Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood: Abiding in Jesus
John 6: 51-69
Message for Aug 19, 2018
This is year B, the second of the three years in our lectionary cycle of readings, and every year B when summer comes around we have a five week series of readings from John’s gospel about Jesus as the bread of life. The series begins with the story of the loaves and fishes, which, if you were in church three weeks ago you would have heard. We interrupted the series two weeks ago by focusing instead on the Transfiguration story, and came back last week to the ‘bread discourses’ as they are known.
Over the weeks of the bread discourses we can see how the writer of John’s gospel developed this “Jesus as the bread of life” theme, and as it goes along, it becomes deeper theologically. So if you decide to pick up your bible and read the entire sixth chapter all at once, it sounds quite repetitive to our 21st century ears. It does make one wonder, why the writer goes about on about it so. Well, at the time when this gospel was written, repetition was a writing tool authors used to say to readers and listeners—“Pay attention here, this is important! Missed it the first time? Well, here it is again!”
And because the message builds, intensifies, becomes theologically deeper each week, we need to catch our minds up this morning, get us back on the bread track, as it were! First we heard how Jesus borrows a little boy’s lunch, and fed the masses of people who have followed him to the Sea of Galilee in what we’ve come to call the miracle of the loaves and fishes. In doing so, Jesus is replicating how God fed the Israelites with manna as they followed Moses across the wilderness to the Promised Land. At the time of the wilderness crossing, centuries before Jesus’ time, this ‘bread from heaven’, as manna came to be called, saved their ancestors from starving, it became a main food source for the travellers. It was however, for all its wonder and delight and miraculous properties, a short term fix. Because once they reached the Promised Land, the manna stopped coming. And yes, it most definitely was the sign of the presence of God among (God’s) people.1 And according to the prophets, the Messiah when he came, would repeat the miracle of the manna.
After Jesus feeds the people with the loaves and fishes, which, arguably is a replication of the manna miracle in an updated form, he tells them that he himself is the bread of life, because he too was sent by God to save them. But, Jesus points out to them, that although the bread from heaven did save their ancestors during the desert crossing, in due time, those ancestors did die. He, Jesus, sent by the Almighty God, is the true bread from heaven—the bread that will bring them eternal life—Jesus can save the souls of those who believe in him.
So not only is he the true bread, but the living bread from heaven, better than manna! Jesus did more than signal God’s presence among God’s people. Jesus walked among them, lived among them, performed miracles and healings among them. Jesus was God incarnate, God walking among them, God’s living presence among the people. Ok, so far so good. Jesus is the true and living bread. That is a lot to digest, if you’ll pardon the pun; and a bit too much for some folks. There was grumbling and complaining in the crowd of listeners, some people were unable to or chose not to see, to understand where Jesus was going with this bread of life comparison, this manna analogy idea, but others were able to follow it and even believe it–that Jesus was sent by God to be the Messiah, to be God’s true, living and saving presence among them.
Today we heard that Jesus returns to this teaching once again in the synagogue and that’s where he takes this teaching even farther: “53 So Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink.” It’s like he dropped a bombshell! Well, thinking of Jesus as manna, as the bread from heaven who supposedly brings eternal life was challenging enough; but now cannibalism! That’s upping the ante to the point where many of the followers were not just turned off, but now thoroughly rejected Jesus. Eating his flesh and drinking his blood! The drinking blood was particularly offensive, as it “transgresses one of the most fundamental taboos in the food laws of Israel (Lev. 17: 10-14…)” 2
And you know, if you hear it just like that, “eat my flesh and drink my blood” without any other background or information or preparation—it does sound really gross, and kind of offensive. I have talked to people who have no Christian background and are offended by this whole concept of the Eucharist. Again, like other stuff from the bible that we sometimes struggle to understand, it has to be put into context so we can understand it beyond the face value of what’s being said in a few excerpted verses.
