August 19, 2012 – First Baptist Church Edmonton – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato
“How is this Bread of Life?”
Text: John 6:51-58
Hey people of God! We’re in a Bread of Life Pentathlon! Getting tired yet?
Next week (we “hit the wall”) of John 6. Jesus looking around at his inner circle of 12 disciples, in the wake of the crowd dwindling from 5000 to a dozen, and saying: “You do not want to leave too, do you?”
How did it get to this?
This is not a church growth plan that would be making Jesus a ministry superhero eh? In fact, over the course of chapter 6, Jesus’ crowd of follower’s has “ungrown” by 99.76 percent! That would be like our church attendance today ungrowing from 130 to ¼ of a person next Sunday. Talk about the wheels falling off of the cart!?!
Well, things were getting more and more confusing and unbelievable right from v. 25 when Jesus starting comparing himself to bread rather than being willing to provide on-going “repeats” of the feeding 5000 frenzy of vv. 1-15. Remember v. 15? Jesus knew that the first idea that was coming to the crowds minds after the feeding miracle was to DIVIDE & CONQUER. . . “take him by force and make him king” so what does Jesus do? He disappears!
And when he re-appeared, he starting talking about himself as bread, telling the crowds that it’s not about getting on a feeding schedule, it’s about BELIEVING that Jesus is the SON OF MAN. . . that Jesus is the one who CAME DOWN FROM HEAVEN. And then in v. 51 he ramps it up and says “whoever eats of this bread will live forever. This bread is MY FLESH, which I will give for the life of the world.”
And the crowd is bewildered. . . and the religious leaders are getting furious! They ask “How can this man, Joseph & Mary’s son, give us his FLESH to EAT?” (v. 52)
And Jesus doesn’t back off and soften the intensity (“Hey guys, I’m just talking symbolically here. . . man, you know, metaphor, get my drift, it’s like, a metaphor!”).
No! Jesus gets even more outlandish and seemingly ludicrous.
See V. 53 Jesus says 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.”
Can you imagine the looks on the faces of the people in the crowd and the furrowing brows of the angry religious leaders?
And then we read more in v. 54-58.
54 Whoever eats (greek: trogon) 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.”
Now at this moment, it appears that the religious leaders “walk.” They’ve heard enough, they’ve had enough, and they’ve put up with enough. Can’t you just here them muttering as they walk away? “The nerve of this carpenter’s son. . . and he’s saying all these ridiculous and blasphemous things in the synagogue. For shame! He will pay for doing this. . . we guarantee it. . . he will NOT continue to get away with this in the name of YHWH!”
And what about US? What do we do with this confusing and seemingly vulgar text? Will we walk with the religious leaders in a fit of confusion and anger?
Or might we try to press in and wrestle with the reality of a God who comes to us in the person and presence of Jesus. . . and declares that we are to “feed on him”. . . the “graphic” eating verb here in v. 54 is even more startling! The word is “trogos” which means “to gnaw”. . . kind of like a dog on a bone, getting every bit of gristle and cartilage off of the bone. [in present day talk, teenagers might use the phrase: “nom, nom, nom”]
Followers of Jesus are supposed to “gnaw” on his flesh and blood? Barbaric!?!
In News & Notes this week I posed the question as follows:
How might we in practical ways, share with the others the reality of a living Christ who comes to us in the bread and wine?
Let’s try to reduce our “Christianese” lingo and really think of ways that we can offer the body and blood of Christ to our neighbours, friends and world without sounding like a cannibalistic cult!
[eg: can you imagine Mr. Roger’s as your “Christianese” Neighbour?
It’s the blood of the lamb in the neighbourhood, the blood of the lamb for neighbours, would you be mine? Would you be mine?]
How do we reconcile the weirdness and outlandish-ness of this text? Do we just skip it and get on with chapter 7?
I hope not!
NO! We push through the 4th leg of the John 6 Pentathlon!
And as we push through, here are some ideas that might help us frame our approach into the final section of John 6 and help us prepare for our own time at the Lord’s table today. . .
In the words of that famous 70’s theologian, Marvin Gaye, “What’s going on?!”
