Gospel: John 6:51-58 [Jesus said,] 51“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I must confess that I struggled some with the writing of today’s message. I struggled because of what “everybody else says” this text means. They say this text is about the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They say that explicitly, unequivocally, and defiantly. I get that. I hear Jesus speaking about being the bread of life, and that we eat his flesh and drink his blood, and in the entire Gospel attributed to John there is no place that says better what happens in that sacrament.
My struggle is in the limitations this puts on Jesus’ words here. I remember the years I sat in the pew while my parents and all those people older than me went up (it was once a month then) to eat the unleavened bread and to drink from the cup of wine for the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I don’t recall feeling deprived. So what does it mean where Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you”? Was I condemned during those years before I was permitted to receive the elements of Holy Communion?
The difficulty remains in what “everybody else says.” They say Holy Communion must be every Sunday. They say that as a pastor I must push for that. They say this text supports that view… and I say, “Maybe… not…”
This is my mother’s Catechism. I’m not sure how it came into my hands, and I regret that my own catechism somehow disappeared some time through the years. In this catechism, in the notes on Forgiveness of Sins in the Sacrament of Holy Communion, it clearly says that forgiveness is already given to Christians, even before they approach the altar for communion. Then it says this:
Then comes the Lord’s Supper. This Sacrament adds a visible sign and seal. Baptism takes place only once, and perhaps I was too young to remember it. The forgiveness in the Gospel and in the absolution are mine, if I believe; but knowing what a sinner I am, my faith is apt to be weak. I believe that God forgives sins in general, but does that mean me in particular? To strengthen our weak faith and assure us of our personal forgiveness, the Lord has added the Sacrament of the Altar. In it He comes to us individually and says, “Yes, my son, my daughter, it means you. As surely as you know that you have received bread and wine, which you have seen, touched and tasted, so surely you may also know that you have received my body and blood which was given and shed for the remission of your sins.”
That’s from the “Senior Catechism,” published by the Lutheran Book Concern in 1939, page 199.
But Jesus says, “Unless you eat … and drink …, you have no life in you.” And “everybody else says” this means we must eat the bread and drink of the cup every week. Plus, because people come so sporadically, they might miss it for months, or years…
Maybe they have a point there! J
With this text, though, I honestly believe we fall short if we limit it to a description of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I firmly believe this text is actually more than that. Eating the flesh of Jesus is not limited to the sacrament. It’s not limited to the forgiveness of sins so that we may live forever.
After all, do they not also say, “You are what you eat!”?
In the letters, particularly those to the Corinthians and the Ephesians, Paul describes the believers as the body of Christ. Our ELCA is among those who claim that God’s work today is done with our hands.
In today’s text Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” So, what then? It seems to me that if Jesus is abiding in us, that means something more than mere forgiveness of sins in order that we can enter into the resurrection and live forever.
Think about it. The flesh of Jesus, eaten by believers (whether literally in the sacrament, or figuratively as we “digest” the Word), becomes one with us. Jesus lives in us (as some put it). Does that have no effect on our lives? Are we not the body of Christ in this world today?
The flesh of Jesus exists in this world not only in the bread of the sacrament, but in the bodies of all believers WORLDWIDE. As we go forth from this space, we are not merely reassured of God’s love for us, we also carry God’s love for them, for the people in our lives, for those we encounter on the street, as part of our jobs, or in the alleys behind our houses. The flesh of Jesus lives in us. How is it that we foster his work in this world? How does the presence of Jesus in us affect how we live each day, how we work, how we interact with others?
At the youth gathering in Houston, a song was performed that emphasized how all kinds of different people participate in God’s love and share God’s kingdom, even though all these different people look and live very differently from one another. The song is titled, “This Is Me!” It speaks of how people often work to put us down, telling us we’re not worthy, that we should hide or run away because no one will love us as we are.
Then the singer gathers strength to say, “I won’t let them break me down to dust.” Later, there’s momentum, “When the sharpest words wanna cut me down, I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out. I am brave, I am bruised, I am who I’m meant to be, this is me.”
Later, I learned that his song comes from a movie called “The Greatest Showman,” about P. T. Barnum. It’s a song of those people called the freaks.
How does the presence of Jesus in us affect how we live each day, how we interact with people viewed by some as freaks? How does the presence of Jesus in us affect how we interact with people we see as different somehow? How does the presence of Jesus in us give us strength when we ourselves are the freaks (the different ones)?
The flesh of Jesus is much more than the bread of the sacrament, it’s the bread of life, in every person who participates as the Body of Christ. Live as the Body of Christ, for the flesh of Jesus lives in us. In Jesus’ name. Amen