Jesus said that he is the bread of life. No doubt John intended a strong Eucharistic symbolism, and I don’t think there is anything more important than that, but I also think there is something additional. It begins with a question: What is the source of foundational nutrition? Most cultures that are close to the land have a food that is symbolic of life itself, most often not bread. Whatever it might be, it is a food so basic to that culture that life cannot be imagined without it. Jesus as the bread of life is a perfectly understandable and instantly understood metaphor in those cultures. John goes on to make it not just a powerful metaphor but a claim on the reality of Jesus as the one on whom life itself depends and through whom life comes.
We Americans, and, for that matter, all of the OECD nations, have a hard time apprehending the power of John’s message because we have nothing that is culturally representative of life itself. Blessed with an abundance of inexpensive food in many varieties, there is not one that is the “bread of life.” To be sure there are foods that have powerful symbolic meaning for ethnic heritage and pride, but not as the very stuff of life itself.
However, what we cannot claim as a culture or nation, we can claim as individuals. I imagine that in each of us is something symbolic of life itself, something so basic that life cannot be imagined without it. Whatever that is, it is that which provides the foundational nutrition for our lives. I guess that was what Jung was after and sometimes thought he found. That’s what the advertising industry is after, what motivates fear driven politics, and probably what makes it so difficult for us to ‘sell’ the idea of Jesus as the bread of life to the skeptics that have occupied my thinking about evangelism. It’s why I’m inclined to believe that the best any national church evangelism program can do is to raise awareness and no more than that. I’m inclined to think that for Anglicans, and probably for most churches of the Reformation, real evangelism works best one-on-one or in very small groups. It works best when we take the time to get to know the other well enough to recognize that which is his or her own personal symbolic bread of life.
We’ve had programs that were supposed to do that. Alpha was a program that got its start as a grass roots phenomena back in England and became very popular in the U.S. and Canada. It lost its way when it got packaged and merchandised with videos looking a bit too much like theological “Sham-Wow” commercials. Most of the people who attended congregation sponsored Alpha gatherings were already members of the congregation with a few strangers strong-armed into coming for the free meal and fellowship. As I think about it, they were more like AmWay parties than anything else. I wonder if that’s where the idea came from?
But I digress. For the time being I think I’ll stick to preaching and teaching with the aim of encouraging the formation of disciples who can be all but unconscious of their effectiveness as evangelists just in the ordinary ways they go about their daily lives.