I’d like to suggest there’s a few (4) things going on here. . .
i) There’s something sacramental going on here: Yes, Jesus is paving that way for a repeating practice here. . . bread being taken, broken, blessed and given and as often as we do this we remember Jesus, we recognize Jesus in the breaking of bread and we proclaim his presence amongst us until he returns.
ii) There’s something incarnational going on here (defn: God takes on flesh, God is an embodied presence): This faith of ours, this Christian story handed down from generation to generation is NOT a dead religion or a dead, archaic ritual. Our God has come down from heaven, Our God continues to come to us. . . Our God incarnates in the person of Jesus!
iii) There’s something mysterious going on here: Our Catholic/Orthodox sisters and brothers make a good point that somehow, in a mysterious way, Jesus presence is supernaturally here in the bread and the wine as we share it in this ritual. . . there is more than a symbolic presence of Christ going on here. . . when we gather, Jesus shows up in our midst!
iv) THUS – – There’s something real going on here: this mystery is not just a fuzzy, warm feeling. . . the living Jesus is moving through the pews(and beyond!) and wanting to encounter us, to wake us up, to interrupt us, to invite us to a way of life that is broader and deeper than the limited, finite projections of God that we make for ourselves from our jaded imaginations and our north-american “oh that can’t be possible!” cultural mindsets.
Again, Will Willimon (who I quoted last week) seems to capture it well when he shares his reflections on this profound, mind-blowing “flesh and blood” talk.
[see quote in this week’s bulletin]
Ah, wouldn’t the Christian faith be easier if it were a matter of mere belief or intellectual assent! No, today’s rather scandalously carnal, incarnational gospel reminds us that Jesus intends to have all of us, body and soul. His truth wants to burrow deep within us, to consume us as we consume him, to flow through our veins, to be digested, to nourish every nook and cranny of our being.
I have a friend who teaches theology at Oxford. He says that his toughest task is to ask and answer the question, “What is theology about?”. . . He instructs his students that theology (at least Christian, incarnational theology, theology in the mode of the sixth chapter of the Fourth Gospel) is about everything. Jesus has come down from heaven with the intention of taking it all back. He wants all of us, and he wants us to have all of him.
This God is so scandalously, intimately available to us. Whoever know this, knows how to live forever. (Daily Feast, Year B, p. 426)
[PAUSE: questions anyone? ]
Today. . . (there is good news here!)
We as the people of God, in this local community of faith, know how to live forever. And this “forever” ought to influence (transform?!) the way we live in the here & now!) And an important practice that contributes to this transformation – – this practice that we participate in from month to month is the Lord’s Supper (Communion). So today, with such a visceral (?) touchy text, it seems important that we practice what we preach.
So come! Eat and drink of our Living Lord! Ingest the living Christ and be fed, both for now and eternity!
And then carry the mystery and presence of our Living Christ into those places that you are sent to this week. . . being a bearer of the way of Jesus, EMBODYING the truth of Jesus and “putting on display” the life of Jesus to a neighbour, to a community, to a workplace, to a city that is looking for a way, a truth and a life.
Have you noticed there is no “last supper” in the Gospel of John?
So as we come to the table today, we won’t use the traditional phrasings that we often borrow from the other 3 gospels. . . instead we’ll stick with the mess, the mystery and the muddle of John 6 – – Jesus says:
54Those who eat [tro(h)go(h)n] my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.
. . .the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
Live and be fed by the Living Christ, please come to the stations of the Eucharist.
Words of distribution:
“The Living Bread of Heaven, given for you”
“The Cup of Eternal Life, given for you”
CLOSING PRAYER: (from Iona Community)
Holy Spirit, Enlivener:
breathe on us, fill us with life anew.
In Your new creation, already upon us, breaking through,
groaning and travailing,
but already breaking through,
breathe on us.
Till that day when night and autumn vanish:
and lambs grown sheep are no more slaughtered:
and even the thorn shall fade
and the whole earth shall cry Glory at the marriage feast of the Lamb.
In this new creation, already upon us,
fill us with life anew.