Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34: 9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 John 6:51-58
I can’t help but wonder what we could do with today’s gospel reading if we took everything literality. Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the world is my flesh.”
This is where the Gospel of John starts to sound a bit creepy – and the people gathered struggle with what they are hearing. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat,” they ask. Jesus continues, “Those 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 true food and my blood is true drink.”
Cannibalism – that is what comes to mind here, but fortunately we know that Jesus uses metaphors to make his points. We also know that the people hearing what he says often fail to grasp the true meaning of his metaphors and parables. Therein lies the problem for the people hearing these words. The challenge is to get past the Halloween images of eating flesh and drinking blood and consider what the bread and wine represent, then focus on what Jesus means when he says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
The people listening to Jesus are certainly struggling and I understand why, they are taking what he is saying too literally and fail to connect what he is saying with our passage from Proverbs. In Proverbs, we are told that Wisdom has built her house and prepared a meal for those who are “simple” and to those who are “without sense,” a meal of bread and wine. “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
The Book of Proverbs is a collection of teachings to help the young and immature develop the wisdom necessary to avoid foolish mistakes. So here, Wisdom is inviting them to a feast where they will be feed and learn truth and gain insight to help them through life.
The idea, then, that the bread and wine might mean something more than food and drink was nothing new – but the people listening to Jesus, failed to grasp its meaning. What, then, did bread mean in that day and time that the people failed to understand? It was the poor and desperate who were without food – so having bread meant you had what you needed and that you were not without hope.
In this portion of John’s Gospel Jesus refers to “the bread that came down from heaven, that which your ancestors ate.” Jesus is referring to the manna, the bread that came from heaven each day to sustain their ancestors while they were in the wilderness. Thus, bread represents a gift from God which sustains life.
Their ancestors had been desperate when God provided them with this bread from heaven as nourishment for their bodies. Jesus, however, reminds the people that their ancestors died. He then says that he is the “living bread that came down from heaven.” So, Jesus, like the manna, is a gift from God, but like wisdom he is offering them something more. He offers his flesh that they might live. To make sense of what Jesus is saying, we need to remember how the Gospel of John begins.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” A few versus further, John says, “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” Jesus is the Word made flesh, so by eating his flesh, we are consuming the Word, God’s grace and truth. This bread from heaven is the living Word of God send to nourish our souls. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life,” Jesus says.
If his flesh is the Word, which is God, then why does Jesus then refer to drinking his blood? We need more than just grace and truth if our new life in Christ is to be sustained, and that is why we need the blood of Christ within us. Blood, then and today, is understood as being what is necessary for life to continue. The blood pumping through our veins is what sustains our bodies. The practice of draining the blood of animals before consuming the meat began because the people believed that the life force of the animal was contained in the blood, and they wanted to return its life force to the earth. Thus, the Blood of Christ represents our life force. It is that which in necessary for us to be alive-to be truly alive.
At communion we receive the bread and wine as reminders that Christ fills our souls and sustains us in our lives. Jesus says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” By receiving the bread and wine in communion we are inviting Christ into our daily lives that he might work through us. The food and drink that Jesus offers is the knowledge of his truth, the knowledge of God’s liberating and live giving love. It is what gives us the strength to do God’s will as we gain faith to love and serve the Lord.
Let us pray.
Lord Christ, open our heart that we may truly receive you into our lives, that we may abide in you and you in us as we go forth today. We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.