And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day. 40 For this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.” 41 The Jews then murmured at him, because he said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43 Jesus answered 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.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46 Not that any one has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life. (Revised Standard Version)
The following reflections are based on the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday after Theophany:
This chapter parallels the story of the Passover and Exodus of Israel. One such parallel, as seen in this portion of the story, is Jesus comparing himself to the manna that came from heaven (Exodus 16:1-17:7) in the Exodus story. In the wilderness, God fed his people bread from heaven (manna), but those who ate it eventually died. Here, Jesus claims to be “the bread which came down from heaven,” (vv. 48-58) and all those who eat of it will live forever.
During Badarak, the priest prays:
O Lord our God, who sent our Lord Jesus Christ, the heavenly bread, the food of the whole world, to be savior and redeemer and benefactor, and to bless and to sanctify us.
And as Bp. Daniel Findikyan writes,
Using the heavenly manna as a point of reference well known to his audience, Jesus is proclaiming himself to be God’s life-giving gift to the world. Jesus is as basic to a person’s eternal life, he implies, as bread is to one’s biological life.
The Old Covenant is fulfilled
Jesus does not abolish or dismiss, but fulfills the old covenant, everything that was prophesied of the Messiah is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ, the Passover Lamb who was sacrificed to renew the world, joining heaven and earth, uniting together humanity and divinity, marrying himself as Head to his Body, the Church. The old covenant looked forward to the new covenant – a new life, a new creation, a new work.
John 6 is about the Eucharist
It is not a coincidence that the language throughout the sixth chapter of John reminds us of and recalls Holy Communion. It is the author’s way of using sacramental clues and language to recall the bread and wine of Holy Communion. And so we experience and share in this new work established by our Savior, Jesus Christ, today.
In the first few lines of the Eucharistic Prayer, the longest and most important prayer of Badarak, the priest prays,
Having taken the Church to be a people to himself, made his own those who believe in you, and was pleased to dwell among us in a ponderable nature, according to the dispensation through the Virgin, and as the divine master-builder building a new work, he thereby made this earth into heaven. (pp.29-39)
My will or Thy will?
Our life in Christ through the Church – our worship, baptism, Badarak – draws us out of slavery (to sin where we live in exile from God) and into the Promised Land (eternal life where we are free to live as we were created).
In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us the Father’s will. Is not the Father’s will our will? Do we allow the drawing of the Father to overtake the allure of earthly things? Are we more fascinated with other kinds of work rather than the new work God is doing? What are those things that draw us instead of the Father and win our desire? With what would we rather commune and unite ourselves?
Do we view the world as having been saved (and being saved) and united with God so that we see and experience eternal life in this moment? Are our eyes open to the good things he accomplishes through us, how we are used by him to bring healing to others?
As we find ourselves in the wilderness like those who ate the perishable manna, pray as did St. Gregory of Narek,
Still accept me, a wandering exile, defeated by wounds, faint with gnawing hunger. Heal me with your bread of life, confront me with mercy, for you are my first refuge. (47 B)
The Bread of Life
Bread has always been considered a staple, essential to the ancient diet, and even a form of charity, and so it was even considered sacred. In the early Church, members brought loaves of bread as an offering. Still today, the bread used for Holy Communion is considered the gift from the people to God, offering that which is most basic to our lives back to God, representing the entirety of our lives.
And so sacramental living, the life of the Christian connected to the Church, is marked by the presence of bread. In the Armenian Church, we use bread in various contexts and services: Home Blessing, fasting (aghoohats), and of course, bread is essential to Holy Badarak.
Earthly vs. Heavenly manna
How often we seek earthly manna for satisfaction, believing there is no better source of nourishment. Unbeknownst to his listeners, the true Manna was standing right in front of them.
Do we, as a parish, as individuals, have flawed motivations and temporal interests that blind us to who Jesus is and what is his will for us? The answer, of course, is yes, but how do we keep each other accountable after we have pinpointed what they are? For what “perishable food” are we hungry and prefer over the food that lasts forever? In what ways are we drawn by or prefer this world over the Father and his Kingdom?
Commenting on the Gospel of John, St. John Chrysostom writes,
I fed your bodies, he says, so that after this you might seek that other food that endures, which nourishes the soul. But you run right back to that food that is temporal. Therefore you do not understand that I lead you not to this imperfect food but to that which nourishes not the body but the soul.
As in the Gospel reading, Jesus shows us his concern for our salvation so that we may live as we are truly meant and created to live, in line with our true nature. In other words, this is a matter of life and death, not just a religious preference. Jesus reveals the Bread that lasts forever, that he is the Bread of Life and whom we were created to eat. He is the Food which sustains our true mode of existence (see Isaiah 55:2), that being in union with God, with his Son Jesus Christ, the Bread of Life.
The prophet Isaiah invites us to an abundant life:
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Hearken diligently to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in fatness.
How often we seek Jesus for no other objective than to receive a temporal benefit. Temporal luxuries, as long as not sinful, satisfy for the moment, they pass away, and can only be enjoyed in this life. They are here today and gone tomorrow. What about the riches of God, that which belongs to his Kingdom. Jesus reminds us,
Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:19-20)
Until we recognize Jesus for who he is, until we humble ourselves enough to have an encounter with him, we will only hunger for that which temporarily satisfies. Jesus reveals that there is a deeper hunger we suppress with selfishness, distractions, and temporal motivations, a hunger which is insatiable, because it is a hunger for the Infinite.
