The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost; Proper 15B (Aug. 16, 2015)
Lessons:Proverbs 9:1-6 Psalm 34:9-14 Ephesians 5:15-20 St. John 6:51-58
Semicontinuous Series: 1st 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 ©1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
”Whoever Eats Me Will Live because of Me.”
I love to imagine the original setting for the words of Jesus. Where were they gathered? Who was present? What events prompted his words? How did his audience respond? How did the religious officials react (always an interesting question…)? What event(s) took place just before or just after the saying? Often it is the case that addressing questions like these helps the reader understand what Jesus is trying to teach us, and leads to a much more fruitful reading of the text.
That said, as we use these kinds of questions to help us identify with his original listeners, this weekend’s Gospel had to be one of the most confusing statements he ever made to them.
It is recorded in the sixth chapter of John — quite early, actually, in John’s 21 chapter narrative. Jesus has performed miracles of feeding, and the crowd is impressed. No doubt experiencing physical hunger, they follow him around the country mostly, it seems, because of the bread he provides. But now he tries to stretch their understanding. He is shifting his focus from the bread that fills the stomach and sustains the body, to the bread that fills the soul and sustains faith.
Long before Maundy Thursday; long before his passion; long before his resurrection, long before the events that will give meaning to the meal his followers will celebrate in his name, Jesus speaks these words to his listeners. At best, one imagines them leaving the synagogue in Capernaum completely bewildered. (Verses 60 and 66 suggests exactly this…) “Whoever eats me.” — what can this possibly mean to someone who has never heard of his Last Supper? “Will live because of me.” — what can this possibly mean to someone who has never heard of his resurrection?
Years later, though, the early church will come to understand how important these words are. Having instituted the meal (“This is my body… this is my blood…”) and commissioned his followers (“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations…”), Jesus now becomes their source of life. Opposed by many of their Jewish brothers and sisters, persecuted by the Roman Emperor and his armies, misunderstood by almost everyone else, these faithful ancestors of ours took great comfort from the meal; great strength from the presence of Christ in the bread and the wine.
This weekend, at Saint Peter and at most Lutheran churches throughout the world, we will gather for the same meal. We will celebrate the real presence of Jesus in the bread and the wine. We will recall the story of salvation that gives us meaning and hope. We will take comfort and strength from this gathering, and we will indeed live because of him.
Thank God for this source of life. May our weekly gathering strengthen us, as it did the people of the early church. And fed and nourished by our Lord, may we love him profoundly, and serve him faithfully.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- What did Jesus mean that “eating him” will lead to life?
- How must his followers have responded to this saying?
- What did the early church come to believe about these words?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- When has participating in Holy Communion given me new life?
- In what ways am I changed when I receive the bread and wine?
- What do I most appreciate about participating in this meal?