Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Here we are again. We are in the fourth of five weeks in chapter 6 of John.
And I have to admit, I have some difficulty with this particular portion we read today. I often think Jesus goes a little too far with the words he uses in this passage. In our translation, we hear, “eat my flesh and drink my blood," which is disturbing. But the Greek word we translate as “eat” has a much more visceral meaning, “to gnaw or chew.” Using that word makes me uncomfortable. Too earthy, or specific. And this passage was used to accuse the first Christians of being cannibals. I much prefer to talk about the bread and wine as Jesus truly present, especially as I take Communion.
John’s Gospel does not have the story of the Last Supper; did you know that? We have a final meal before the Crucifixion, but is centered on Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, not the institution of Communion. Some folks turn to this chapter as a form of Eucharist or Communion in John. But does that make sense? Here, Jesus is not talking about his death and resurrection. He is talking about life, eternal life. This difference between John’s version and the other three gospels has been a cause of conflict among our Christian denominations for centuries.
Is Communion the true presence? Really Jesus’s body and blood, in, with, and under the elements? Or a memorial meal of remembrance? Funny how we take something as essential as Communion—the meal Jesus gives us to celebrate together—and use it to divide ourselves to the point that we forget what Jesus is actually saying. Let’s leave that argument to theologians, and try to get at what Jesus is saying to us today.
We are familiar with Jesus saying, “I am the Bread of Life.” But here, we find Jesus saying not just that he is the Bread of Life, but that he is essential for life. There can be no life in us without it. And that got me thinking about what is essential to life. In order to live, we need air, water, food. We also need rest and protection from the elements. But since Jesus is talking about food, what happens when we eat nourishing food? It is absorbed and distributed throughout our bodies. We hear, all the time, that eating right increases our ability to fight off germs and disease. Even something like a vaccination does not stay in our arms; it is taken up and brought throughout our bodies so that our immune system recognizes and has a chance to destroy the virus before it makes us sick.
This is what Jesus is talking about. Jesus needs to be in every cell of our bodies, and part of every aspect of our lives if we are to have meaningful life at all. And by “life,” Jesus means “relationship with God.” Sometimes I think we only give partial custody of our lives to God: worshiping on Sunday morning, prayer at meals, and maybe a prayer when we go to bed. But like the food that nourishes our bodies, we need this relationship with God to be an intimate full-time thing.
I know I speak often about my “driving angry” problem. But when I engage in destructive responses to people who need to get out of my way and learn to drive!! am I allowing God into my life? Am I being nourished by God's love? It may sound silly, but is God in every aspect of my life? So, if we take Jesus seriously, that eternal life comes not just from hearing the Word but taking it into all parts of our lives, how are we to do that? If Communion is union with God, we are invited to take Jesus into ourselves every week, and we are invited to chew on Jesus, to gnaw on Jesus as the Word through Bible study, prayer with others. Someone even suggested that I need to put a sign on my visor in my car to remind me, “I belong to God. And so does everyone else!”
So what are we to do? It is so easy to get caught up in the daily distractions of life. We are bombarded every day with much information—both true and questionable. So many distractions from our devices: cat videos, dog videos, gossip, miracle cures, memes, texts… and on and on. Our work lives and our home lives are so busy as well, and we have added stories about the pandemic on top of everything else. I think sometimes our faith life can get lost in the all the noise.
One of the things I learned on the retreat I participated in, was that we need to take time for rest and reconnection to the Source of all life. We need time with God. Remember that note on my visor to remember that God loves me and everyone else? When I see that sign, I remember that I am loved, and given life, by God’s love. My good friend sets an alarm on her watch to remind her to stop and take time to reconnect with the Source of all life. What way will you find to remind yourself that our life comes from God, through Jesus’s life death and resurrection?
We start each week by gathering either in person or online to hear God’s word and receive life, through sharing the bread and wine. We need to remember that God calls us every day to live our lives, every minute, mindful of the Source of eternal life. And to share God’s love and life with others. Amen.