“Flesh and Blood” – July 22, 2018

It was Communion Sunday, the first Sunday of the month, and our new family was present. Our new family- parents with their three children – was from New York and although they’d been in a church before, they hadn’t been to our church during communion, so they were trying to understand the way we do this – where do we stand, how do we behave, what actions do we do and not do. As the pastor, I gave basic instructions for communion – at that time, we all stood in a circle – parents and children together- and I took the bread and juice to each person and said, “The body and blood given for you.”

As I began offering the elements, the family observed the actions – okay, we break a piece of the bread off the loaf and dip it into the cup, then eat it. As I reached Charlie, the middle child, I said “The body and blood given for you.” and offered him the bread and juice. He looked at the loaf and could see it was bread, and then he looked into the deep red on the cup and said, “Now WHAT’S in there?”

He kept hearing me say “the body and blood,” “the body and blood,” and saw this cup of red liquid coming at him… he thought it was blood and who could blame him.

This is sometimes how we approach the words of Jesus: Jesus speaks in parables, in symbols, in metaphors – trying to explain his complicated ideas to a simple people with scenes and activities from their everyday lives. And we think he speaking literally.

In the case of this new family, I explained to Charlie that we used grape juice and he said “oh, I like grape juice!” and all was good. And in our church we use bread  – usually Kings Hawaiian bread – and grape juice for communion.

What have you experienced?

We have been traveling through this passage in the gospel of John, meandering really, through Jesus’ statement that HE himself is “the bread of life.” What does he mean? How can we understand Jesus as the ‘bread of life’  and how does it affect us in OUR lives?

 We begin our scripture for today in verse 51, And here, the argument gets real – we put “flesh on the bone” if you will.

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

Here, Jesus is summarizing ALL his statements. In one verse his tells us:

    • He is the LIVING bread: Alive, active, present in the world
    • He is the bread that came down from heaven: from God, a divine gift.
    • By “eating his flesh” we live forever, and not just us, but the world.

Now, you are correct if you are thinking this is a very mysterious and confusing teaching. And the religious leaders also were confused and in verse 52, our translation says the religious leaders “disputed among themselves.”

But, the New Revised Standard Version’s translation of “disputed among themselves” is a little tame. “The Greek word for “disputed” (machomai) implies “serious conflict, either physical or non-physical, but clearly intensive and bitter” (Lowe & Nida). It would appear that it was a little more heated than a polite discussion going on among the {leaders}. “ (1)

One thing to note: The conflict is not in the whole crowd or with Jesus and the disciples, they were arguing among themselves. But why? Jesus tries to explain this teaching, in verse 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Okay… at this point we need to leave the world of scripture for a moment and imagine we are in a Hollywood movie. The setting is the vast expanse of desert  between here and Las Vegas. We have come here to listen to a new charismatic leader, who inspires us to leave our old lives and follow him. And he has run into some opposition from the authorities, who are trying to discover his motives and his intentions. As we sit  listening to his teaching, he says this:

“Look, this is the main point: If you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you’ll live forever.”

What kind of movie are we in? (Horror? Cult movie?)

Eating flesh = cannibalism

Drinking Blood = vampirism

So, you may understand why some in the ancient world accused Christians of being cannibals  – it was assumed that they ate flesh and drank blood. What sounds comforting and familiar as a sacramental meal to us “insiders,” could seem horrendous to the uninitiated “outsiders”. (2)

AND… what made it worse, is that John – in his gospel – does not use the normal word for eat… Instead he wrote this:  “Those who GNAW on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” (3)

The image of “gnawing on flesh” is not how we normally picture the eucharist, but the crude image can help us from over-spiritualizing the humanity of Jesus or of the eucharist. It is eating and drinking. It is chewing and swallowing. (4)

It is a physical act, an act we do with our bodies – our fleshly selves. This is not the spiritual act of communion as we think of it. Author Robert Capon describes it this way:

“Jesus instituted the sacrament of his body and blood by commanding his disciples to eat bread and drink wine in remembrance of him. Human nature being what it is, however, it wasn’t long before someone got the idea that the bread for the sacrament ought to be something special. It wasn’t enough apparently, that by Jesus’ own words, any old bread would be nothing less than his true, risen and glorious body really present in a high mystery. They had to have super-bread. And so… the angelic fish-food communion wafers were invented, snow white, unleavened, crumbless, odorless and tasteless. And made by nuns. Out of rice flour. Without salt. In little waffle irons with holy monograms on them.” (5)

What we must understand in communion, in life, in Jesus HIMSELF, the message that God is trying to teach us over and over again, is that the God takes what is ordinary and makes it extraordinary! The “normal,” the “average,” the “run-of-the-mill” has unlimited potential within  – wherein WE can be made extraordinary. We don’t need the extra special communion wafer, ordinary bread is just fine. We don’t need first class plane tickets and fancy cars, our feet can get us where we need to be. We don’t need a million followers on Twitter or a kajillion likes on Facebook, our ordinary lives – our routine day-in and day-out lives – can make a difference in this world.

In communion, in Jesus, in us – the ordinary becomes extraordinary.

In 1857, Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote Aurora Leigh – an epic long-poem that made a name for Browning and  – for me – contains one of God’s life-lessons within its words.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God.

But only he who sees takes off his shoes;

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.”

Earth – those things that are of this earth, those flesh and blood things, those REAL things –  Earth is crammed with Heaven. And every common bush is afire with God (like the burning bush Moses witnessed.)

But only those who see the extraordinary within the ordinary honor the presence of God, and the rest of us mistake it for a common bush and sit around it and foolishly pluck blackberries.

Today, may we recognize God in the ordinary moments of life, in our relationships, in our blessings, in our eating and drinking, in our very lives. May God infuse all of our actions and our thoughts with God’s divine presence and may we, be the flesh and blood reality of Christ’s presence in this world. Amen.

  1. Brian Stoffregen found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/john6x51.htm
  2. Ibid.
  3. Found on http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com/2012/08/from-bread-of-heaven-to-gnawing-on-flesh_14.html
  4. Stoffregen
  5. Ibid.