Rev. Jeff Chapman , Faith Presbyterian Church
52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’
53So 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. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This 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.’
59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue atCapernaum. (John 6:52-59, NRSV)
Jesus teaches us, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” Eat my flesh? Drink my blood? What sort of bizarre voodoo cannibalism is Jesus teaching here? It sounds like something you might expect to hear in Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter. And if you think this teaching is hard for us to swallow – no pun intended – I guarantee you it was harder to swallow for the people who first heard it. Especially that part about blood.
You see, in those days there were strict regulations about eating blood. Specifically, it was absolutely forbidden in Jewish law for anyone to ever eat an animal unless it had been completely drained of its blood. In Jewish thought blood stood for life, which makes sense because if you lose your blood you lose your life. For the Jews this meant that since life was sacred, so was blood. It was out of respect, therefore, that you never consumed blood, even the blood of an animal. To do so would be to dishonor its life and, by implication, to dishonor God, the giver of life.
What all this means is that when Jesus starts talking about drinking blood the crowds weren’t so much grossed out as they were offended. In their minds, Jesus was showing blatant disrespect for life.
So what is Jesus talking about here? What does he mean when he tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Well, the church has long interpreted this passage on two levels. On one level Jesus is speaking here on spiritual terms. On another level, however, he is speaking in physical terms. This morning, let’s look at these two levels one at a time.
To begin with, when Jesus tells us to eat his flesh and drink his blood he isn’t meaning that we literally eat his physical flesh and literally drink his actual blood. Instead, Jesus is merely emphasizing something he’s been saying all along. He is the Bread of Heaven, sent down to earth to give us eternal life. Just as earthly bread fills our stomachs and sustains our physical life, Christ, the Bread of Heaven, came to fill our souls to give us eternal life.
So, you see, when Jesus tells us, “You must eat me and drink me”, what’s he’s saying is that we must trust him, we must have faith in him, we must take him fully into our lives as our Lord and Savior. When we do, we will receive life that lasts forever.
This begins to make more sense when you realize that trust, and life and food are always interconnected.
My physical life depends upon physical food. If I don’t eat, I will be dead in a matter of weeks. Food and life are connected. But trust fits in there as well. Because for me to eat the food I need to live I have to trust that that food is actually going to help me live.
Not long ago I was in the park with one of my kids and I noticed that somebody had left one of those bite-sized candy bars, the ones you get at Halloween, on the ground in the dirt. Who knows how long it had been there. In retrospect, I should have picked it up right then and there and thrown it away because the next thing I know I see the empty wrapper on the ground and my kid, who should have known better, standing nearby and happily chewing away on something.
Every parent does their best to teach their kids that we don’t pick up food we find on the ground because we don’t know where it’s been. We eat the food that Mom puts on our plate for dinner because we trust Mom and we know that she is only going to feed us food that is good for our life. For the same reason we are careful when we travel to others parts of the world where we may be offered things to eat and drink which may not be good for our life. Drink the wrong water, or eat the wrong salad, and you are going to ruin your exotic vacation.
So, you see, eating food to sustain our lives always involves trust. It involves trust because you never have a casual relationship with your food. What you eat is not just passing through you but is, literally, going to become a part of you. You are what you eat, and what you drink. I do not make a casual commitment to a banana if I decide to eat it. It’s a full commitment, right? Out of trust I commit to a banana. Once I eat it, once I take it into myself, it’s either going to hurt my life, or give me life. Follow me so far?
Put simply, Jesus is teaching us, “Make a meal of me. Because of what I did for you on the cross, where my body was broken and my blood was poured out, will you now trust me enough to completely consume me? Believe that I really did die and that I really did rise again from the dead. Take me into your life fully. Have faith. Hold nothing back. And if you do, I will come into your life, into your heart and your soul, and I will sustain your life. In fact, I will sustain your life forever.” On a spiritual level, this is what Jesus means when he teaches us to eat his flesh and drink his blood.
Sometimes, however, spiritual truth like this can be hard for us to grasp, to take hold of. Even though the spiritual realm is real, we can’t see it, or touch it, or taste it. So it can seem out there, elusive, mysterious. And I think God understands this, understands how hard it can be for us to grasp spiritual truth while we are living in a physical world. That’s why Jesus was always giving us physical or tangible signs that we can use as handholds to help us take hold of spiritual realities. Let me show you how Jesus is doing that very thing here.
The Greek word for “eat” here in this passage is a word that, in those days, would more accurately be translated as “munch”, or “chew”. That means that literally, Jesus is telling us to “chomp down, to gobble up, to chew on” his flesh. This word, in fact, was often used to describe the audible and ravaging way an animal would eat.  When I learned this I immediately thought about the way my dog gobbles down her dinner. You can hear her eating all the way in the other room.
This is not spiritual language John is using here. Instead, when John talks about eating he chooses an earthy, concrete word, and he does so on purpose. He wants us to see that while Jesus is, on one level, talking about spiritual eating, on another level Jesus is talking about an actual physical meal. Specifically – and you may have figured out by now – John believes that Jesus is pointing us to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. He’s pointing us to actual bread and actual wine that the church actually chews and swallows when it gathers together at times like this morning.
