John 6:51-58 • August 19, 2012
Brothers and sisters in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
This past week in the devotional, Christ in Our Home that’s published by Augsburg Fortress, the publishing entity of the ELCA there was a story about a man named Will. Will glanced at the clock in the upper corner of his computer screen. It was much later than he thought. He had been online for hours, reading news sites, blogs, and email, and updating his social network pages. It was hard to pull away from the screen. “This is foolish,” he thought. “Why am I wasting time this way?” He thought about his life and his loneliness after his recent divorce. “I’m looking for a connection,” he realized, “a relationship.” He looked at the computer screen and sighed, “This is too easy. It’s superficial, a poor substitute.”
Will’s story is a quest for a quick on-line connection or easy relationship that has little to do with the rest of his life. No thought about all that life is revealing to him beyond the din of his computer screen.
Or maybe you’ve seen this advertisement recently on television in the middle of the seemingly never ending array of political ads that are consuming the advertising world right now.
The young girl thinks her parents are crazy and don’t have any friends, no real relationships or adventure in their life. When in reality the opposite is probably true. The ad is supposed to be humorous, but as a parent it is revealing to me in other ways too.
I think these stories are similar to what’s happening in John 6. The 6th chapter in John’s gospel is part of our worship for several weeks this summer. It’s a chapter of scripture that has been read and analyzed and debated for meaning and preached on for centuries. This is a dense and complex section of scripture. For me, it’s also one of the most challenging pieces of scripture, especially given the Roman Catholic tradition that I grew up in and for which I am very thankful. It’s definitely one of the most revealing teachings of Jesus for me.
There are thousands of people following Jesus at the beginning of chapter 6 as he feeds 5,000 or so people with just a few loaves of bread and couple of fish that a young boy was carrying around. It was probably his lunch that day.
But by the time we reach the end of this chapter, we see the result of Jesus’ challenging and revealing teaching as, “many have turned back and no longer went about with him.” The crowds were offended by what they saw and heard and were no longer interested in following Jesus.
I can relate. My own story at times or that of Will or the girl in that television ad or Jesus’ teaching in John 6 speak to us because they often reflect more of who we are than we’re comfortable admitting. You and I seek relationships that bring instant gratification, usually within parameters that we set and control. The crowds before Jesus sought a relationship with him as long as the loaves and fish were free and they could control the way in which they were to receive them.
But the relationship that Jesus offers them, and you and me, is more than a few fish and stale loaves of bread offered at a hillside picnic. More than simply liking someone’s Facebook status from your list of 687 Facebook friends. More than following the instructions from the latest article in People magazine about how to succeed in getting a date with another person.
The relationship that Jesus offers can even been seen as a little offensive in many ways, because it is nothing less than his own flesh and blood. It’s upsetting to the crowds, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they say. Remember, this teaching from Jesus in John 6 is centuries before Twilight movies about vampires and werewolves were popular. I’d argue that it’s still upsetting and just as offensive today.
I once heard someone say, “When we eat food, it becomes us. When we eat spiritual food, we become it.” Have you ever thought of that as you receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion?
If you and I take the sacrament of Holy Communion seriously, the offense in Holy Communion is not in thinking about eating Jesus’ body and blood in a cannibalistic sort of way. The offense, the good news of life in Christ, is in the lengths that God will go in order to have a relationship with you and me. In verse 56 Jesus says to the crowds, and to you and me today, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” The bread and wine of Holy Communion are not simply symbols for Jesus’ body and blood. The bread and wine that we receive and consume in the sacrament of Holy Communion are Jesus body and blood because this Jesus abides in us. This Jesus lives in us.
Each and every time that you and I receive the sacrament, how do we respond to Jesus offering of his flesh and blood? To Jesus abiding love? To Jesus living in us?
This past week I preached and presided at the funeral of a sister in Christ from our congregation. I believe that she understood and lived life as a child of God fully aware of God’s love for her. Even understood the offensiveness of Jesus abiding in her.
I had many opportunities to experience this kind of love from God in this woman, but I think it was present most significantly every time I served her Holy Communion.
Every time this sister in Christ heard the words “The body of Christ, given for you. The blood of Christ, shed for you.” and received the bread and wine, her response was not, “it’s about time, I sent you an email two weeks ago God” or “God, I’ve been really good lately, I deserve this” or “oh well, it’s just bread and grape juice”. Her response to God’s love for her in the sacrament of Holy Communion was always “Thank you Jesus.”
In our celebration of the sacrament of Holy Communion today and for that matter, every time we celebrate the sacrament, I pray that our response to God’s revealing and even offensive love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of a savior named Jesus is thank you.
Thank you Jesus for walking with us in relationship in all ways and in all days.
Thank you Jesus for filling us in this meal with the Bread of life. Life, that no matter how hard we try, it simply doesn’t exist in technology or possessions or accomplishments of our own in this world.
Thank you Jesus for forgiving our sin and inviting us to this table, to come just as we are.
Thank you Jesus. Amen.
- Eat Me, Drink Me – A Sermon on John 6:51-58; Proper 15B (interruptingthesilence.com)