From Pastor Kenny's Desk
August 19, 2018
“… I myself am the living bread come down from heaven. If any eat this bread, they will live forever; the bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Temple authorities then began to argue with one another. “How can he give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus replied, “The truth of the matter is, if you don’t eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Chosen One, you won’t have life in you. Those who do eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I live in them. Just as the living Abba God sent me and I have life because of Abba God, so those who feed on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. It’s not the kind of bread your ancestors ate, for they died; whoever eats this kind of bread will live forever.”
~ John 6:51-58
I’ll confess that there are times when I read the upcoming sacred text and I am tempted to think … as I imagine other people think … that the Bible has little to do with real life. This week was one of those weeks. For here we are stuck in the middle of this argument between Jesus and the crowd who was following him about bread from heaven and Jesus unintelligible and rather grotesque statements about eating his flesh and drinking his blood.
Biblical scholars can show that behind these verses a controversy rages in the early Church about the nature and importance of Holy Communion … the Holy Meal … a controversy which John is trying to settle with his record of Jesus discourse about giving his own flesh and blood that the world might live.
But as I read through the work of these scholars, ranging from Augustine and Luther to some of my own seminary professors, there rose up inside of me a mighty complaint.
“So what!” I wanted to scream with each new twist in the scholarly debate. “So what!” What does this talk of flesh and blood and heavenly bread and even with the Holy Meal really have to do with the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of everyday living? What does it have to do with the things that really matter, our hopes and fears, loves and hates, our living and our dying? What does it have to do with us, here and now, two thousand years later, struggling just to make ends meet?”
When I come to the Biblical text I don’t come for academic or theological controversies, but rather to find both counsel and comfort in dealing with the experiences and realities of life … I come to the text for meaning, not meaning in the sense of answering all my questions … but meaning which makes life worth living. And so like the crowd in this lesson, I also grow frustrated with Jesus abstract words about eating and drinking his body and blood when what we really need is something more concrete, solid, meaningful. “How can this man give us his flesh?” they rightly ask. Or, in other words, “Stop talking nonsense, Jesus. We need something a little better than your empty, abstract, metaphorical promises.”
To this angry demand, Jesus responds by insisting like a grumpy child on the point he has already made. “I am telling you the truth,” he says, both to the crowd gathered around him in Capernaum and to us. “The truth of the matter is, if you don’t eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Chosen One, you won’t have life in you. Those who do eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.”
And then, we realize as we hear these words we again … the crowd both then and now … we realize that he’s serious. He’s not being metaphorical or speaking abstractly; he really means it … Jesus would give us his flesh to eat and his blood to drink.
Upon hearing it the crowd in Capernaum shrinks back because what Jesus is speaking about has always been regarded as an abomination by the law and the prophets. So, when we hear it we shrink back because it doesn’t make sense with our reason, it doesn’t fit our sensibilities … and if we’re to be honest, it’s just a little gross, sounding closer to cannibalism than it does Christianity. Think about it for a moment ... when is the last time you really paid close attention to the words of Jesus proclaimed each time we celebrate the Holy Meal? “… Jesus, the night before he died, took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: “Take, eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me. After supper, Jesus took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying: “Drink this, all of you; this is my love, poured out for you and for everyone. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.”
For the last two weeks we have looked at this sixth chapter of John’s story and have connected it to our faith and, particularly, to the sacraments and the way they create and nourish our faith. But now, in the third week, we finally encounter the heart of it all. In these verses we begin to recognize just what is at stake for Jesus and just how much we are worth to him. In these verses, he offers to us his very own flesh and blood which will flow freely from his hands, feet, and side, also for our sake. A gift freely given to ALL people without hesitation or reservation … a gift of love, hope, grace and redemption for ALL!
For two weeks we have read, studied, and struggled to understand what Jesus means by speaking of the bread of life and the food from heaven. This third week Jesus makes himself far too plain. In this passage, Jesus gets all too determined in his imagery in order to teach us of the carnal God, the God who takes on flesh … becomes just like us, so that we may one day be like God.
For in Jesus, the Word made flesh … and in the sacraments, the Word given physical, visible form we meet the God who will be satisfied with nothing less than our whole selves. This is why Jesus speaks of giving us his flesh and blood which refers to the whole person, hearts, minds, spirit, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, concerns, everything. In Jesus the whole of God meets us to love, redeem, and sustain the whole of who we are, good, bad, and ugly.
The God who comes for our whole selves. In one sense, this sums up all of John’s testimony to Jesus. For throughout his story we have encountered some of the most familiar images describing the relationship of Jesus and those who believe in him: Jesus is the shepherd and we are the sheep; he is the vine and we are the branches; he abides in God and we abide in him. “In this passage, however,” as Dr. Anderson, my systematic theology professor writes, ‘language is pressed to the limits to express the indissoluble union and inextricable participation of one life in another. For those who receive Jesus, the whole Jesus, his life clings to their bones and courses through their veins. He can no more be taken from the believer’s life than last Tuesday’s breakfast can by plucked from one’s body.”
This is the promise which God makes to us in the Sacraments: to be one with us and for us forever, to stick with us and even in us no matter what.
So perhaps in language as vivid as we can muster that each and every time we celebrate the Holy Meal God comes to us once again to offer us a promise made so concrete and solid so that we can touch and feel, taste and eat it. For in these common physical elements, we have God’s promise that God not only cares about our births and deaths, our relationships and our jobs, our successes and our failures, but that God has also joined God’s own self to them and to us through Jesus, the Word made flesh and given for us.
So once again I invite you to come to the altar to receive this precious gift. Come to eat and drink this promise. Come prepared to meet the God who meets us exactly where we are. Come to receive the real food of Jesus that we might have support in living in this very real and difficult world. Come, finally, to meet the God who offers us, not just meaning, but life itself, life in and through Jesus both now and forever.