Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost -- Proper 15 (8/16/2009)
Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood
Lessons: Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34:9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 St. John 6:51-58 Semicontinuous Series: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 Psalm 111
Prayer of the Day: Ever-loving God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world. Fill us with such a knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained by his risen life to serve you continually, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
6:51 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." 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" 53 So 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. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This 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."
St. John 6:51-58 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
They are disturbing words, actually. "Eat my flesh. Drink my blood." No wonder some outsiders in the first century called these followers of Jesus cannibals. No wonder Jesus' own listeners found themselves confused. No wonder the religious authorities of the day were offended. (verse 52: "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?") No wonder countless affiliations of Christians today have a hard time agreeing on exactly what happens when believers gather to share the Sacrament of Holy Communion. They are disturbing words. The route to eternal life includes eating the flesh of Jesus of Nazareth, and drinking his blood.
Today we speak of it in much more carefully nuanced terms. Our Lutheran founders taught us to say that "the real presence of the risen Christ is in, with, and under the elements of bread and wine." This means that while the bread and wine don't actually change, Jesus comes to us through this bread, and is truly present with us in a way that renews our relationship with God and strengthens us for the future. At this point we take issue with our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters (who claim that the bread and wine are actually "transformed" into body and blood) and with our friends in the Reformed traditions (who tend to see the presence of Christ in this meal as being more symbolic than actual). We affirm these words of Jesus: it is his flesh that we eat and it is his blood that we drink, even if the physical essence of the bread and wine doesn't change. Mystery is present; a mystery that can only be embraced by the believer in faith.
These are disturbing words. Yet with these disturbing words, Jesus invites us to receive the greatest gift ever given: the knowledge that God delights in giving the promise of eternity to those who eat and drink in this way.
God's nature is to bless abundantly. During Israel's time of wandering in the wilderness, God provided bread (and meat) for them every day. It was a gracious gift, and it was their salvation in a land where food was scarce. Yet that gift sustained the faithful only for a time. Those who ate "manna from heaven" grew old and died. Those who eat the body and blood of Jesus - those who eat this "bread of life" - to those, Jesus gives the promise of eternal life. Death will no longer have the final say. But through and beyond the gate of death, lies an eternity with the God who created us, who died for us, who accompanies us throughout our life's journey, who meets us in the meal, and who stands ready to welcome us home when our time on this earth is complete.
This is no ordinary meal, this Holy Communion. Jesus knew that. The early church knew that. The writer of John's Gospel knew that. And in recent years, our Lutheran family has rediscovered it. Many of us, now, turn to this meal each Sunday, and receive the presence of Christ, bringing us strength and hope and faith and joy.
As we eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus, may we be aware of God's presence in our midst, and its rich and powerful blessings.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week's Gospel:
- What might the disciples of Jesus have thought, upon hearing these words?
- In what way were these words important to the early church?
- How does Jesus' invitation to "eat flesh" and "drink blood" inform our understanding of what Holy Communion means?
Connecting with This Week's Gospel:
- How have I come to understand Jesus' presence at the communion table?
- How do I prepare myself to receive him each week, in the bread and the wine?
- What does the promise of an eternity with God mean to me?