FOR THE Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, in the Gospel According to Saint John we continue to read a teaching given by Jesus. Within the text of this discourse for today, given by our Savior in a synagogue, is an eternal fact laid out knowingly before Jewish religious leaders of the day. Jesus said…
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51–58)
True Food and Drink?
As hearers of this reading from church pulpits, we join the early congregations of John in noting a rather subtle shift in the nature of the audience gathered before our Lord. Rather than addressing only the people of the synagogue located in the city of Capernaum, suddenly we find that our author communicates that Jesus was speaking before “the Jews”. Using that term, he denoted the attendance of religious leaders which had come from the Temple to hear Jesus. Therefore Jesus was speaking to those of both high and low social and economic status. He spoke to believers and unbelievers.
The radical description that Jesus gave of himself, first that he had come down from heaven and second that he was the flesh and blood of sacrifice… caused great turmoil and misunderstanding in the midst of those gathered. Even now in today’s world, the meaning of what he said has caused differences of opinion in his church. Therefore we need to clearly unpack the meaning of what he taught.
Throughout John’s gospel witness we find that he writes often with double meanings. Just when it seems that we have wrapped our mind around the abstract meaning of Jesus words, our author reveals yet another subsequent meaning which overlaps that which was said. So it is I believe, with this message as we read it. If we as God’s people, baptized in water and the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, can come to grips with the abstract concept that Jesus is indeed the “Bread of Life”, then our author wonderfully leads us farther… to know that we of the modern church are also strengthened by the eating of his body and drinking of his blood… that which was broken and poured out by our Lord for the forgiveness of our sins.
Remain in Me!
As Christians, we are thus drawn from being mired in a moldy loaf of unbelief like those in the synagogue, and firmly kneaded by the Spirit. We begin to grasp the greater reality of just what our Lord meant by the word “remains” or “abides”. The Greek word, “menei” means “abide with” in describing such closeness that eternal oneness of body and spirit is accomplished. Therefore Jesus was relating to his followers within that synagogue, and later the church of John, and to our own faith communities… concerning his eternal remaining with us. Participating in the same way, the communion of bread and wine that we share exists as a blessed sign which participates in this real abiding of Jesus Christ in our lives. Hence we know the true forgiveness of God.
You see, our Lord Jesus comes to us each and every time we receive the Holy Eucharist. Jesus with very real presence, the most real presence… comes to us in the body of Jesus broken and his blood poured out… provided within the elements of the bread and wine distributed from the altar. With this miraculous gift God provides. God marvelously turned the horrid cannibalistic language of death wherein one must die so that another may live... into the words of saving grace that we use in the worship experiences of the church… even unto this day. As the finite we are invited to partake of the Infinite! We are invited by the Holy Spirit into participation of that real Sacrament established by Jesus Christ during the Last Supper.
Our author John revealed that all who thus come to the Table are united eternally with believers from every age. In receiving such grace with them, we too are forgiven our sinfulness. In this way we who are yet sinful are empowered by that same Spirit, to leave a loving sanctuary and proclaim his message of deliverance to “the Jews” and those who were indeed caught in unbelief in our own day. This holds true no matter their heritage, nationality or error. This indeed I believe is the message related by John to his churches, and to us. To this may we only answer in eternal thanksgiving, and say to our Lord, “Give us your loving food always!”