John 6: 51-58.
We all want to be healthy, and we worry when we’re sick. So, we protect our bodies when we do things which we know might injure us; And we try to avoid cuts at all costs. If you’re like most people, you suffer when your body receives a cut.
We find it hard to think of injuring ourselves on purpose for any reason, and the sight of blood for many people is something which makes them look away.
So it’s almost impossible to think about giving our flesh for someone to eat; and it’s easy for us to imagine the reaction from those who heard the words of Jesus about eating his body.
Jesus said in the gospel passage we heard just now, that he was the “living bread that came down from heaven”. He told us that this bread is “his flesh which he would give for the life of the world” and that “whoever eats his flesh and drinks his blood would have eternal life and would be raised up on the last day.”
Try to imagine the effect that such words would have had on a Jewish crowd. For them, just as for us, even thinking about eating the flesh of another person was repulsive. It was, and still is, against the Jewish Law to eat animal flesh from which the blood hasn’t been properly drained. The Jews would have found these words of Jesus absolutely horrific.
And there’s more! Jesus goes on to say that he shares God’s life in a special way and wants to bring other people into this relationship with God through sharing his own life, his own flesh and blood, with them.
To the Jews, this would have been blasphemy.
So then, how can we take these difficult words? What do they mean for our relationship with Jesus?
Well, first of all we need to realise that even modern religious practice makes use of ancient ideas.
It’s a fact that every life lives off another living thing. Many pagan religions recognised this, and would often hold sacred meals in which they thought they were sharing in the life of their god . They believed that by eating meat sacrificed to their god, they would share in their god‘s life.
And Christianity uses this kind of language as a way of understanding how believers take divine life into themselves. The beginning of St.John’s gospel tells us that at the incarnation the “Word was made flesh”.
This is the same as saying that the flesh of Christ contains God’s life for us all.
It’s easy to understand that food and life go together. Unless we eat we die. Food, symbolised by bread, which will of course eventually rot, keeps us in physical life, which as we know, ends in death. This was the bread, or manna, which Moses gave to Israel in the desert.
Living bread for the Christian Community, which is the new Israel, keeps us in a lasting life that triumphs over death. If we want lasting life we must eat this bread of life.
God the Father, gives Jesus, the bread from heaven. The work of Jesus is to give lasting life to believers. This is the work which God has given him. And our work is to believe this. Eating and drinking can be understood as taking the very life of Jesus into the centre of our hearts.
We need to saturate our hearts and our minds and our souls with Jesus, the very life of God. We need to be so filled with him that his very self becomes a part of us.
We know now that the gospel passage which we’ve just heard may be taken as a reference to Holy Communion. Bread can’t be shared until it’s broken. Wine can’t be drunk until it’s poured out. We take the bread and drink from the cup with the knowledge that it was shared with us out of love; as God’s sacrifice for us
The heavenly food is made available through the breaking and bleeding and death of Jesus. This sharing of himself is made mysteriously present in the Eucharist, and Jesus explains that through the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood, we will be raised up with him on the last day. It’s his promise to live through us as we receive him.
In the Eucharist Jesus invites us to the fullness of life that only the Son of God can give. This beginning will lead, through death to a life more glorious than anything we can imagine. Can we pass up such a love as this? Can we honestly turn away from the one who gave himself for us?
Think on these things when you come forward in a few moments, and give thanks to God for the body of Christ that keeps you in eternal life. Remember these words of Jesus:
“ My flesh is real food, and my blood is real drink.” Amen.