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Pentecost 13B Sermon
John 6: 51-58
August
19, 2018

 

Sermon Archives
 

 

John 6:51-58

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.’
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 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.’

May the grace, mercy and peace of God our Father be with us, in the name of his risen son, our Lord and Savior
Jesus Christ; Amen.

When last we saw our hero, Jesus had fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes. He tried to get away to the other side of the lake for a little alone time, but was followed by the crowds. They wanted him to feed them again, but he said that he is the living bread from heaven. Finally he tells them not only that he is the living bread from heaven, but that the bread that he gives for the life of the world is his flesh. Now you are caught up with the beginning of our passage from John 6 as I shared it this morning.

It seems that we have moved on from bread – that staple food item that has sustained life on this planet for centuries that I had you smell and taste two weeks ago – to flesh … Jesus’ flesh. In typical fashion for those who stand in opposition to Jesus in John’s Gospel, these Jews here take him literally while he is speaking symbolically. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They ask a question that might have been on our mind had we been there as well! How can we eat the flesh of this person? It smacks of cannibalism, and we definitely don’t want to go there!

Jesus does not shy away – he does not explain away his answer with a, “no, no, don’t take me literally,” type of answer! As a matter of fact, he sort of doubles down on it – “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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” If Jesus wanted to shock them, he certainly succeeded with all of this flesh-eating, blood drinking talk! But if he is not speaking literally – if he is not giving people permission to actually take a bite out of his arm or leg so that they can have eternal life – what does he mean? It is a mystery, isn’t it?
Yes, yes it is a mystery! Do you know what “mystery” is another name for in church circles? Sacrament! A sacrament is something that the church does – an action or rite – which conveys to us the very presence of the living Christ. Many of you know that we in the Lutheran church claim two sacraments – Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. These are the actions of the church which use common earthly elements – water for baptism, bread and wine for communion – mixed with the word of God, and because we have been commanded by Christ to continue to do them until he returns, they are considered sacraments. And we can refer to them as mysteries because we cannot control or fully know how God’s love, grace and forgiveness are experienced through them. We trust that they are, and we know through our experience that they are.

The promise that we have from Jesus in this passage is the same promise that we receive every time we come forward up this aisle and put out our hands for some bread or a wafer, and a small cup of wine – that in participating with God in this mysterious activity, Jesus abides in us. By eating and drinking these elements, we receive the real, loving, forgiving presence of Jesus. We cannot explain with logic how this bread and wine remain bread and wine: finite, common materials which bear the infinite real presence of Jesus in, with and under them. We cannot use wisdom or intelligence to understand how we abide in Jesus and Jesus abides in us right here and right now. We cannot truly know the depth of the eternal life that we have – already now, not far into the future – as we place this food and drink into our mouths and chew and swallow. We do, though, have the witness of Jesus, his disciples and the church throughout the centuries testifying to the fact that as they have participated in this mysterious sacrament regularly, they have experienced God’s love in a special way, and encouraging us to do the same so that we may experience it as well. All throughout John 6, Jesus has tried to help us embrace that God’s wisdom is not so much knowledge to be explained as it is relationship to be trusted and embraced. Eternal life does not come through understanding correctly or believing the right things; according to Jesus, those who HAVE eternal life NOW are those who are in close communion with him. That communion is offered here nearly every Sunday when we gather to worship God and give praise to Jesus.

Eternal life is often defined as going to heaven after we die. Jesus seems to shy away from that understanding as he refers to eternal life in the present tense and talks about another gift we have to look forward to after we die - that is “being raised up.” He says, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood HAVE eternal life! AND I will raise them up on the last day.” Eternal here has a couple of meanings. Surely it has a quantitative meaning, referring to length of time. Most of us understand the life that Jesus offers us as eternal because it never ends. But this life is also eternal because it has with it the possibility of joy and peace which life without Jesus rarely if ever bears. If it does, it is fleeting.

So yes, we have eternal life now – meaning that the life we share in communion with the presence of Jesus’ body and blood is a gift beyond measure; and it is also a gift that transcends all boundaries of time and space. How does this happen? Through the simple act of eating the common food and drink, bread and wine. Anything more that we can say is guessing because of the mysterious nature of this sacrament.

Once in the early 1990s I was driving my late brother and a couple of friends home after a golf outing. They were messing around in the car, as they liked to do, and Russ found my home communion kit. He opened it up and started to joke around, eating a wafer and taking a swig of the wine, claiming he was taking communion. I know that he was trying to get a reaction from me, but I wouldn’t allow him to get under my skin. The reason was Luther’s explanation for communion in the Small Catechism. He asks, “How can bodily eating and drinking do such a great thing?” And the answer comes, “Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but rather the words that are recorded, ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sin.”

Even though those two common earthly elements were there, Jesus’ body and blood were not present in that time and place. The next time I took communion to a home-bound member with that very same kit, they were present. That is because I visited with them, talked with them, prayed with them, and shared the words of Institution, the Word of God that Luther talks about. On the other hand, if a group of people are sitting in a home or restaurant, enjoying a loaf of bread, maybe some cheese and a good bottle of wine and pray that Jesus would bless them with his presence there, who is to say that God cannot work in that time and place, even without an ordained pastor or traditional elements?

The mystery of the sacrament of Holy Communion is rooted in these words from Jesus: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. We don’t have to understand it; we don’t have to know all of the church’s teachings on it. We simply trust that Jesus’ body and blood are really present in, with, and under that bread and wine: and as we receive him, he abides in us for eternity. May the joy of eternal life be yours today as we await that day when we are raised up with our resurrected Lord; Amen.