Sermon for 12th Sunday after Trinity, 19 August 2018
This follows the Gospel of John 6:51-58
An elderly woman walked into the local country church. The friendly sidesman greeted her at the door and helped her up the flight of steps. "Where would you like to sit?" he asked politely. "The front row please." she answered”. You really don't want to do that", the sidesman said. "The vicar is really boring. "Do you happen to know who I am?" the woman inquired. "No." he said."I'm the vicar's mother," she replied indignantly ."Do you know who I am?" he asked ."No." she said. "Good", he answered.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus is also giving offence, perhaps not quite so accidentally. This passage is part of an on-going series of texts all from John chapter 6, which began three weeks ago and which will end next week, that details the consequences following the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The aftermath of that miracle brings an increasingly acrimonious confrontation between Jesus and the Judaeans, which in today’s reading finally spills over into a movement from the crowd away from Jesus.
There is no getting away from the fact that at first sight Jesus’ words are truly shocking, even to us today. “I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread, they will live for ever. And the bread which I shall give is my flesh, given for the life of the world. I am telling you the solemn truth, if you don’t eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood you have no life in you.”
If these words are shocking to us, summoning up pictures of cannibalism, they were even more disturbing to the Jews that Jesus was addressing at the time. For, the Jews were living their lives according to a set of laws, or rituals, that had come to be of the highest priority to them. One of these laws forbid them from consuming any blood, so their animals were killed in such a way that the blood was drained prior to their slaughter but here Jesus is commanding them to drink HIS blood.
This passage is not only shocking but is quite difficult to understand, having several intertwining themes. Firstly Jesus reasserts that he is the “Bread of Life”. Bread is a staple of life it nourishes us and we need it to live, so it is understandable that Jesus uses that term to describe himself. He goes further and calls himself the “living bread”. I see this as an effort to reveal more deeply, how profoundly he nourishes us. He is promising us hope for the future, love and fellowship and peace beyond all understanding. He is offering us a relationship in which we can abide in security, an extraordinarily intimate relationship. God created man with a God shaped hole – we have a need for God in our lives, without Him we can never achieve true satisfaction in anything we do – and it is only through taking Jesus into our lives that we can fulfil this need.
It seems to me that Jesus is anticipating the crucifixion and the fulfilment of his earthly mission when he says: “I am the bread of life, whoever eats of this bread will live for ever. And the bread which I shall give is my flesh given for the life of the world. And I will raise them up on the last day”. To me this is Kingdom talk, Jesus is saying that those who take on the mantle of Christ, who take him into their lives will share his destiny, that through his sacrifice on the cross they will be forgiven their sins, they will be reconciled with God and will be restored to life at the second coming.
So, we have the over-arching theme of “I am the bread f life” which has been repeated over the last three weeks. But this time Jesus is adding extra emphasis by adding the word “living” so that he is saying “I am the living bread. He explains that unlike the bread or manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, this bread will give eternal life to anyone who eats it.
Underpinning these words there is the message of Jesus as the sacrificial lamb who is offering himself to death on the cross in order to save mankind from sin and enable him to have everlasting life.
But finally, it is clear that Jesus when asking the crowd to “eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood” is alluding to the Last Supper. We hear these words during the Eucharistic prayers as we prepare to take communion at the Lord’s table every Sunday. Let’s just hear them again.
Jesus took bread. He gave thanks, broke it, and shared it with his disciples. ‘This is my body’, he said, ‘given for you. Do this to remember me.’ After they had eaten, he took the cup, gave thanks, and shared wine with his disciples. ‘This is my blood,’ he said, ‘poured out for you and for all people,
to save them from their sins. Do this to remember me.’
Some people believe that the consecrated bread and cup are symbolic and metaphorical, that they are served in remembrance of the sacrifice Jesus made of going to the cross, taking on the sins of mankind and dying as a final, perfect sacrifice in order to reconcile man with God. Other people believe that, during the Eucharist the bread and wine undergo a change of substance and become, in reality, the body and blood of Jesus Christ, a process known as transubstantiation.
For most of us the reality of Christ’s presence at the Eucharist is beyond our comprehension. We are asked not to understand it but to experience it.
What we do know is that every time we take part in the Eucharist in faith, Jesus gives himself to us, telling us, “Abide in me as I abide in you”.
If anyone is interested in researching more deeply into the theology underpinning the Eucharist, R.C. Sproul gives a very readable explanation in his book, “A Taste of Heaven”
He describes his experience of taking part in the Eucharist as follows: “We come to the table to see Jesus, and because we need Jesus to put His hands on our heads and forgive our sins. We need Jesus to give us a fresh assurance of our relationship with Him. When I go to the communion rail and the minister puts the piece of bread in my hand and says “The body of Christ, broken for you,” I can hardly tell who’s giving me the bread. Its like I’m hearing Jesus say, “R.C., I died for you, my body was broken for you. I’m stooping down in My Grace to strengthen your soul this morning.” Its an incredible experience”.
So, Jesus is promising that the living Christ will come into our lives when we take the Eucharist, this is a mind-blowing thought. So, today when we approach the Lord’s Table we may do so in reverence, with apprehension and excitement.
We can look forward to the living Jesus becoming part of us and nourishing us. We will become part of us to nourish us from within. We will have the promise of renewal, peace and community with ~God for evermore.
This communion between God and man is the beginning of the coming of God’s kingdom here on earth, and we are part of it – what an awe-inspiring thought that is!
Lucille Luton 19th August 2018