The Very Reverend Steve Lipscomb, Dean
Now, I want to do a brief aside here, and say out loud what I know many of us are thinking right now after hearing those verses from John. YUCK! It’s a bit weird, obscene; gross even, to talk about eating flesh and drinking blood. Isn’t it? If you were new to this religion stuff and you didn’t understand the words in their theological and symbolic context, then you might be about ready to slip out the back door (or the front door. I never can get church doors straight.) You might say, if you were new to all this: “Okay. Wrong crowd I think.”
And, in fact, back when Christianity was new, that’s exactly what some people thought. When they read this kind of stuff, heard this kind of talk, they naturally assumed that the church was an underground cannibalistic cult. Not understanding the theology and symbolism behind the words—that Jesus, himself, was the bread and wine, the sustenance of life, the very meat of God, the spiritual union between Christ and his church that makes us his body, his flesh and blood—they believed that the church gathered practiced human sacrifice and then literally consumed that sacrifice as a part of worship.
You can see how turned off people might have been to Christianity, with that understanding. “What a sick group! Keep your children away! Did you hear what the Christians did to that poor soul, Jesus. They ate him! Killed him and ate him.” That’s what some thought of Christianity, for a while, sometime after Jesus’ resurrection and after the church had begun to spread from Jerusalem.
Before, when Christianity was for the most part still pretty much a local phenomenon (or problem), and even before that, before Christianity, when Jesus was around, people had other issues with this “movement.”
This “guy,” who spoke like no other, behaved like no other, was like no other. And that was a problem for many. Some didn’t understand about things like the “bread of life” that causes one never to hunger, or living water that would cause one never to thirst. Or “bread that comes from heaven” or that becomes the “flesh of the Son of Man.” Some didn’t understand it, didn’t get it. And some were just downright angry about it.
This man. This enigma. This itinerant bumpkin who went around speaking in riddles, performing miracles, stealing people’s hearts, and claiming even to be the Son of God.
What shall we do? What are we to do with this one? What are we to do with these people? What are we to do with this movement?
For 300 years Christianity was a problem and a threat, and for 300 years great efforts were made to squelch its growth, wipe it out, but hunger for the bread of life would not die. Thirst for the water of truth and the blood of Jesus—the blood of everlasting life—would not be quenched. It outlived the most powerful and the greatest of nations and kings, and the many who tried to destroy it faded, even as the faith and the faithful they persecuted miraculously continued to grow.
And through the centuries, at various times and in various places, attempts have been and still are made to snatch the bread of life from the mouths of the people, but it continues to feed and to fill and to satisfy souls that hunger and yearn for spiritual food. And the love of God in Christ continues to spread. The family table where all God’s children are fed continues to grow.
That little tiny movement from Jerusalem became, and is, the world’s largest religion. The flesh and blood of Jesus transformed into the world’s largest body of believers. Why? Against all odds, what was it and what is it that draws so many – to the man, to the faith, to flock, to the Way?
Perhaps, it is the way that love overshadows the Law, mercy overrules justice, acceptance overwhelms exclusion, forgiveness overpowers offense. Grace overcomes righteousness. And that all those things are experienced by the individual through the love of God before they are offered by the individual to another. We receive it before we’re asked to extend it.
Perhaps it is the innate hunger we have, and the need, as human beings, to experience God, not just in a spiritual way but in a concrete, flesh and blood way. And Christianity is the only faith that claims that God, Godself, came to earth, and to us, in human form, in flesh and blood, and skin and bones, in the person of Jesus.
And, perhaps, it is that this same Jesus didn’t just tell us how to live but showed us how to live in perfect love for God and neighbor. That he loved us enough to become one of us: to be born, and to live and to die, and to rise again, so that we might rise from death to a new life—an everlasting, never ending life—as the body, the same flesh and blood and spirit, of Jesus Christ.
This is the bread that came down from heaven. This is what Jesus means when he talks about flesh and blood as true food and true drink. Living bread and living forever.
It isn’t as difficult and confounding as Jesus’ opponents made it out to be. It was only so because they wouldn’t listen. They didn’t want to hear. Nor does this language have to freak us out or gross us out. We need only to truly hear what Jesus is saying:
“Take me! Take me into yourself and become me – my body, my flesh, my blood. Let us be one in the same – me, you, all of us – the body of Christ. Love, give, forgive, extend grace, give thanks.”
Or as Paul reminds us in today’s epistle, “Be filled with the Holy Spirit . . .singing spiritual songs, . . . making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything.”
That is who we are and what we are and what we do as the flesh and blood body of Christ; and today and every Sunday, and most times when we gather as the body, we are fed and reenergized and revitalized and refilled with the food from above, the bread and wine, the body and blood of the Holy Eucharist. We are strengthened by this family meal and empowered to do the work we are called to do. We are brought together and bound together, and made one body: that is, the body of Christ.
And we can find that flesh and blood Jesus in so many things and so many acts. Worship, yes; the sacrament, yes; the fellowship of this place and all of us together, absolutely. But also, it is the body of Christ at work in those gathered when we cook and feed at Let’s Help. It is the body at work every Saturday through those that make and hand out sack lunches. It is the body of Christ coming together each week to stuff kids’ backpacks with food for the weekend and then delivering them to children in need. It’s caring for and teaching and loving our children in ways of the Lord. It’s all that we do in every ministry of this place for one another – for those in our church and for those outside the church. It’s loving one another and serving one another in the name of Christ that makes us the body of Christ.
One quick story about our Saturday Sack Lunch ministry, as an illustration, and I’ll be done.
I was here one Saturday morning and just leaving from the office when a man with one of our sack lunches passed by.
“Thanks, I said. Did you get everything you need?”
“Oh yes,” he said with a smile, holding up his sack. “This is truly the bread of life.”
I had never gotten that. In all the many months, years now, that we have been doing this simple one-day-a-week feeding ministry, I had never gotten that the bread of life, the flesh and blood of Christ, could come in the form of P,B and J.
The body of Christ. It is who we are and what we are and what we do. The flesh and blood, and skin and bones of Jesus, his very own body.
So, taste and see. And give thanks.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.