This sermon was given at my hometown church, Trinity Lutheran Church in Loyal, WI, by invitation of Pastor Dan there.
Gospel: John 6:51-58
In John’s gospel, the feeding of the five thousand leads to extended teaching in which Jesus identifies himself as the true “bread of life.” Finally, in these verses, he makes a connection that would not be understood until after his death, in light of the church’s celebration of holy communion.
[Jesus said,] 51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; 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 forever.”
Grace and peace to you, people of God, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
First of all, I want to thank you all for having me back. Despite growing up here at Trinity and worshiping here for my whole childhood, this feels very new to me. I have changed a lot since high school (maybe some of you are happy to hear that) and I see a lot of positive change happening here, too. That’s maybe one of the most beautiful things about the Church of God, is that is dynamic, always changing, always moving, always becoming, always being reformed. I never really intended to be in this position, as the message bringer, but God has changed that. So, in a surprising plot twist that is my life, I am back here, in this pulpit, worshiping at Trinity once again. Now, I could go on gushing about the wisdom and lessons I gained while growing up here, but I’m pretty sure that’s not why Pastor Dan invited me back, so let’s get into it.
The readings today seem rather ironic, today. In Proverbs 9.1-6, we see Wisdom calling out to us, the simple, to feast at her banquet. The wisdom of God, portrayed as a woman (which, let’s be honest, totally makes sense in my house), is going to the ends of the earth to bring people to reap the benefits wisdom brings. Ephesians 5.15-20 encourages us to live wisely, making the most of our time on earth by worshiping God and being filled with the Holy Spirit. Even our Psalm (34.9-14) encourages us to use our words wisely. So, of the four readings we shared today, three of them were about wisdom. The last one, though, kinda throws us a curve ball.
Jesus is talking in a way that, even today, seems, well, a little loony. He seems to be not just unwise, but anti-wise in this teaching. It’s easier to envision Jesus as the bread, it seems, than it is to envision the bread as Jesus. I mean, we can maybe wrap our heads around the bread of life as a figurative metaphor, but now he’s changed from eating bread to eating flesh, from drinking wine to drinking blood. I don’t know about you, but I’m not loving the mental image that comes to mind. It forces us to wrestle with this a bit, like the crowd who were fed just the day before by a sign of God, and ask, “What’s this all about, Jesus?” This passage was one that got early Christians into a lot of trouble, because people assumed that they were actually cannibals.
This story, in the course of John’s gospel, is essentially the last supper we see in the other 3 gospels before Jesus is killed, so we naturally tend to read it a little cryptically. I would suggest we do the same, here. In this light, we begin to see things differently. It changes from cannibalism to sacrifice. More specifically, Jesus’ sacrifice for all humanity. Jesus is the bread of life, given and broken for all people.
So, maybe the key to this passage isn’t so much the flesh and blood, but the simple word “abide”. The Greek word “menei” (μένει) is translated as “abide”, but the core of it means to remain, to endure, to last, to dwell, or to wait for. Jesus, then, isn’t instructing us to eat flesh and blood, but to remain rooted in and waiting for him. We remain with Jesus through our baptism and communion. At funerals, we often hear or read that, through baptism, we have been united with Christ in his death and we are united with him in his resurrection. We remain and Jesus and Jesus dwells in us. We remain rooted in Jesus and we patiently await Jesus, either in glimpses of beauty and glory in the world or in his full glory.
Now, of course, we aren’t always the best at that. Waiting is incredibly difficult these days and we aren’t always known for being the best followers or disciples. We are people who are broken and it doesn’t take us very long to realize that. Despite the incredible blessings that we see around us, even in our most elated celebration, all we have to do is turn on the news or log onto our favorite social media outlet and we can see that we aren’t perfect people. Stories of corruption, lying, and deceit are almost expected. Divorce rate is near 50%. And I’m sure we all have personal stories we haven’t shared with others that have forced us to experience the dark side of humanity or ourselves.
Here’s a news flash, though. Jesus doesn’t care. Jesus doesn’t care about what you, they, or we have done. Jesus doesn’t care that we aren’t always patient or kind or faithful. Jesus doesn’t give us a check list Jesus died for you, became our bread of life, though none of us deserved it. Jesus, in flesh and blood, came to do what we never could – pay the debt for our sins. See, Jesus abides in us, remains with us, dwells in us, the good and the bad. God, through more love than we could ever understand, became the bread of life so that we may eat of it. And not just eat of it, but share it.
Even though the last couple weeks of readings have been about Jesus and bread, this whole section of teaching was only a day after he fed 5000 people. And, unless Jesus wanted to have the longest intinction line in the history of the world, I’m imagining Jesus gave the blessed bread to his disciples, and the disciples gave it to a few other people, who gave it to others, who gave it to others. And the chain, the parade of life giving bread and fish, just keep coming. And I can’t help but believe that this is what it looks like to abide, to be rooted in, and to wait for Jesus.
We are all constantly given a string of opportunities to bless others. We are constantly given chances to experience the love of God through touching, hearing, seeing, and tasting the world around us. And, as we follow Christ, abiding in Christ, we pass them along to others, confident that these are not the only blessings that we’ll receive from Christ’s love and now the only blessings we get to share with each other in Christ’s love. We remind each other of the sacrifice of Christ by sacrificing ourselves. We remind others to be aware of God’s love and mercy by keeping our eyes open and pointing God out to people who may not see.
Jesus says, in this gospel reading, that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood will have eternal life. Of course, that can mean heaven when we die, but I think it means more than that. The life that I’ve described, a life aware of God’s work, God’s love, God’s mercy, brings the eternal into our everyday life. The bread of life, the bread of heaven, isn’t just a meal we eat when we dine in Heaven, but it is eaten every time we experience God today and every day. Eternal life isn’t just a thing we experience then, but it is something we experience now.
So, the question is this: how are we living eternal life right now? It has been given to us, free of charge, a beautiful gift of grace and generosity. We have eternal life before us, right now. The blessed gifts, the blessed bread and fish, have been handed to us and, after we have received it, we pass it on. That is what communion is all about – sharing in the gifts and grace we have all received, passing on and using the gifts and skills we have to be the hands and feet of Christ to our neighbors. When we partake in communion, we are taking part in community, gathering together to feast on the flesh and blood of Jesus, whose sacrifice gives us our hope, life, and peace.
So, as I close, I encourage you to receive communion as a sign of the sacrifice that Jesus has made for you. As we take part in communion later today, take the time surrounding it to reflect on that. Jesus is the bread of Heaven. Jesus is our dwelling place. Jesus has remained faithful to us and dwells within us. And now is our chance to dwell within Jesus and find our roots in Christ. Amen.