Give us Life
Scripture: John 6: 56-69
Sermon: “Give us Life”
I will always remember my 7th grade teacher. Mr. Gray. He was 10 feet tall (or so it seemed). We affectionally called him Ichabod Crane. He was actually a very kind man. I will always remember him, because I never understood a thing he said, at least the first time around. He taught me Algebra. He would teach the whole class, make an assignment, and the class would begin working. Everyone, but me. I would stall for about 10 minutes, pretending to scribble frantically and to my relief the bell would ring. I had enough time before my next class to approach his desk--on a daily basis--and ask him to repeat basically verbatim everything he had just said, but it enabled me to stop him throughout, ask again, have it explained a little slower, until finally I got it.
We are back this Sunday in the book of John, Chapter 6. A few weeks ago, I was preaching on the bread of life, bread that lasts. There was even another bread passage given in our lectionary in early August, but our guest preacher decided you might need a ‘bread break.’ Now, I get it…you’re probably thinking “We’ve already heard Jaylynn’s BREAD sermon—but she keeps bringing it back up.” Well, it’s not me! Blame Jesus. He won’t let it rest. But he’s not waiting for us to “get it” or understand it fully the first time we’ve heard it. He’s waiting for us to “accept it.” John 6 is a long discourse about bread and blood, eating and drinking, and life! Here we area again…
If you remember from a few weeks ago the feeding of the five thousand, then this whole bread discourse takes place following that miracle. Dominic Crossan points out that “one of the most popular visual representations of Jesus in the early years of the Christian movement was the feeding of the multitude. Long before Christians portrayed Christ crucified they showed him breaking bread.” No doubt, it is important to our Christian faith and our Christian walk.
From the miraculous feeding earlier in Chapter 6, as well as an echo of the salvation story of manna in Exodus 16. Here, Jesus is the new manna—giving life to believers.
In John’s gospel, commentators find that “faith is a central concept, yet the noun itself never occurs. The verb “Believe,” however, occurs more than eighty times, more often than in all the letters of Paul taken together.” Ted Lasso understands this. He pasted “BELIEVE” up on the locker room for his players to see every time they leave the locker room. If you don’t know about Ted Lasso, it’s okay. I just thought I’d throw that in there.
Alright, back to the Scripture: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will abide in me, and I in them.” I had a parishioner ask me about this passage once. They said “What is all this mess about eating Jesus?” I get it. It does sound strange.
Barbara Brown Taylor notes that “in all the other gospels, Jesus calls this bread his body. In John’s gospel, he calls it his flesh.” It’s a little harder to “swallow” eating someone’s flesh, isn’t it? The body of Christ sounds much more poetic. So, what Jesus was saying was in a word “offensive.” We can begin to understand even more why this was hard teaching for the disciples to accept…difficult to understand, and would take courage to follow.
Jesus, however, doesn’t let up. Instead of slowing down and explaining it a little clearer, he keeps offending by saying more! “What if [he says] you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” Leaving the disciples all looking up at his heels? That didn’t exactly explain all the hard teaching he had said previously to them. In fact, it only made it more complicated! This becomes a spiritual matter, not just a fleshly matter. Taylor writes of the disciples “If they were going to follow [Jesus] all the way, then they were going to have to give up their need to understand, agree, or approve of everything he said or did. They were going to have to believe him, even when what he said offended them. They were going to have to trust him, even when what he did went against everything they had been taught.”
I feel like I’m back in 7th grade Algebra. Needing an explanation. Needing someone to break it down for us to “get it.” The disciples were hoping Jesus would explain a little bit clearer, so that they could with confidence know what to do next. But guess what? It wasn’t even theirs to decide. The Scripture says “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” God chooses us! Where else are we gonna go? Who else can give such life? The confidence in knowing what comes next is simply to follow the One who knows the Way.
This particular image of us eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood is often referred to as the “Scandal of Particularity.” If I were to ask you where God was—would you say up in the sky, or everywhere? Everywhere. Is God immortal? Yes. Is God eternal? Yes. So when Christians say that God is in Israel, or in Christ, or in the church, or in the eucharist, it’s scandalous! Because, it’s as if we are saying that God is present in a way that God is not elsewhere. So, today, when we read that Jesus is in the bread and wine—it sounds pretty scandalous, doesn’t it?
