Eating, Drinking and Living Jesus – August 26, 2018
In the name of the God who wants to enfold us in his love, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, AMEN.
I want to thank all of you who have been here faithfully these past weeks as we’ve slogged through the 6th chapter of John’s Gospel. The bread series started with Jesus feeding the 5,000 from five barley loaves and a couple of fish, then having twelve baskets of bread left over. Then the action moves to Jesus teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum, the home base of his adult years.
The teachings of John’s Jesus sound increasingly strange and graphic: Don’t focus on perishable food, but food that endures for eternal life. The true bread from heaven gives life to the world. I am the bread of life, the living bread that came down from heaven. The graphic images crescendo to this talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood: “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life.” For any who are hearing these words for the first time, it’s enough to make one run out of the church screaming.
Let’s remember that we are not Biblical literalists but do take the text seriously. Let’s also recall that when we eat any food it courses through our body as it is digested, bringing nourishment. In this way it becomes, quite literally, a part of us, even as we often say, “you are what you eat.” So maybe Jesus’ words aren’t as offensive as they sound at first hearing.
Eating and drinking are metaphors for fully sharing in the life of Jesus, and the call to follow him includes difficult and seemingly impossible demands. Jesus invites us in this passage, I think, into as intimate a relation and communion with him as we can imagine, perhaps a communion and relationship that is even closer than we want!
When many of Jesus’ disciples hear the words Jesus was saying, they exclaim, “This teaching is difficult—this is a hard word; who can accept it?” Hard meaning harsh, unacceptable, offensive. Hard to swallow.
Then again, most of what Jesus taught and lived was hard to live into, hard to accept, even offensive. His parables often fly in the face of human ideals of fairness and good sense. His miracles strike many as unbelievable, and often offended people who witnessed them. Jesus can seem rude in his contentious interactions with religious authorities, and harsh in his instructions to his followers.
And how about the words about turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, selling your possessions and giving to the poor, loving your enemies, not judging others, forgiving endlessly, serving the homeless, sick, prisoners, the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, even to the point of laying down one’s life? All of these are hard teachings, in my book. No wonder Jesus—himself, his words and how he lived his life, all of the above—scandalized those around him. No wonder most of Jesus’ followers turned away and went back to the way of life they knew.
Some of them apparently cherished the concept of a more mysterious God who stayed on the heavenly side of creation, a God they could worship from a safe, neutral distance. Others realized that the God Jesus represented in his own total self-giving could only be served in imitation of that same love. They found that too costly. John explained their reactions by saying simply, “As a result of this, many of his disciples returned to their former way of life.”
When Jesus asks, “Well, what about you 12—do you want to leave, too?” Peter answers, “Lord, where else can we go? Who else can we follow? You and your teaching are what is life-giving. You are the Holy One of God.”
Following Jesus entails risk, in the 1st century and the 21st. It means signing on to values that push deeply against the culture. It involves a willingness to stand with people who can do nothing for you. It asks that you find your fulfillment not on your own but in community and communion with others. There is, in fact, a cost of discipleship. In recent memory we have seen numerous persons in our world who have embraced the values of Jesus and have suffered for it, from Martin Luther King Jr. to Jean Donovan, Ita Ford and Maura Clark to Oscar Romero to Jonathon Daniels. For them it led to their deaths. For most of us it doesn’t mean dying so much as living for Jesus with our whole selves.
Think of Dorothy Day, who not only worked for the poor but became poor herself. Living for Jesus means speaking out against injustice and inequality and racism in our own setting. It means acting daily, in our words and deeds, for the inbreaking of the reign of God. Sometimes being a follower of Jesus means giving up our own bodies just as Jesus did.
The bottom line of Scripture is that God loves us and wants relationship with each of us. We were created in love, in God’s own image, to love and be loved. God loves us through and through. And nothing can ever separate us from God’s love.
God keeps hoping that we will love back, that we will choose to reciprocate that love. God wants to show us God’s heart of love, to show us God’s compassion and mercy, to tell us how much we are cherished, to remind us each that we are God’s beloved child. And God loves us, no matter what we do or where we go, what we believe or don’t believe.
This is what the Incarnation is about; God became human in Jesus to bring us closer to God, to make that relationship easier. As St. Athanasius said, “God became human so that humans might become God.” And God wants to give us God’s self in the Eucharist, in each other, in neighbors we don’t yet know.
What about all of us gathered here? What draws us here today, or draws us back week after week, or maybe even year after year? Chances are that our being here in this place signals that we are seeking in our various ways to follow Jesus, trying to learn as best we can, from one another and together, how to follow Jesus’ example and teaching. We do it because, quite simply, it is life-giving—life-giving in a way that matters more than anything else.
When we gather like this, we hear the Word, and at this table we feast on the Word made flesh. “This is my body. This is my blood. Do this in remembrance of me.” When we gather around this table, our flesh joins with God’s Spirit. When we gather around this table and take the bread and wine set apart, made holy, into ourselves, in some mysterious way Jesus is present among us, and the Spirit flows through us and in us.
Despite our shortcomings or lapses in belief, when we take this bread and this wine into our own bodies, something happens, even if we don’t realize it. “You are what you eat.” When we eat together like this, we take the Word, the Word made flesh, into our flesh. When we do that, we become in some way an incubator for the Word made flesh to grow in our flesh and blood and be born in a new way through our body into the world.
Jesus is the bread of life. Some people think they don’t need him. Others know they can’t live without him. Our need for God and Jesus is for some a hard teaching and difficult to accept. But for others it’s the words of eternal life. What I know is that whether we believe or not, whether we struggle or not, Jesus invites us to his table today, that he wants to gather us all around his table to join in the banquet of love and hope and justice.