For the past couple of weeks, we have been reading the Gospel of John about Jesus being the Bread of Life. These have been familiar readings for many of us, as is today’s
But, for many people, this morning’s Gospel reading is a difficult one to read and hear. It is for me. This talk of eating flesh and drinking blood may bring images of horror movies instead of the Gospel. Today’s reading picks up where we left off last week, and just like last week, the Jews started disputing among themselves. And just like last week, Jesus, knowing their hearts and minds, elaborates on what he had just told them. “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
As I reflected on this passage, something drew my attention to that first verse again. Then I saw something I had missed before. I read the verse slowly, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The four words that caught my attention were “that I will give.”
Jesus is telling them what the future holds. He is telling them that he will die, that he will willingly give up his life, give up his flesh, so that the world can live. Perhaps Jesus is talking about the world as a whole, but then again maybe he is talking about the world, one person at a time.
Many scholars and theologians have commented that this passage is talking about Holy Communion, although the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples had not happened yet, and perhaps it is. Certainly the language fits, and in our communion services the bread and the grape juice represents the body and blood of Jesus. During our communion service we pray that the Holy Spirit will transform the bread and grape juice into the body and blood of Jesus for us, but not in the literal sense. Jesus did not intend for people to literally eat his flesh and drink his blood; he was talking in metaphors. This is one of those many instances of when it is not helpful to read the Bible literally.
Interpreting the Scriptures literally is like eating manna. Manna, that light fluffy flaky frostlike stuff that fell on the surface of the ground in the wilderness. The people collected it every morning and ate it helping them survive their journey in the wilderness. Manna was a good thing, but manna didn’t bring life to the children of Israel. It helped them stay physically alive, but didn’t provide the life that Jesus provides.
What Jesus meant goes much deeper than physical bread and wine, or juice. Jesus said the bread he will give for the world is his flesh, his body. When we hear this, we think about his body on the cross. He gave his physical life up for our sake. And that’s true. But there’s another way to think about his physical body that gives additional meaning. Jesus had a body that he lived in. And he used his living body, not to make a better life for himself by storing up treasures and amassing the comforts of life for himself, but he used his body to bring peace, and joy, and healing, and wholeness to others.
So when he said: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”, he meant “unless we take in and absorb all the things Jesus said in his lifetime, we won’t live the abundant life God promised us.” The quality of life God has prepared for us will be realized when we feed the hungry, when we take care of the sick, when we clothe the naked, when we shelter the homeless, when we visit the prisoners, and when we bring good news to the poor. To eat the body of Christ is to let Jesus’ actions become part of who we are.
The same is true with the wine. Remember, he was speaking in metaphors. Jewish law prohibits a person from drinking the blood of an animal. The blood flowing through an animal is what gives it life. It is what brings nourishment to each cell of the body, it is how oxygen is delivered to the cells, it supports life itself, and without it, there is no physical life.
So there is a deeper meaning, and it is that as blood is the power that gives the body physical life, love is the power behind Jesus’s actions. So, in a way, the wine, or grape juice symbolizes the love that motivated the actions of Jesus. And he poured out his life-blood, his love, for the sake of the world.
When we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and we take the bread and hear the words “this is the body of Jesus broken for you, or this is the bread of life, and this is the cup of salvation” we are talking about more than bread and wine to nourish our physical bodies, we are talking about ingesting the actions of Jesus, the love of Jesus and making them part of who we are, so we can become more like Christ.
It is when we consume the example of Jesus’s life and drink the love that motivated him to give up living for himself alone, taking it all in and absorbing it so that it becomes a part of us that we will understand the abundant life that Jesus came to give us.
Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. There is a difference between living and being alive. To be alive is to exist, but to live, to have life in us, to have Jesus in us, is to live the abundant life God has promised us, and the way we can do this is to serve and to love as Jesus loves us.
In Ephesians, Paul tells the Church to be careful in how they live, to live as wise people, not as unwise, to make the most of their time, and to discern the will of God. He urges them to sing Psalms and Hymns and to be filled with the Spirit, giving thanks to God for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is good advice for us as well.
We all have a choice we make, whether we will follow Jesus or not. It is not a one-time decision, but a decision we make constantly, every day, many times a day. Whenever we encounter a situation that challenges our faith, we choose. We can choose to respond to these situations with love, and compassion, and forgiveness as Jesus demonstrated and calls us to do, or we can choose to respond as those who do not follow Jesus, but who are consumed by the world respond. Let us live as wise people. Let us eat the flesh and drink the blood of Jesus, Let us abide in Jesus and Jesus abide in us. Let us live, truly live the abundant life promised to us, because of Jesus, and not just exist.
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God,
in your wisdom, you made all things
and sustain them by your power.
You formed us in your image,
putting us in this world to love you and to serve you,
and to live in peace with each other.
When we rebelled against you
and refused to trust and obey you,
you did not reject us.
You sent prophets to call us back to your way.
When we did not listen to them,
out of your great love for the world,
you sent your Son to be one of us,
to redeem us and heal our brokenness.
Jesus lived as one of us, knowing joy and sorrow,
he healed the sick,
he fed the hungry,
he opened blind eyes,
he broke bread with outcasts and sinners,
and proclaimed the good news of your kingdom to the poor and the needy.
He died on the cross.
your Son Jesus Christ, gave himself as living bread
for the life of the world.
Give us such a knowledge of his presence
that we may be strengthened
and sustained by his risen life
to serve you continually;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen
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