This part of John’s gospel is seen by many as John’s ‘Eucharistic Discourse’. This gospel, for reasons that can only be speculated upon, doesn’t have any direct reference to the Last Supper, as the other three do. John’s view of the bread and wine ritual “… varies from the other (gospels’) understanding by tying the ritual not directly to Jesus’ death but rather to his life.” 3 Taking Jesus into oneself is like taking in nourishment for your soul – like eating bread and drinking wine nourishes the body. God saved the people in the desert by feeding them manna, Jesus fed the 5000 with fish and bread when there was nothing else around for them to eat. “John’s Eucharist theology is unabashedly life affirming: Jesus saves life by giving life.” 4
In verse 56 Jesus says: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” There’s that abide word again, another of John’s favourite words. Listen now to another couple of ‘abiding verses’: Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. (John 15.4) As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. (John 15.9) To abide in this context means being together with someone very closely—in an intimate way. A really deep, close relationship; a spiritual relationship. That’s what Jesus wants with us, what he is offering to all who hear his message. And he tells those who have ears to hear: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” (vs 54) Not will have eternal life some day, but have eternal life. Present tense, right here, right now, we can have eternal life when we are in relationship with Jesus, we don’t have to wait til we die to be with our Lord! Jesus is offering himself to us to nourish ourselves spiritually. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” You can’t get much closer to someone than that, to take someone into yourself, that the two are then like one. It is the ultimate love relationship. To be at one with Christ.
As I pondered through these verses, I thought of it in this way: By feeding us from his own life force, Jesus gives us life. That is an intimate relationship. This is more than just bodily survival; this is for the survival of our souls. We really can’t go it alone.
As I continued to think this through, it reminded me of that expression: “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”5 People are temporal and spiritual creatures—we have bodies and souls, both require feeding to not just survive but to function at optimum levels—to be healthy. We keep the earthly part of our being alive and healthy by taking in nourishment by eating and drinking; for example, bread and fish! Our souls, the everlasting spiritual side of our beings too require nourishment, and where do we get that? Ah yes, we can go to Jesus for sustenance, to feed our souls. We forget that we are spiritual beings first and foremost. And if the spiritual aspect of ourselves is neglected, is not fed or not exercised, it too can become unhealthy and harmful. And like our bodies can become ill, our souls too if not cared for and nourished, are less able to resist, and can succumb—to those temptations and vices that can hurt us so deeply inside, which often result in hurting others too. By feeding our souls, by taking in Jesus’ own strength and spirit as nourishment, our spiritual life strengthens and grows. We come to deeper relationship with Jesus by feeding our souls, learning more about Jesus and our faith as Christians, by personal prayer, and as part of a like minded group, by listening to God’s call for us and doing God’s work. Coming to church nourishes our souls: through worship in prayer and song, by asking forgiveness and receiving absolution, we are assured of God’s grace, God’s love; and of course, by sharing the sacrament of the bread and wine of Holy Communion. Remember what a sacrament is: an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace—and grace is the gift of love that God gives us unconditionally! The Eucharist is literally a hands-on reminder of our need to come to Jesus, and be fed spiritually. After all, we are what we eat!
55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink, (Jesus told them). 56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 68To whom else can we go? For Jesus has the words of eternal life. (paraphrase vs 68) 69
We believe, and we know (Jesus is) the Holy One of God.
Rev. JoAnn Todd, Rector
The Regional Ministry of Hope
2 Wayne A. Meeks, Exegetical Perspective for John 6: 51-58 Proper 15, in Feasting on the Word Yr B, Vol 3. P. 357. 3 Loye Bradley Ashton, Theological Perspective for John 6: 56-69 Proper 1, in Feasting on the Word Yr B, Vol 3. P. 382. 4 IBID
5 Pierre Teilhard de Chardin French Jesuit paleontologist and mystic (1881-1955) http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/p/pierreteil160888.html accessed Aug 12.15