We are nearing the end of our summer sermon series, Jesus Unfiltered, where we have been looking straight at the teachings of Christ. We’ve been trying to look at what he’s really saying, and not sugar coating the things that are harder to hear, not adjusting it to say and mean what we would prefer. Jesus unfiltered. We are in our third week of what is called The Manna Discourse where Jesus is explaining how he is like the manna that God used to feed the Israelites as they were wandering in the desert for forty years. In fact, he is explaining how he is better than the manna that they received back then because he will enable the eater, the one that relies on him, to have eternal life.
Jesus is talking to a multitude of Jewish people from all kinds of backgrounds. This is still the day after Jesus fed the 5000 on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. He and the disciples left in the night, and many of the people followed him back to Capernaum. They are joined by the people from town which would include Pharisees, day laborers, merchants, all the regular people from town, and the disciples, of course.
The group goes from wanting more bread from Jesus like they got the day before to Jesus saying that he is the bread, and they need to eat it. Everyone in the group finds this a bit confusing. They are taking him literally. To tell the truth, the first time that I encountered the concept, I found it more than a bit confusing, too. Like the Woman at the Well back in John 4, I wanted to know what kind of water you physically can drink and never be thirsty again. Like the Woman, I wanted to know where you could get that kind of water.
In today’s passage, Jesus goes even further with his language. It is intended to get everyone’s attention, and it does. Let’s look at what he has to say.
John 6:51-58 (NIV)
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 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 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Yes, thanks be to God for this word of the Lord, but it can be challenging to see why at first glance. We hear Jesus say, “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life,” and we think, Really, we are to eat your flesh, Jesus? YUCK!
If we consider what our visceral reaction is to that, it is magnified exponentially by Jewish people. This comes out of the law. One of the places it is addressed is in Leviticus 17 where the Lord says:
“I will set my face against any Israelite or any foreigner residing among them who eats blood, and I will cut them off from the people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, ‘None of you may eat blood, nor may any foreigner residing among you eat blood.’
“Any Israelite or any foreigner residing among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, because the life of every creature is in its blood. [Emphasis mine.] That is why I have said to the Israelites, ‘You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”
You can understand how Jesus’ language would have gotten the crowd’s complete attention. Perhaps you remember from the beginning of this year when we were doing the Chase the Lion series, which featured King David’s Mighty Men. One of the weeks we looked at a passage where David is hiding out in a cave while the Philistines are occupying his hometown of Bethlehem. He says out loud to himself how much he would like a drink of water from the well in Bethlehem. Three of the greatest Mighty Men, Josheb, Eleazar, and Shammah, made a mad dash over to Bethlehem and covertly got the water and brought it back to David.
The amazing thing is that David didn’t drink it. He poured it out on the ground “before the Lord” the passage reads. (2 Sam 23:16) He says, “Far be it from me, Lord, to do this! … Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?” (2 Sam 23:17) He did not want to appear to benefit from their willingness to risk their lives for him. The water went on the ground as an offering to the Lord in light of the law and what they risked for him. He just couldn’t drink it.
This episode out of David’s history can help us to understand what Jesus means by eating his flesh and drinking his blood. If you want to benefit from what I [Jesus] am offering, you must eat my flesh and drink my blood. If you do this, you will live forever. Based on what happened with David and his Mighty Men, we can see that Jesus is NOT saying that anyone should become cannibals or break the Jewish prohibition of drinking the blood of any creature.
Jesus means what David meant. David refused to drink the figurative blood of his men who risked so much, to benefit from chance they took. Here putting his own twist on it, Jesus is going to sacrifice his life, to the benefit of all those who believe, trust, rely upon him. Through this we effectively eat his flesh and drink his blood.
All of this is to illustrate the relationship the connection that we can have with Jesus. It is this abiding, remaining, hanging out with Jesus. It is illustrating the mutuality of it all. Think about the food that you eat every day, the last meal you ate, whether it was breakfast this morning or maybe supper last night. We eat the food. It is digested and enters our blood stream nourishing our bodies. It becomes part of us. Look at your hands. The cells of our skin were created by the food we’ve eaten.
When we feed on Jesus as the bread from heaven, he becomes a part of us, a part of our being. In verse 56 Jesus says, “Whoever, eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” There is this mutuality about it, an interconnectedness, a closeness that may be more than we’re comfortable with. There is a communion, complete connection.
If any of this makes you think of the Lord’s Supper or Communion, you are on the right track. It is symbolic of this feeding on Jesus, but it is a Holy Mystery too. There is something there about re-membering. I have purposely separated the “re” from the “membering.” We are not simply going through the motions and memorializing something that happened long ago. When we eat the bread and drink the juice or have them all together as we usually do here during Communion, together we are sharing all of Jesus’ life, including his death. We are kind of re-living it.
And, John wants all of this to be more than a passing thought for us. He wants us to contemplate it. The word that John uses that is translated “eat” means more like “munch” or “chew.” Whenever you participate in Communion, and you get that piece of bread, you have something that you can really chew on and think about the deep abiding relationship that we have with Christ. One that starts now and goes on forever, eternally. But, more about that next week.
Baptism is another symbol for our eternal life with God. It can be seen especially with the full immersion baptisms that we will be doing later this morning. We die with Christ as we go down under the water, but we then rise with Christ as we emerge. We are born again as we come up from the water. We are born again into the family of God to which we belong to eternally.
Earlier this summer I helped with a baptism in Wallowa. It was a little girl about one and a half years old. Her older sister was there, and they were in matching white dresses. Mom even wore something similar. The children were climbing and going everywhere in the Sanctuary, exploring everything. In short they were having a wonderful time, but it came time for the ceremony to begin. She was Daddy’s girl that day, and he held her during the whole service. Her parents had taken the vows that they would watch over her and nurture her in the faith, and it was coming time for the water to be poured on her for the baptism. I could tell that she was getting a little nervous and afraid of the water. What is this stuff in the bowl over there? I invited dad to set her down on the edge of the stand, so she could see the water. I invited her to touch it, and we played with it a little. Nothing to be afraid of. Then, I poured the water over her head, and she smiled and giggled. It was fun. Parts of her hair were pasted to her head a little bit from the water. She was ushered into the family of God, and it was fun.
Could Jesus really mean that that his life and his presence should become a part of us like the food we eat, stick as close to us as the hair on our heads as water runs over us? If we consider ourselves followers of Jesus, that is the way that Jesus considers us, even if we don’t think of it that way. We belong to him. We belong to the family of God. God may be waiting for us to recognize the connection we have, but God will be there ready for us the second we do.