Being that it is Thanksgiving Eve, I am tempted to make a Thanksgiving connection to our gospel text from John. Yet, the only link I can seem to make between this reading from John and this holiday… is food. The simple difference between the two being that the crowd following Jesus around has already had their Thanksgiving meal. They didn’t fill their bellies with turkey and stuffing but with loaves and fishes. And it wasn’t 15 to 20 members of the extended family eating together; it was 5000. 5000 people made up of some families but also strangers. The only food they could find was five barley loaves and two fish, which didn’t look like enough for everyone. But the miracle is that it was enough, which is usually how food is. After everyone ate their fill and loosened their belts by a notch or two, Jesus departed from that place, needing some space to rest and recharge. But that didn’t last very long. The crowd followed his trail and sought him out. Because that is what we do with people who feed us. We do everything we can to stay with them, in hopes that they will feed us again. It is like my cat Sam, who nuzzles up against, crawls in my lap, and licks my ear only when I have a bowl of cereal in my hand. He knows that the leftover milk is his.
The thing is Jesus could see right through the crowd and their intentions. “You aren’t looking for me because of the miracle that just happened with the loaves and fishes,” he said. “You are looking for me because you ate to your hearts delight, but now your stomachs have started to growl again.” Like my cat Sam, they are looking for just another bowl of milk.
But Jesus knows that it isn’t the hole in their stomachs they are trying to fill, but the hole in their hearts. And we are no different then this crowd. Just go to any meeting with the word “Anonymous” in it and you’ll meet a crowd of people who have tried to fill the holes that life has torn in their hearts with other things. Alcohol. Food. Sex. Gambling. Money. And the addiction that really plagues America – busyness.
Jesus named what he saw. To the crowd he proclaims, “Do not work for the food that you eat and digest. That won’t cut it. Instead work for the food that endures. Food that is everlasting.” Food that, like a needle and thread, can stitch that hole right up. Jesus says that it is the Son of Man who will give them this food, knowing full well that he is the Son of Man. But he holds his cards close to him, hoping they can figure it out themselves.
As if they had stopped listening half way through, and completely missing the part where Jesus said this everlasting food will be given to them, the crowd still thinks its about them and what they can accomplish. So naturally, they are quick to respond, “Well what must we do? How do we perform these works of God to attain this everlasting food?” Do. Do. Do. Perform. Perform. Perform. Maybe they are addicted to busyness too. They just don’t get it. That Jesus isn’t talking about something they do, but something that is given to them.
So Jesus gives it another shot, trying to be clearer this time. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” We should be cautious here. Because the temptation is to turn belief into another work, another thing to do. We think belief is something we have to have enough of and cling to, when in fact the word believe might be better translated as, “to entrust.” And to entrust is to give over or let go of something. This is the work of God – that you entrust yourself to the one whom God has sent.
But this still isn’t good enough for the crowd. Perhaps because they are starting to get hungry again, the crowd seems to get restless and irritable and they start to turn on Jesus. “Well so what are you going to do then?” they challenge. “You say all we have to do is believe. So what sign are you going to give us so that we can believe?”
What I love is that nothing has changed in 2000 years. We, like this crowd, still demand a sign from God. And we hold our own faith hostage until we get it. Just yesterday, confirmation students were throwing out trump cards against faith. Why should we believe when we can’t see God? Why doesn’t God come down and show God’s self to us so that we can know and believe? Sound familiar? The crowd said to Jesus, “What sign are you going to give us…so that we may see it and believe?” Tensions start to squeeze tight as the crowd turns up the heat and as they pit Jesus against that other historic leader of God’s people, Moses. “Moses gave our ancestors manna, the bread from heaven, when they wandered in the wilderness. What sign are you going to give us?” Jesus gets a little defensive saying, “Well, Moses didn’t exactly give that bread from heaven, it was really God who gave it.” And the crowd snaps back, “So give us this bread!” Finally, having had enough and needing to crack the spine this tension, Jesus shouts, “I am the bread of life! It’s me, okay? You want your sign? Well here it is, right in front of you. I’m it.”
It is at this climactic moment that our text for tonight ends. But we can’t really stop there. If we continue on, we discover that Jesus begins to talk about his body as food and his blood as drink. What we know as the service of Holy Communion. Jesus says to this crowd, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” What a strange thing to say. But if we can get past what seems like cannibalism and vampire-like behavior, we just might be able to hear what Jesus is trying to say. Jesus says to them, “I am the bread of life. I am it. I am one with God.” But then Jesus makes this relational move. “If you take my body and my blood and you eat it, you take me into your own body, and I will abide in you and you will abide in me.” Suddenly, the bread of life, Jesus, who is one with God, is inside….you. There is an exchange going on between Christ and we who eat of Christ’s body. That life of God in Jesus becomes our life as well.
This crowd wanted more food and instead Jesus gave them himself. Which to some of them, probably sounded as good as having saltine crackers for Thanksgiving dessert. But in giving himself as the bread from heaven, Jesus also gives them the life of God. Which isn’t food that is eaten and digested, leaving one hungry once again, but is food that endures.
If we can understand that God is in Jesus and through taking and eating of Jesus’ body and blood in Communion Jesus is in us, then suddenly we might not be asking, “Where is God? Show me a sign!” but instead, “Where isn’t God?” Because God is in you and you and you and you….
The confirmation students are right, you know. Why should we, or better yet, how could we possibly believe in God when we cannot see God? Like this crowd, we demand a sign. But let us not forget: Jesus says that he is the Bread of life, the food that endures forever. And then he invites us to take that bread of life into our own bodies, making us a part of that bread of life and the life of God.
So as we depart from here tonight, branches of the life of God go out as well, into your homes and Thanksgiving celebrations. On this Thanksgiving holiday, I don’t want to tell you to be more thankful for the things in your life. The nightly news can tell you that. And by no means can I claim to know your life or how this past year has been for you. But I do know my life. And what I do want to say is how thankful I am for you. When I can’t seem to see God and I want a sign, like it was for this crowd, the sign usually ends up being right in front of me. In the ways I see you care for one another through life events – suffering through pain together and celebrating together moments of joy. In the way you have welcomed Lauren and I, strangers, into this community. In the way you seek to give of yourselves for the sake of others. When I can’t seem to see God and I want a sign, like this crowd, that sigh, that bread of life, usually ends up being right in front of me in you. And that helps me to believe again and again and again…
 David Fredrickson, “Eucharistic Symbolism in the Gospel of John,” http://www2.luthersem.edu/word&world/Archives/17-1_Communion/17-1_Fredrickson.pdf