The Bread of Life

 

A Holy Supper Address by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Toronto, Sept. 20th, 2009

I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world (John 6:51)

It is impossible to correctly gauge how important bread in all its various forms is to the life of mankind. Throughout the world, and throughout the history of man, bread, whether simple or fancy, humble loaves or elegant cakes, is seen as a symbol of life. If we cannot get bread in some form, we cannot live in this world. In Biblical times it was even more important than it is to us today because there were fewer alternative sources of nourishment.

When we consider the importance of bread to the people of Biblical times, we can have a better understanding of the discussion the Lord was having with the Jews as it is recorded in the Gospel of John. They were discussing how one was to do the works of God, that is, how one might earn eternal life. Jesus told them that they should believe in Him, as He had been sent by God, but they wanted a sign. They said that it had been easy for their ancestors to know what to do, because Jehovah had sent such powerful signs, like manna, or bread from heaven. They told Jesus that if God would give them such a sign as their ancestors had seen, they could believe too—but they hadn’t seen any signs yet.

Jesus then told them that they had seen the sign: Moses had given them natural bread (manna), but God was giving the true bread which was from heaven, and gives eternal life. Of course, they wanted to have this bread, and He told them, I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst (John 6:35). But the Jews could not accept such an idea, and they murmured against Him for saying things which they considered to be blasphemous.

Their attitudes and beliefs were rooted in the appearances of the natural world, and they were unable to lift themselves up to see the Lord as He truly was. They were unable to understand that Jesus truly was the “bread of life” because He was the source of all good.

The irony of it is that the very sacrifices and rituals which they were trying to protect from the “blasphemous” ideas of Jesus Christ in fact, in the internal sense which was invisible to them because of their natural state, signified nothing else than that He was the “bread of life” for all men.

Unlike those who are unable to lift their understanding above the forms of rituals and sacrifices, we are gifted with the means to see within, to understand the purpose behind the things that God commands us to do. The internal sense of the Word makes it possible for us to understand the stories of scripture in the light of heaven, to have a glimpse of what the angels themselves understand when they read the Word.

Bread signifies the Lord and everything holy which is from Him, because everything celestial and spiritual, that is, all things that are good and true, proceed from Him alone. This is one of the reasons why He commanded that bread be used in the Holy supper—to represent the gift of the bread of life, of all good things and genuine delights, from God to man (See AC 276).

The bread and the wine signify the Lord’s love towards the whole human race, and the things which are the gifts of His love. When a person comes to the Holy Supper table knowing these things, and receives the bread and the wine in humility and gratitude, then a reciprocal conjunction between God and that person is established, and the person thereafter feels a renewal of faith, and the joy that comes from freely choosing to do what is known to be right from the Word (See AC 1798:5, 2165:4, 4217).

When the Lord established the Holy Supper, as He broke the bread and gave it to His disciples, He referred to it as His “flesh.” He was, of course, speaking representatively, for “flesh” represents the proprium of the Divine Human—that part of the Lord that He made His own through choices in the natural world. Because His choices were from the Divine Love Itself, the things that He acquired in His proprium were all good, and therefore His “flesh” or proprium represents the Divine good. And this is called the “body” in the Holy Supper. Because eating has to do with taking things from outside of self and incorporating them into our own body, eating signifies communication, conjunction, and appropriation of truth and good from the Lord into each of our minds and spirits. (See AC 3813)

When we talk about good and truth, many feel that these are just words, terms that we use frequently but perhaps do not understand well. They can seem so “spiritual” and elevated that we seem to close our minds at the sound of them. But we must remember that it is the spiritual world that is real, and this world of nature that is the temporary appearance. Spiritual bread is the very food of the angels! They could not live without it any more than we can live without natural food. And since we are also spirits as to our interiors, the celestial and spiritual things from the Lord are not inconsequential tidbits to pick up when convenient, or when there is nothing better to do, they are the very nourishment of our souls! We must have spiritual food to keep our spiritual bodies healthy, and the only source of that food is the Lord through His Word. (See AC 276)

We have established that eating the bread of the Holy Supper, like making sacrifices in the Jewish church, signifies communication of good and truth from God to man. One final point needs to be made, and that is that this communication and conjunction is not with the Supreme Divine Itself, but rather with the Divine Human. We cannot communicate with cosmic forces, we as humans can only communicate effectively with other humans. That is why, when approaching the Holy Supper, it is important that we think about Jesus Christ as the head of the Church. It is important that before the receiving the Holy Supper we read the words from the Gospels that remind us that when God was a Man upon the earth, He Himself established this sacrament as a real correspondence of His gift of life itself to us. (AC 4211:2)

The Holy Supper took the place of sacrifices and the feasts upon what was sanctified and is an external act of the church in which there is an internal. This outward symbol was commanded by the Lord because most humans are in external worship, and therefore unless there could be some external act that contained something of eternal spiritual value within it, there would be scarcely anything holy with them. (AC 2165:5)

By the internal things hidden within it, the Holy Supper is an external act that can conjoin the person who is in love and charity with heaven, and once conjoined with heaven, he can then be conjoined with the Lord.

The external act of receiving the bread inspires a response in a person by turning his thoughts to heaven and his own eternal life, he can come into a holy state, for he no longer thinks of bread, but of the Lord and His mercy, and of what is of love to Him and of charity toward the neighbor, because he also thinks of repentance and the amendment of his own life.

Of course, this does not happen the same way with everyone, but varies according to the state of holiness which each person is in, to each according to their thought, affection, and life, and according to their understanding and belief in the Divinity of the Divine Human, for to receive the Glorified Divine Human into your life is to receive the bread of life.

Then Jesus said to them, Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world (John 6:32, 33). AMEN.

First Lesson: Exo 16:1-12

And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt. {2} Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. {3} And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” {4} Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. {5} “And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.” {6} Then Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “At evening you shall know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt. {7} “And in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD; for He hears your complaints against the LORD. But what are we, that you complain against us?” {8} Also Moses said, “This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him. And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the LORD.” {9} Then Moses spoke to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your complaints.'” {10} Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud. {11} And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, {12} “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'” Amen.

Second Lesson: John 6:41-51

The Jews then complained about Him, because He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” {42} And they said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How is it then that He says, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” {43} Jesus therefore answered and said to them, “Do not murmur among yourselves. {44} “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. {45} “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me. {46} “Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father. {47} “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. {48} “I am the bread of life. {49} “Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. {50} “This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. {51} “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 4211

Since ‘bread’ in the highest sense means the Lord it therefore means everything holy which comes from Him, that is, it means everything good and true. And since no other good exists which is good except the good of love and charity, ‘bread’ therefore means love and charity. Sacrifices in former times had no other meaning, and for that reason were referred to by the single word ‘bread’, see 2165. And some of the flesh of the sacrifices was eaten so that the heavenly feast – that is, a joining together through good flowing from love and charity – might be represented. The same is meant today by the Holy Supper, for this has replaced sacrifices and feasts of consecrated things. The Holy Supper is in the Church an external practice that has an internal reality within it, and by means of this reality it joins one who is governed by love and charity to heaven, and by means of heaven to the Lord. For in the Holy Supper too ‘eating’ means making one’s own – ‘the bread’ being celestial love and ‘the wine’ spiritual love – so much so that while it is being eaten by one in a state of holiness nothing else is perceived in heaven. Amen.

 

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