Preached on 19 August 2018 at Church of the Ascension, Seattle, Washington
The thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, Proper 15, (thematic track)
Today’s gospel is disturbingly graphic. It’s visceral. My gut reaction is to resist and reject what Jesus says. Along with the Jews, I ask, “How can this be?”
So, let’s spend some time with it. Remember, while the lectionary gives us bits and pieces, John’s gospel has a long trajectory with each part further developing what has gone before.
We started this Bread of Life series three weeks ago with Jesus performing a sign – feeding a multitude of people with a small amount of food, five loaves of bread and two dried fish. We are now in the third week of Jesus’ interpretation of the sign. It began with a dialogue about his identity; that he is God; the God who provides sustenance in our lives.
Throughout the discourse, Jesus refers back to the time in the wilderness when God brought the Israelites out of the land of slavery in Egypt. Our lives are sustained through believing in him where believing is about a deep abiding relationship with God.
Last week, we took a detour to celebrate the Transfiguration. We missed the part with Jesus talking about where he comes from; his Origins. He is the bread that came down from heaven to give life to the world. He is God; he is from God. He extended those origins to all whom God sends him; all who believe in him. They, too, are of God.
Today, he takes it one step further. “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he says. “The bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Just two chapters earlier, he promised the Samaritan woman that he would give her living water. Just as God gave them manna from heaven and water from a rock in the desert, Jesus gives living bread and living water.
But we have to go back even further – all the way to chapter 1. In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus, God became a flesh and blood human being. And the bread that he gives is his flesh – the same word. The living bread that he gives is his life: birth to death and beyond. In Jesus, God embraces human life.
John’s focus is the incarnation. Make no mistake, John is making it absolutely clear that Jesus is as human as you and I. “How can ‘this man’ give us his flesh to eat?” the Jews ask. In other words, this ordinary man, this living man, How can he give us his flesh, the meat of his body, to chew? I did say today’s gospel was disturbingly graphic.
At the same time, John is proclaiming that Jesus is from God; Jesus is returning to God; Jesus is God. And just as the living Father sent him and Jesus has life from the Father, those who eat his flesh and drink his blood truly have life, eternal life; life from him.
This passage is about as close as John gets to talking about Eucharist, Holy Communion. And he puts it, not at the hour of his death, but smack dab in the middle of Jesus’ life in a discourse focused on Incarnation – on Jesus’ earthly life – given in the context of a communal meal.
How does this incarnational focus expand our experience of Communion? When we think about Jesus living for our sake so that we might have eternal life in our own lives.
And what does he mean when he says you must eat his flesh and drink his blood in order to have life in you. It literally means “chew my flesh like meat.” The words are so graphic, repugnant, even, it’s clear that he means something deeper.
Perhaps, if we look a bit more closely at the promise he offers we will get an idea.
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life; those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them… so … they will live because of me.
God, in Jesus, fully embraces and engages human life. Jesus gives us the sustenance we need to truly live. It’s about more than bread and water and even meat. If we just think about food or look at it or even if we smell it, we will still be hungry; we will starve. No, in order to have life, we have to step up and bite into it and chew it up and swallow it.
To have life in Jesus, we must consume him. This is intimate, deep engagement. Jesus gives all of himself for the life of all the world. This is where God has chosen to meet us – as Incarnation; living among us.
It is where we meet God.
The promise is abundant life; life in the presence of God here and now and always. It is Jesus abiding within us; within you, within me. It is you abiding in Jesus – the whole of your being; nothing held back.
Perhaps Jesus is saying, “The bread that I give, this living bread – my self, my life with you and in you – is as vital to your life as the bread and the fish I fed the crowd.
Jesus living for the life of the world, living bread, living water.
Holy food for Holy people.