Have you all noticed that our lectionary seems to have stalled on these readings about Jesus being the bread of life? This is our third week and guess what? Next week, we continue with this theme. The difference is that this week, Jesus has changed his tone. One Sunday, when this Gospel was read in a church: “Eat my flesh, drink my blood”, a little girl was heard loudly exclaiming; “Ew, YUCK!” I’m with her.
Jesus gets awfully graphic here. In the previous readings, He talks about himself as being the bread of life, sent down from heaven. He uses the polite word “phage” which means to eat or to dine. But this week, Jesus ups the ante. He changes his language, using a shocking word; ‘trogon’ which means “to chew” or “to munch.” It means “to eat like an animal at a trough!” No wonder people were appalled by his words. No wonder that the early Christians were thought to be cannibals.
John’s writing about Jesus in this context is so different from the other gospels. John was writing about 60 years after Jesus died, at a time when there was great debate about exactly what Jesus was. Was he a spirit, an angel or a human being? Especially in writing today’s gospel, John makes it clear that his Jesus is made of flesh and blood. Jesus invites us to chew on his very flesh, that’s how human he was!
John’s gospel starts with this sentence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Then it jumps to this: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us”. “Became flesh” – that is the incarnation. In Spanish, the word is encarnacion. In that word is “carne” – meat. The word became meat. That seems to fit with how Jesus is describing himself today. Very meaty.
The Jews are strictly prohibited from eating bloody meat, that’s why they have special kosher laws for preparing meat to remove as much blood as possible. This law is in Leviticus, chapter 7: “And you must not consume any blood, either of bird or of animal. Anyone who eats blood shall be cut off from his kin.” And here is Jesus telling people to drink his blood. Again, no wonder he was causing great consternation among the Jewish religious leaders.
When we read about all this bread, we think of communion and the last supper. Interestingly, the Gospel of John is the only one that doesn’t have a last supper, where Jesus is preparing to die for our sins. Instead, in John’s gospel, early in Christ’s ministry, we have the feeding of the five thousand with the abundant miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Right after that happens, Jesus starts talking a lot about how his own body and blood will give us life. “I am the bread of life. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
How do we understand the sacrament of communion if we remove it from the last supper at the end of Jesus’ life to the miracle of the loaves and the fishes at the beginning of his ministry? It is no longer about death but about life. Indeed, Jesus refers to himself as the living bread and God as the living father.
Karoline Lewis writes: “If there is any Eucharistic theology to be gleaned from the Gospel of John then it needs to be one that is a celebration of abundant life with God now and not a remembrance of Jesus’ life soon to pass away. … And life according to John means that what you need for your life to be sustained, God provides, that life is abundant, that eternal life is not something you can conveniently and conventionally postpone to your future but is your promise in the present. It means real relationship, here and now, life that is not a remembrance of Jesus’ past life or a hope for a future life, but life lived in the moment as God’s grace upon grace.”
“Life lived in the moment.” Our reading from Ephesians advises us to “be careful about how we live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” I’m not sure about the days being evil, although some days sure feel that way, but I love the advice to make the most of the time. How do we do that? Well, don’t get too drunk, fill yourself with the Holy Spirit and sing, sing, sing while giving thanks to the Lord. Sounds a lot like church, huh?
When I was taking a psychology class in college, we were given an assignment to go around campus smiling at strangers and write down what happened. It made a HUGE impact on me to realize how many people smiled back. It was great having these delightful tiny moments of kind connection. I also realized that I saw the best in others when I approached them with a smile. Smiles are easy – give this a try. This is just a small example of a way to make the most of our lives.
Micah gives us excellent advice: “No, he has told you what he wants, and this is all it is: to be fair, just, merciful, and to walk humbly with your God.” So, come to church, make kind connections, praise the Lord and sing, sing, sing. That’s a good plan!