The classic definition of a sacrament was first given bySt. Augustineover 1500 years ago. He said that a sacrament is a “visible sign which points us to an invisible reality”. Said another way, a sacrament is something physical, something we can see or taste or touch, which points us to some spiritual truth or reality which we cannot see or taste or touch.
Once again, the spiritual truth here we cannot see is this, as we trust Jesus and take him fully into our lives, he comes in and gives us eternal life. That is the invisible reality towards which the Lord’s Supper, as a visible sign, points us. The church gathers and comes forward in faith to receive the bread and the cup. We literally eat and drink this meal together. And as that bread goes into us and nourishes us and becomes a part of us, we are pointed to the reality that Christ himself, the Bread of Heaven, has done, and is doing, the very same thing but in a far deeper way. By faith, he has come into our lives, and is even now coming into our lives, to feed and sustain our souls forever.
One of the most important things that this teaches us is that the salvation Jesus came to give us is not only a spiritual reality somewhere off in the future. TheKingdomofGodisn’t just pie in the sky when you die by and by. TheKingdomofGodis breaking into the world. Even now. Even this morning. Even here. It is among us, within us, around us. And while it is deeply spiritual, it is not only spiritual. For Jesus did not only come to redeem our spirits; Jesus came to redeem our bodies as well. He came to redeem all of creation. Remember, when Jesus rose from the dead, it was not just his spirit that was raised. It was also his body that rose as well. Jesus is not only concerned with the life and health of our spirits, he is just as concerned with the life and health of our bodies.
Here’s what this means. When you participate in this sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, you are giving a public testimony of your faith in Christ as the Lord and Savior of all creation. By coming forward and receiving this physical bread, you are saying to the world that you have received the Bread of Heaven into your life and that you depend upon him for your life, today and always. As somebody once said, it’s like an altar call every time the church comes forward to receive the Lord’s Supper.
A biblical scholar named Dale Bruner puts it this way. “The real food and real drink of real Life is Jesus’ flesh, sacrificed on the Cross for the sin of the world, trusted with hearts of faith, and imbibed spiritually in Eucharistic faithfulness. No food on the planet is more nourishing.”
The real nourishment we receive from God is the Bread of Heaven, Christ, broken on the cross for the salvation of the world and swallowed in faith. And yet in some mysterious way we are pointed to this real nourishment, perhaps we even receive this real nourishment, as we regularly participate in the Lord’s Supper and munch on and swallow the physical bread broken at this table. When the church celebrates the Lord’s Supper in worship, the very Gospel of Jesus Christ is presented to the church. That’s why it has been said that even when the sermon is lousy on Sunday morning, as long as the Lord’s Supper is celebrated the Gospel will still have been proclaimed!
We need to be careful here, however, and make clear that the bread and the cup of the Lord Supper are not only symbols. It’s not that symbols aren’t powerful. They can be. Think about a Nazi swastika, for example. A swastika is a symbol that points to something which can illicit in people powerful emotions and lead to decisive, even violent action. However, it’s just a symbol. It’s just painted lines on a flag. There is no power or life that literally flows through those lines.
The bread and the cup of the Lord’s Supper are different. They are not merely symbols, they are sacrament. The church has long understood that in some mysterious way there is power and life that actually flows through these elements when the church receives them in community. Not magic, but power, the power of God’s Spirit which is alive in this world and breaking into our lives in real and transformative ways. Another way of saying this is that in some mysterious way we actually meet the very presence of Christ in this sacrament. We get to taste Christ, to taste all that Christ has in store for us, when we gather around this table. And that taste, though small, works wonderful things in our lives.
Picture this scene. I’m sitting in our family room reading the newspaper waiting for dinner. It’s been a long day and I’m hungry. My wife is in the kitchen cooking up something delicious. I can tell that it’s delicious because of the smell which is filling up the whole house. My wife is a fantastic cook.
At that point I’m helpless. Even though it isn’t yet dinnertime, I put down the newspaper and make my way into the kitchen. I make some small talk with my wife, but it’s not really small talk I’m after. I ask her how long it will be before dinner is ready. She gently tells me that dinner will be ready when it’s ready. I tell her that it smells delicious, so good that I can almost taste it. She says thank you, completely ignoring my not-so-subtle hint. I ask her if I can help in any way. She refuses, knowing that I’m not really interested in helping.
At last she gives in, probably just so she can get rid of me. She takes a spoon, dips it into the pot, and offers me a taste. Not a bowlful, not a whole helping, just a taste. And then she sends me on my way.
It’s just a taste but still it’s wonderful. It’s absolutely delicious. And I savor it. I let the flavor linger. Oh, that’s good. I want some more of that. I imagine what a whole bowlful will taste like when dinnertime finally comes. My mouth is watering now. My stomach is growling. The anticipation is tangible. I now know that at some point in the near future I am going to find my hunger completely and wonderfully satisfied.
In a moment, when we gather around this table to celebrate the Lord’s Supper together, Christ is not going to give us each a bowlful. But he is going to give us a taste. If we come in faith, if we come trusting Jesus as the Bread of Heaven, he will gives us a taste.
