Proverbs 9: 1-6
Psalms 34: 9-14
Ephesians 5: 15-20
John 6: 51-58
We’ve come to the penultimate partition of this periscope from the Gospel of John, this sixth chapter. It’s a long chapter and I know some preachers, most, smarter than I am, who schedule vacation and sabbatical in order to skip this portion of the lectionary cycle. How often can one person talk about bread? Just how far does one person want to go with the phrase “I am the bread of life?” A lot of this is probably projection. Many congregants also miss some of these texts because they’re on vacation, if they can afford it, enjoying whatever perks of life this “bread” can buy. Others are hunkering down at home, trying to beat the heat.
So you see already the purpose and intention of John – it’s not to recount the deeds of Jesus. As John says, if he were to recount all those, the world itself could not contain the books of his deeds. So John instead wants us to enter into the mystery of Christ. John wants us to believe in that mystery, so we can see God at work in our lives and in the world. As we say sometimes in our prayer at communion, let us proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.” The “is” is important. He did not rise to fall again, but to raise the rest of us, who have fallen. The problem here, though, is the text. Are we supposed to believe this?
“Thou who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, … and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is the flesh and my blood is true drink.” You probably want to disbelieve this almost as much as Jesus’ disciples wish to disbelieve it. In fact, according to John, people left Jesus when he started talking like this. Nowadays we’ll eat a placenta, if its your own after pregnancy. But no-one – or to be completely realistic, almost no-one, wants to eat someone’s body and someone’s blood.
So, this is a weird thing to promise. If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will not die! It sounds about right if its’ said as if Bela Lugosi was saying it in his best Transylvanian accent. And this is another weird part of the text – why would Jesus say those who eat his body and drink his blood will not die – and in the same breath say he will raise people up on the last day?
But let’s put that to the side for a minute. It’d be easier for me to say, “Well Jesus is just speaking here of his death and resurrection, that’s his blood and body. And drinking means having faith in Christ. Luther himself said this – especially since next week he says the flesh is usless and the Spirit gives life. Eating and drinking mean trusting and believing in Christ. And yet – in just a moment, we will gather around this table and hear that a little bit of bread is Christ’s body for you, and a little bit of grape is Christ’s blood for you. Wouldn’t it be better if we didn’t say such a thing? It wouldn’t be communion if we didn’t, though, especially because Jesus – in the night he was betrayed…
So what are we doing here? What have we come here to do? What have we come here to be? His followers were bewildered at his words, and some left Jesus for what he has said. But we have come to a place where we do not limit the work of God, nor seek to explain away all the things we find mysterious, or alarming, or uncomfortable. Rather we have come to be transformed by Jesus, to have the eyes of our hearts enlightened, to encounter God. And God doesn’t come to us one way, but by every way we can receive God – our minds, our bodies, our souls – all receiving all of God simultaneously. And so the answer to this passage is yes – yes Christ is risen and present in our Holy communion. Yes, Christ also means we are to believe him and his word, and we eat and drink with the body of faith in Christ’s life and death on the cross. We believe, and then see – for in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory… full of grace and truth. From his fulness we have received, grace upon grace.”
Grace upon grace. This is the way to understand this passage. It is about the Eucharist, but the Eucharist is not about itself. It’s about God fulfilling God’s promise to save and redeem us, a lost and fallen humanity, by giving his only son for us, raising him up so that his life fills all in all. The Eucharist, our holy meal, is about grace upon grace, the fulness of Christ, who Paul says fills all in all, coming to fill us – mind, soul, and body.
This is the glory of the Lord, this meal. It is nothing fancy – just like the eternal word coming to be a human being, do die. And yet it is much more than it seems – it is Christ, in flesh, for us to believe and share and eat. This is more than it appears, and it makes us more than who we are. This feast makes us part of the body, that flesh, that blood, that life, that love, by which God so loved the world that he gave his only Son – for life.
The Reverend John Flack