John situates this teaching on the Bread of Life in a very specific place, which you can visit: the synagogue at Capernaum (we read this a few verses later). What you see today is a partial reconstruction of an elegant Greco-Roman style building of imported stone dating from just after Jesus’ day. This synagogue re-uses the foundation of an earlier synagogue built with the local black basalt, which is where Jesus would have taught.
We don’t know what prompts him to talk about bread. Maybe the Torah portion read that day, perhaps about the manna from heaven. Or maybesome ornamental detail of the synagogue, mosaics or stone carvings perhaps. Synagogue décor oftenincluded some reference to the Temple in Jerusalem. Maybe it was a mosaic of the “Bread of the Presence”in the Temple that only the priests were allowed to eat—except that David and his soldiers raided it one day because they were hungry. Who knows?
But although John situates this story very specifically, both geographically and within the narrative ark of the Jewish people, he’s speaking of larger things. The one who came down from heaven is the Word made flesh in the majestic prologue of the gospel. The Word through whom all things came into being. This Word will raise us up on the last day. And as our lives are situated in the very specific, particular, even peculiar events of our lives, something larger is also happening in them and through them.
As this Word made flesh “came down” and was raised up, our lives are filled with fallings down and standings up, strikings down and liftings up, entombments in dark places and resurrections into full morning sunlight. The assurance offered by Jesus is that though there be many fallings down and strikings down in this life, “up” wins in the end. A morning sunrise will open all tombs, be they of the literal sort, or be they the happenings of our lives that can sometimes seem to bury us, or be they the curious workings of our own psyches.On the last day, “up” wins. “Out of the tombs” wins.
We need only take and eat the bread that is offered. And so we shall take and eat.
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