Just for a moment, before we come, I want you to think about what it is that Jesus is going to allow us to taste.
For one, around this table we get to taste the community, the family, that Jesus came to establish in God’s Kingdom. For a moment, all that divides us – politics, personality, race, age, gender – all of it will be set aside as we, for a moment, live in the reality that in Christ there is nothing that divides us. In Christ, we are brothers and sisters, beloved children of our Heavenly Father, and will be so for eternity.
Now, this is, of course, a reality that we only get to taste this morning. As you know, the unity promised us in Christ has not been fully realized in this life. And as we leave this table we will quickly find that there are still things that we allow to divide us. Even out on the patio this morning after church, we will likely find that there are still things which push us apart. Even so, let us be encouraged as we remember that around this table we have tasted, if only for a moment, that some day God will forever establish a community in his kingdom that is beautifully and completely at one.
Around this table we also get to taste grace. We get to taste full acceptance as God’s people. For a moment, all the sin, all the shame, all the guilt we carry with us and which pushes us away from God, it all falls away in light of the truth that when Jesus’ body was broken and his blood was shed on the cross, all that kept us from God has been taken away. We are invited guests at the banquet of our King. In spite of all that you have done against your Father in Heaven, if you come in faith you will find that he has, nonetheless, saved a place of honor for you at his table.
Now again, this is a reality we only get to taste. For even before we get back home today sin will creep back in and remind us how often we continue to fail, how undeserving we really are. But when it does we don’t lose hope because around this table we will have tasted once again the grace of God which we know will, in the end, have the last word.
Most importantly, around this table this morning we will get to taste the real presence of Christ. In a world where it can so often seem as if Jesus is nowhere to be found, we will be reminded in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper this morning that Christ is, after all, present with us always. He is not only waiting for us, or coming to get us, but is, by the Holy Spirit, with us. Now. Here. In this place.
The church, as you may know, has fought for centuries about how exactly Jesus is present in the Lord’s Supper. We still don’t agree. I doubt that we ever will. So perhaps it would be better if we all just took Jesus at is word and recognized that even though we will never really understand how, he is present here. In some mysterious way, we do get to taste the real presence of Christ around this table.
And not only is Jesus present here but as we have faith Christ meets us wherever we go. He even goes on ahead of us so that he can meet us when we get there. In light of this fact there have been some who have suggested that when Jesus gave us the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper and told us to remember him when we broke bread and poured out wine that he wasn’t only giving us instructions for a ritual to be practiced on Sunday morning in church, but was reminding us to celebrate his presence whenever we sit down to eat and drink.
Maybe it’s not such a stretch to believe that Christ wants us to taste him and remember him whenever we break bread, whenever we fill our cups. When you gather around your dinner table at home, especially when you make extra food and pull up extra chairs and invite others to join you around your table, what if you let the bread, or the pizza, or the soup, or whatever it is that is being served that meal, remind you of the true Bread?
Maybe this is why we pray before we eat. In our mealtime prayers, what if we made a habit of thanking God for not only nourishing our bodies with the bread that’s just come out of the oven, but also for nourishing our souls with the eternal Bread that has come down from heaven. Let the bread we are about to consume remind us of the Bread which has already consumed us. In the breaking of the one, we get to taste the other.
One writer put it this way. I like this a lot. “May every meal, in the humblest home, in the richest palace, beneath the canopy of the sky with only the grass for a carpet, may every meal be a sacrament.” May it be a sacrament which points us to the source of our life, the true Bread come down from heaven, our Lord and our Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Next Step
A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
Read John 6:52-59. What is the most striking thing that Jesus says here?
Eat Jesus’ flesh? Drink Jesus’ blood? What do you make of this?
How is putting faith in Jesus like eating bread?
Jesus spends a lot of time here using bread to help us understand him and understand salvation. Why do you think bread is such an important metaphor for Jesus?
Have you ever “tasted” the real presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper? If so, how?
It’s been said that a sacrament is a “visible sign which points us to an invisible reality.” The “visible sign” in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper is the bread and the cup. What “invisible realities” are these signs pointing us to?
If the Lord’s Supper is such an important occasion for the church to “taste” Jesus, should we be celebrating it every Sunday like many other churches do?
Can any meal time be a time to meet the presence of Christ, or does that just happen at the meal of the Lord’s Supper in church?
Further ScriptureReadingsfor the Week:
Monday: Luke 22:1-23 – The Last Supper
Tuesday: Luke 24:13-35 – Meeting Jesus with bread
Wednesday: I Corinthians 11:17-26 – Words of Institution
Thursday: I Corinthians 15:12-35 – Christ is raised!
Friday: Leviticus 17:10-16 – Life in the blood
Saturday : In preparation for worship tomorrow, read John 6:60-71.
 See Leviticus 17:10-14.
 The best example, of course, is when God the Spirit made his love for us known by coming in the physical person of Jesus, God in flesh.
 Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John: A Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, c. 2012), p. 434.
 Bruner, p. 434-5.
 William Barclay, The Daily Bible Study: John, Volume 1, (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1955), p. 232.