Food in the summer can be especially delightful. If you live in the country or have a garden in your yard, the ripeness of the summer crop enriches all the senses; nothing can be more wonderful than a sun-warmed tomato off the vine or plump berries picked from lush bushes. Even city dwellers can get fresh food from farmers' markets: sweet corn picked early that morning from a farmer's field can be on your table for lunch.
In the summer, we can be out-of-doors more, which makes the nature images in scripture that much more alive to us. How many have gone on long hikes up mountains that did not seem so steep on the map? Hungrier and hungrier, achier and achier, concerned that the sky will never break through the trees, the hiker longs for the assurance we read in Deuteronomy: "The clothes on your back did not wear out and your feet did not swell these 40 years." But by following the path -- "walking in [God's] ways and by fearing him" -- the trail begins to level out. The summit -- and your picnic spot -- approaches and your see a vista more marvelous than you could have imagined down there at the trail head. You are tired and relieved, exhilarated and awestruck by where God has led you and what you see unfolding in front of you: For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing ...
There are other summer images of abundance: think of children dancing in the spray of water at a pool, or the ice cream truck that drives through the neighborhood right up to your door and has just what you want. Think of free concerts in city parks. Think of the smell of bread right out of the oven, standing on the sidewalk outside a bakery. Images like those would be the ones used if the Bible were written today: images of abundance and grace, ordinary, simple and ever-available.
Jesus' words about the bread of life rang true with his hearers. The image reminded them of the ancient prophets who used the "bread of life" to mean the word, the wisdom, that comes from God to humanity. The Wisdom tradition of the Hebrew Bible says this in Proverbs: "Come, eat of my bread; drink of the wine I have mixed." [Proverbs 9:5] The book of Ecclesiasticus describes what Wisdom will do for the one who fears God: "She will feed him with the bread of understanding, and give him the water of wisdom to drink." [Ecclesiasticus, or Sirach 15:3]
Those who long for the knowledge and love of the Lord will find it in abundance and simplicity. It is no mistake that words everyone understands -- bread, water -- are used to tell us what the wisdom of God is like. Climb that mountain and nothing tastes sweeter than the simple peanut butter and jelly sandwich you packed that morning, the one that got a little squashed in your backpack. No vintage wine could be better than flowing water from the mountain stream. Walk down that sidewalk on a hot day and find refreshment that no king could equal by plunging into the cold water of the city pool.
Jesus uses those old images of the messianic banquet, the abundance of the fruits of wisdom, to say this to his hearers: the banquet is here now. You no longer have to wait. Wisdom is not in some far-off distant future; it is here now, in the person of Jesus. "I am the bread of life," he says. Food is available, lots of it, to all who seek.
A wise teacher once said that the three lessons on each Sunday go like this: the lesson from the Hebrew scripture states a theme. Jesus interprets that theme in the Gospel. The Epistle tells us how the community of early Christians would have worked it out in their lives. Following that plan, then, the reading from Ephesians encourages us to show abundance with one another. Be kind, tender-hearted, forgiving, follow the love God has showed you by loving those around you. We are called to pattern our relationships on the relationship God has with us, exemplified by the love Christ showed to us in his offering and sacrifice.
Enjoy the summer. It is our text for these months, showing us the abundance of God's unfailing love, the profligacy of the bread of life and the living water Christ offers us. Out of that abundance we are called to respond in love. Have another sandwich. Take another drink from the stream. Get another ice cream cone. There is more than enough to go around. Amen.