John 6: 51-58
Munching on Living Bread
I remember when I was in college, and majoring in French, one of my professors asked in French what I had done that morning before class. I remember saying, “J’ai mange’.” The professor laughed and said, “Dogs mangent. People “dine” or “prend le dejuene.’” The professor was reminding me that there are different words for “eat” in French. One word means to feed as an animal is fed, to gobble or chow down. The other means to dine, to enjoy the meal politely.
In this portion of the Bread of Life section in John, Jesus invites the people to chew on his flesh and drink his blood. This is not a polite dining, it is a hungry gobbling, a chowing down. We don’t usually think about receiving the bread of Holy Communion as a chowing down, but it’s what Jesus is saying.
The Jews would have been appalled at the suggestion, because their dietary laws forbid the consumption of blood. Life is contained in blood, in Jewish belief. Consuming blood meant to take into oneself the very life of someone else.
Of course, this chowing down and drinking Jesus invites us to do is loaded with double meanings. In the same way that Nicodemus was told he had to be born again, and the Samaritan woman was offered living water, this eating and drinking is not intended to be literally, but figuratively, metaphorically.
And so, we come to the altar and have a taste of Jesus’ flesh and blood. The food we consume is digested and nourishes us physically and spiritually. Jesus’ Spirit is digested and flows into every cell in our bodies, and every part of our soul. This is why I prefer real bread to wafers, because I want you to have a chunk of Jesus to chew on each week.
History shows us that the enemies of Jesus and his followers used this idea to try to get rid of them. They accused the believers of being cannibals, hearing the words to literally refer to the consumption of human flesh and drinking human blood, especially babies’ flesh and blood.
Some people see in this passage in John a connection to communion, others deny it. Jesus does use similar words, “take and eat.” But this story falls in the middle of Jesus’ ministry, not at the end where the words are so powerfully connected to his death on the cross, connecting the meal to Jesus’ sacrifice for our sake.
Instead, we are invited to come and dine on Jesus, the Living Bread. When we enjoy this Living Bread, we will gain eternal life. Eternal life is another word – phrase – that has more than one meaning.
If we believe in Jesus, if we take him into ourselves and allow him to nourish us, we will be raised to live with him in the last days – probably a reference to the time after our deaths.
Jesus is also referring to life in relationship with God, right here, right now, today, while we are very much alive. Nourished by Jesus, we will seek out God and welcome God’s presence in our lives. This God-human relationship is an intimate one, as close as the cells in our body. It is not possible to keep God at a distance, at arm’s length. We become one with Jesus as he becomes one with us.
… Consuming Living Bread and allowing Jesus to guide our lives leads us into a full life, an abundant life. So, some stories about abundant life.
Since we love to travel but have neither the time nor the funds to travel a lot, Mike and I watch travel shows. We watch a lot of PBS travel shows: Globe Trekkers, Rick Steves, Richard Bangs, Burt Wolf, Rudy Maxa, and Grannies on Safari.
Saturday morning, I was watching Joseph Rosendo as I ate breakfast. On Hudson Bay, Joseph was out in a boat searching for beluga whales. They motored around for a while and saw nothing. The guide stopped the motors and suddenly they were surrounded by whales surfacing and diving, breathing out and in. Joseph was so moved he was almost in tears at the beauty and majesty of this moment, a gift of the Living God.
… August 29 will be the tenth anniversary of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Lutheran has an article about the way Lutherans have helped restore life and dignity to New Orleans and the entire region.
Emma’s house suffered a direct hit from the storms. When the storm was over they were able to return to see the damage. “It was full of mud up to our knees. We would later find out that there were snakes living in that mud. I had no idea what to do.
“That’s when the Lutherans called me. It was a year later, and the Lutherans wanted to know if they could help me repair my house. Every week there was a new crew of people. They were the most humble people, and they were always ready to pray with me. The Lutherans came through for me, and they didn’t leave me until the work was done.” Emma and scores of Lutherans ate and shared Jesus’ Living Bread.
… There is a program in the ELCA called Young Adults in Global Mission. Similar to the Peace Corps, young adults spend a year in ministry. One young man was highlighted in The Lutheran. Luke Hanson spent a year in Rwanda, teaching English to 80 3-5 year olds for the Lutheran Church of Rwanda. Hanson said he learned the most important aspect of his ministry was building relationships. He learned to center his teaching and other activities around the relationships he was building with playful preschoolers. Hanson is chewing on and sharing the Living Bread of Jesus in all he does.
… When you come to the altar for communion, what do you think about? I hope it’s the life-giving powers of the bread and wine. I hope it is the life-giving power of forgiveness through a relationship with Jesus. I hope it is a connection with all who have consumed the Living Bread and Wine throughout the centuries and around the world.
And I hope it is a challenge to share the Living Bread with others who are hungry. We hear every week about people in our neighborhood who are hungry and depend on SOS for food. We know children depend on school meals and weekend food programs like Citrus County Blessings to provide meals their parents can’t. We know families who are barely squeaking by paying their bills and feeding their families, yet who struggle to provide the extras like crayons and paper for school, and gifts at Christmas. We have about 100 dresses for little girls hanging in Luther Hall, to fill shoeboxes.
We know how to share Living Bread. Most of us can afford to share some of our wealth with those who have less. Let’s fill the food donation basket each week. Let’s take care of their animal companions as well. Let’s help them stay clean with personal care products.
And let’s tell anyone who will listen that Jesus loves them, and cares for them, and is present with them, and forgives them for whatever they have done. Let’s share the love of Jesus’ Living Bread with them.
Please pray with me. Living God, you fill us with good things every week: with things we need, with family and friends. Lead us to share your Living Bread with all who hunger for you. Amen