: whether we have entrance into an “upstairs” heavenly realm or we are trapped in our mortality here below. But Jesus’ offer of himself as the bread of life means life over death, both now and forever; on earth as it is in heaven.
So working only to sustain earthly life is a bad investment, since death eventually wins out no matter how well we take care of ourselves and each other. But God, who both creates and sustains all life, has given human beings the way to access the source of life through faith in Jesus Christ.
The preacher should exhort the congregation to that saving faith: which is the simple belief that Jesus has the power to give life and overcome death (just how we take Jesus up on his offer will be covered over the next few weeks). It would be a tragedy to miss that offer of eternal life in order to sustain the mortal life that will perish.
Sunday, August 8, 2021
God frequently uses bread in supernatural ways to sustain his people. After his literal mountaintop experience at Carmel, Elijah is at the end of his rope and ready to die. Instead, God sends him a miraculous meal in the desert, catered by an angel (eager preachers will be tempted to identify this as a Christophany but should probably refrain), which gives him strength to reach his destination at the Mount of God.
The feeding miracle recalls the manna in the desert, but Jesus also identifies himself as bread with the power to sustain his people eternally. In the Gospel reading from last Sunday, the people’s request “Lord, always give us this bread” echoes the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4: “Sir, give me this water …” In that episode Jesus spoke of himself as the source of the water of life—which refers to baptism. Here, Jesus makes an even closer identification with the element of bread: that he is the bread of life and that his own flesh will be given for the life of the world (it is a good idea for the preacher to include verse 51 as a teaser for next week’s sermon which will answer the question of how Jesus can offer his flesh to us as bread). For now, the necessity of faith for receiving life from Jesus should be emphasized.
The crowd here grumbles not so much because Jesus has identified himself as the bread of life, but with his statement that he came down out of heaven. Jesus’ reply leaves no room for doubt. Anyone who takes seriously the words of the prophets and the wisdom of God in the scriptures will inevitably be drawn to Jesus, since he enjoys the very life of God the Father.
Verse 47 is the key: the one who believes that Jesus is who he says he is has eternal life. This is a good opportunity to emphasize the difference between true faith in Jesus and just “doing church.” The purpose of gathering for worship, hearing a sermon, reading the scriptures, praying, and singing in worship is to stir up faith in Christ and lay hold to it. Salvation comes through faith and draws us to the altar to receive the bread of life in Holy Communion. But without faith, even participating in the Eucharist becomes an empty ritual, void of life.
Sunday, August 15, 2021
Like Nicodemus, the people in verses 52 and 53 are incredulous: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” In that story, the answer was baptism by the Holy Spirit, and in this one points to the other great sacrament of the church: Jesus’ flesh and blood given in the Eucharist.
In the Eucharist, the impossible becomes possible and life is given to the world. Jesus giving his flesh for the life of the world is certainly referring to his sacrifice on the cross. The Eucharist completes the picture, for just as the burnt offerings of certain atonement sacrifices were distributed to the priests for their food, so is Christ’s flesh, once for all sacrificed on the cross, given to his priestly people in the church.
A great difference in Jesus’ sacrifice is the addition of blood with the flesh. To have blood with flesh was forbidden for Jews since the blood was regarded as the “life” of the animal. Jesus then is explicitly inviting the people to be filled with the life of God. This is why the ancient Fathers spoke of the Eucharist as having the power to “deify.” The point is union and unity with God. This happens mysteriously in the Eucharist, but it starts in the heart of the believer who approaches the mysteries.
This is a good opportunity to preach about the purpose of our entire lives: to draw near to God and unify ourselves to him, and then invite the congregation into intimacy with God in this special way.
Sunday, August 22, 2021
Jesus makes the staggering claim that the one who “eats me” will live forever. Any purely metaphorical interpretation of these words must be put to rest by the reactions they elicit. Jesus’ words are enough to empty the stadium of his admirers (v. 66). Likewise, his closest disciples call this a “hard saying,” not a figurative one—and the Lord does nothing to correct them.
Instead he compares the eating of his flesh to his coming ascension—an event which no believer would wave away as metaphorical. Everyone is on the same page here, the only thing that divides them is whether they will believe him or leave him.
So instead of over-explaining the history and development of the doctrine, this Sunday is an opportunity for the preacher to put the same question to the congregation as Jesus does for his disciples regarding the Eucharist: “does this cause you to stumble?” Modern persons have their own reasons for disbelieving that Christ could seriously give his flesh and blood for food. While the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist has always been a hard saying, it is also an opportunity to take Jesus at his word in faith. Jesus’ words are spirit and life, what is naturally possible by the flesh is unimportant in the presence of the author of all truth. Those who do receive the gift of real, substantial communion with him.
“What God’s son has told me take for truth I do
Truth Himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true”
-“Adoro te Devote” by Thomas Aquinas (trans. Gerard Manley Hopkins)