Posted on Sun, Aug 16, 2015
August 16, 2015
12th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: John 6:51-58 – “She Provides the Feast”
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53 So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
You know those awkward times when someone asks you an apparently innocent question, but realize in order to make any sense in answering this “innocent” question, you have to ‘really’ explain the context? And sometimes, explaining the context takes much longer than just answering the question?
For example, and these are some I just made up as I was writing:
Of all the things Jesus commanded us to do, today’s verses are the most difficult to ‘explain’ because you have to go into the long explanation of the context, religious history and practice, cultural and spiritual understandings for the people at different times in history, ad nauseam… and depending on the detail you think you will need, the explanation can get really convoluted!
I remember some of my seminary professors using this text to weed out seminarians during their first year in seminary. Some of the answers I heard the students forced to squirm with, were really sadly humorous…
Professor: What is Jesus, or the writer of John, trying to teach us in this text?
Students: Long silent uncomfortable pause… One student answers, “there is ‘something’ about Jesus’ blood…”
Professor: Tell me more about what is ‘special’ about this blood.
Squirming student: I don’t know, there is just something ‘special’ about Jesus’ blood…
Almost every missionary in Japan had a story that went like this: I once invited some students to my church for the first time. (Normally the missionary was an English teacher and the students were high school or early college students.) The students, out of obligation being that they were asked by their teacher to attend his or her church, would eventually show up to church, late. The students had never been to worship before; they weren’t familiar with the order of worship, hymns, their meaning or purpose, prayer and especially communion. The nervous students would almost always arrive late; just at about the time the Great Thanksgiving Prayer for Communion was just starting. They timidly would step into the back of the sanctuary, and the pastor in all of his or her vestments would hold up the bread and wine and proclaim that this is the flesh and blood of Jesus and we must eat of it for salvation… at that point the girls are panicking and running out of the church convinced that Christians are cannibals.
Context! Our imaginations may be too active or too literal to help us catch the meaning of what Jesus would have been saying to His audience 2000 years ago; but the mostly Jewish audience that the writer of John was writing this Gospel to, understood from when Jesus spoke the first two words, “I am.” And they also knew where and the story of “bread coming down from heaven” was used in the Exodus story. John’s audience is not ignorant of the stories of the Israelites being freed my Moses and wandering in the desert. These were the stories that the people of Israel shared around the fire and the children hung on each word like someone today may be cheering for the heroes as they listened to the elders tell them the Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or some other great book of struggle, justice and freedom.
The people understood the story of the people of Israel crying out to Moses for bread and meat and then receiving manna and quail in the morning. They knew the desperation their ancestors were in, as they all understood the perils of living in the desert. Food and water meant life! It was that simple! No water, no bread, meant certain death… and God heard their prayers and acted upon their needs.
However still, even if the people know the stories, what Jesus says is hard for them to handle, “51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’”
That little phrase, “I am,” is like a code word to help the listeners make the connection between God and God the Father. Who is the only one to say, “I am” in the memories of the listeners? It is during that dramatic moment when Moses asks the natural question after being given his marching orders to return to Egypt and face the Pharaoh, “Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” Only God could speak of God-self as the Great I Am.
Jesus is not just saying He is “like the manna that came down from heaven,” Jesus is saying, I am God come down from heaven, given to you so that you will not die but have life!
For Jesus to essentially say, “I am God,” right to their faces in a very Jewish land was a dangerous and disturbing thing for him to say. It was very close to blasphemy and even some of his disciples were so upset, the stopped following Jesus. (John 6:66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.) They wouldn’t understand what Jesus meant until a missionary or disciple would come to preach to them about the Good News of Jesus death and resurrection, and then celebrate the Eucharist with them… Then they would ‘get it.’
There is another audience that we need to remember. The writer of this Gospel was writing for a young church made up mostly of converted Jews… and then there is us! When we read the text, we know that Jesus ‘came down from heaven,’ like the manna, so that Jesus could be faithful to God’s promise of salvation and Jesus would die and rise again for the forgiveness of our sins, and then Jesus would send the Holy Spirit so that the Church could be birthed and we could begin to tell the story of the Gospel, IN CONTEXT!
When we hear the words of the Great Thanksgiving during communion, it all makes perfect sense why the words are put in the imperative. “Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. DO THIS FOR THE REMEMBRANCE OF ME.” Regarding the wine, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SIN. Do this for the remembrance of me. For the People of God, IT IS IMPERATIVE, IT IS NECESSARY, IT IS IMPORTANT BEYOND OUR UNDERSTANDING THAT WE GATHER AT THE TABLE OF THE LORD TO EAT OF HIS FLESH AND DRINK OF HIS BLOOD for the forgiveness of sin, the life everlasting and the Body of Christ the Church.
Psalm 11:10 states, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice *it, have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.” “Fear” in this context isn’t like being afraid of being struck by lightening; it means that you, each day, understand you are standing before and walking with, an AWESOME God.
When we gather around the altar, we gather around the Lamb who was slain for our forgiveness, this is the bread and wine. We surround the altar as a community, because in this bread and wine, we are made one Body in Christ, called to proclaim justice, forgiveness, hope, joy, mercy and love to all people… ALL PEOPLE.
We are wise, or we become wise, when we REGULARLY gather around this table in humility, grace and joy and let Jesus, the great I Am, the Bread come down from heaven, become part of us, nourishing us in the Good News of complete Forgives and Wholeness. We become wise when we gather, confess our sins, hear that we are forgiven (absolution) rejoice and hear the Good News, and then feast on the Body and Blood of Christ… This is the context of Jesus’ message for us today. Amen.
* “It” can also be translated as “them.”
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