I grew up in a German-Catholic farming community. I’m not German, nor Catholic, nor did I grow up on a farm—but every friend I had, was and did! Every time I went to church with them, they had communion. Every time communion took place, bells rang as the elements were being presented. Why? Catholics believe that the miracle happens every time—that right there the bread and wine is turned into the body of Christ. It’s called Trans-substantiation. The accidents look the same, but the substance changes. It looks like bread and wine, but it’s not. It’s the body and blood of Christ. This can be confusing to some. There was one little girl who took one look at the red wine and screamed “yuk” I don’t want to drink Jesus’ blood. Understandable! Let me explain…When you or I were born, we were who we are. Jaylynn, Duane, Herb, Jean, Barry and so on. However, in the midst of who we are, we change a lot, right? I’ve put on a few pounds, our hair will gray, our skin will age. We will change, yet we are still the same. Make sense? The eucharist, however, reverses that. The accidents (being the bread and the wine) look the same all the time, but the substance changes into the body and blood of Christ.
We Protestants believe this, too, sort of. We believe that yes, it is really Jesus we partake of in the bread and wine. It’s just that we go on to say that we don’t know how. We don’t explain it by trans-substantiation. We call it a mystery. And it is only by faith, that our earthly bodies can believe in this holy mystery of bread and wine, becoming flesh and blood, eaten up by us, so that it may consume us and God’s Spirit be at work in this world. Scandalous!
Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper, can be talked about in a number of ways. Charles Wesley wrote the hymn “Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast,” which says all of us sinners are welcomed by the grace of God to partake in the body and blood of Christ. The Eucharist is also a place where strangers are gathered around a table and become friends because of the common bond of Christ. Coming and receiving the body and blood of Christ make us in communion with Christ, and therefore, in communion with all those saints who have gone before us. In eating the bread, in drinking the cup, we all get a taste. We are filled for this moment. Just a glimpse of our eternal life sitting at the feast of the heavenly banquet with Jesus Christ.
All of these images are beautiful and correct in their own right. But what about today’s Scripture? What is it trying to tell us about Eucharist? I think it is telling us that this indeed is a mystery. It doesn’t matter how slow Jesus talks, or how many times he says it, chances are, we still won’t completely understand it. But he won’t let up. It’ll come back to us again and again. Jesus will remind us that when we eat his flesh and drink his blood, we will abide in him, and he in us. It is the mystery of Christ in us.
How do we accept this teaching? Fleming Rutledge gives us a great analogy for this bread, and Jesus. This is what she suggests to do. It’s a mental exercise. “Picture yourself at a cocktail party. One of the waiters comes up to you with a platter of very fattening hors d’oeuvres. Your response is to say, “No, thank you.” If you are feeling especially determined, you might even say, “I don’t need that!” But imagine, Rutledge writes, “that your host comes up to you with his hand outstretched. Would you say ‘I don’t need you?” It becomes personal. It’s less a statement about what you need or don’t need, will accept or won’t accept, it becomes a personal rejection. Which is exactly what it is. Jesus is offering you everything about him, everything in him, everything that makes him God and man. He’s willing to give himself to you. Now, could you possibly swallow that? To whom would you go? It is Jesus who gives us life. It is Jesus who gives us eternal life, through his body—his flesh, and his blood. From the cross, to the grave, from the grave to the sky. From the sky right back down to you, for you. Jesus IS the bread of life, coming down from heaven.
Cynthia Campbell writes “Jesus and bread, eating and feeding, table fellowship and faith, food and life—these things go together…Blessed are we if we do not take offense but are led by these words to abundant life.” It’s true. Many of those disciples did leave when they heard this teaching. Only 12 stayed. And even among the 12, Jesus knew one would betray him. The group got smaller as the stakes got higher. What’s it going to be for you? Do you want part of Jesus in you, so that this holy mystery of faith might be lived out in you? Is it too offensive? There will be more that offends, trust me. God’s Word is unsettling at times. Unsettling because it challenges us to climb out of our sheltered world and see people and situations through God’s eyes.
I don’t think Simon Peter understood what Jesus was saying. But he responded by saying that none other than Jesus had the words of eternal life. So, where else would we go? Whom else would we trust? Where else would we want to be? This is God’s flesh and blood, his outstretched hand, held out for us to take…will we accept it? Amen.
 Feasting on the Word Commentary
 Hare, Douglas. FOW