Is our soul well-ordered enough to receive revelation from God, to have faith in who Jesus is and what he has done and what he is continually doing in our lives, in the Armenian Church, in the world around us? Do we realize our union with God so that we experience even the temporal, the mundane, and tragic as a transfigured, holy moment filled with God’s presence? Or do we experience the world unaware of God’s presence in everything and in all things?
Are we drawn by that which corrupts us and draws us away from God and a life-lived in harmony with others in our parish community? Do we look for earthly satisfaction just as those in the presence of Christ in the Gospel reading? Are we looking for a Messiah who will give us what we want rather than give him what he wants, which is us. St. John Chrysostom comments,
He taught them concerning spiritual food, concerning eternal life when He led them away from objects of sense (earthly bread) and spake to them of a resurrection, and raised their thoughts to higher matters, when they ought to have admired, they murmur…”
The Last Day
Three times in this passage of Scripture, and four times in the whole of John chapter 6, Jesus repeats one particular promise: “And I will raise him up at the last day” «եւ ես յարուցից զնա յաւուրն յետնում:» The repetition alone should catch our attention to inquire of its significance. What is the last day? Should we wait for it to arrive sometime in the future, or is it closer than that?
What is eternal life?
We tend to think of eternal life as the state of being that follows death, and thus ignore, or miss its present reality. Rather than the life that begins on a timeline at the point of physical death, eternal life is quality of life. It is the sharing of the inner life of Jesus, the experiencing of the abundant life which Jesus promised.
By virtue of the Incarnation (i.e. Jesus uniting humanity and divinity in his person, his taking on flesh and blood), we live in union with the Eternal Now, (i.e. God), the present moment being transfigured and infused with God’s grace (i.e. his Life, eternal life).
And so eternal life is the life God planned for this world from the beginning, through the person of Jesus Christ, by virtue of our baptism, we are united to his birth, death, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, this eternal life, his quality of life, his very being united with our being is accessible and present to us now (“the Kingdom of God is at hand,” “the Kingdom of God is within you“) and also will be everlasting, completed in its fullness in the age to come as we look forward to his return.
In Sunday’s Gospel reading, Jesus says, “Everyone who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”And so eternal life is the resurrected life, and begins in the present when someone believes and has faith in the Son (as someone lives out their baptism in faith).
Resurrection life in the midst of suffering
How does the resurrection affect our daily lives? What does it look like to live in the hope of the resurrection? The Armenian Church remembers Sts. Shamouna and her seven sons, an example of this confidence, an example of what St. John Chrysostom means when he says,
Let us take pains to gain by having the Resurrection continually sounded in our ears…Let us continually say to others, and to ourselves, “There is a resurrection”…For there is a Resurrection, and that Resurrection is at our doors, not afar off, nor at a distance…Let us picture these things to ourselves every day. If we are ever revolving them, no care for present things will be able to sting us…This saying is able more than any other remedy to heal our souls.
Although unnamed in Scripture, the story of Shamouna (Շամունա) and her seven sons, can be found in the Old Testament (II Maccabees 7:1-42). Shamouna watched each of her seven sons be tortured for refusing to defile themselves by pagan force. Each of these sons, also celebrated as saints, gave a speech before they died defending their faith in the Lord and His promise to raise them to new life.
After undergoing torture, one of the sons addressed the king with his last breath: “You dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life.” In the same way, another one of the sons refused to deny his faith and said to the king, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him.”
Perhaps an extreme example, but relatable in that it falls under the category of hardship, trials, and suffering to which all of us experience on some level. This story also puts our own problems into proper perspective when it comes to how we pray and expect God to show himself in the midst of our suffering.
The Last Day is today, now
Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” During the season of Zadeeg we repeat to each other the greeting, “Christ is risen from the dead, Blessed is the resurrection of Christ!” Notice we do not say, “Christ was risen from the dead…” The Church has entered the “Eighth Day,” the eternal day in which death is conquered and the resurrection defines how we live.
The resurrection is today, it is now, this moment, because the Resurrection is a person, our living savior, Jesus Christ, the Eternal Now. And in the person of Christ, in the Resurrection, all that is not good or holy is swallowed up and destroyed. The tension of our faith, then, is learning to live in this eternal day while still looking forward to when all things will be reconciled, balanced, and put right.
And so we…
…are baptized into the Last Day (the 8th Day, new life, eternal life), and in so doing we share and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus (see Romans 6:4).
…eat the Bread of Life, renewing ourselves as we allow the mystery of his Body and Blood to take root by not resisting what it means to live and love like Jesus.
….respond to the drawing of the Father, having faith and trusting in his Son, who he is, what he has done and what he is doing, aligning ourselves with the Father’s will.
His grace is sufficient…in our weakness
And when our will aligns with the Father’s will through faith in Jesus, we enter into and experience eternal life, the inner life of Christ which is present and permeates every situation, our thoughts and actions, the most difficult of circumstances.
We often hear other messages, disguised as Christianity, telling us that as long as we are healthy and prosperous, we are aligned with God’s will. This message would have fallen on deaf ears if told to St. Shamouna after she lost her seven sons. It is in our weakness, our frailty, divisive quarrels with others, in a world that seems hopeless and chaotic that Jesus is able to do his work through us, the Church, to bring unity and healing.
St. Paul reminds the Church that is in our weakness that God’s grace is present:
But [Jesus] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Corinthians 12:9-10)