A sermon, based on John 6.51-58, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, August 19, 2018
Every once in a while, though all of my preaching is biblically-based, I like to take a scripture text and walk through it, asking the questions: What does it say? What does it mean? Today, is one of those occasions…
For the past three Sundays, our gospel passages have been all about bread (with one more Sunday to go!).
Three Sundays ago, we read of the miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand.(1)
The past two Sundays, we read of Jesus’ proclamation that he is the bread of life.(2)
Today, more bread with an added twist: blood! “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood…” says Jesus. This audacious statement, coupled with the practice of the Eucharist, partaking of bread and wine as the body and blood of Jesus Christ, may have led to the charge by some, dating back to the Roman Empire of the second century, that Christians practice cannibalism!
This is paradoxical language. On its face, making little, perhaps no sense, but, at its heart, embracing, indeed, embodying (pun intended!) deepest truth. Even more, this language is meant to be taken equally literally and metaphorically.
Literally, in that we come to the Communion table to partake of the Sacrament of bread and wine; outward and visible signs of Jesus’ presence among us and within us. So, we sing:
Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;
Nay, let us be thy guests (for) the feast is thine…
One with each other, Lord, for one in thee,
Who art one Savior and one living Head;
Then open thou our eyes that we may see;
Be known to us in (the) breaking of the Bread(3)
Metaphorically, in that what it means, what effect it has to partake of the body and blood of Jesus, we cannot perceive with our physical senses, but only believe and receive by faith. And the effects, the gifts and graces of reception are manifold and stupendous!
“Whoever eats this bread will live forever”!
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day”!
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them”!
This is a lot of gifts and graces! The best gift and graces!
Yet as wondrous as they are, they are not the point. The point, rather, is the one who is the giver…
If I said to you or if you said to me or if any one of us said to anyone, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood…”, it would mean little or nothing other than a testimony of the grandiosity of, at best, our self-conceit and, at worst, our madness. But because Jesus – who, according to John the evangelist, is the incarnation, the earthly, human embodiment of God’s Word, the animating, creating power of the universe(4) – says it, thus, being the source of these gifts and graces, we are bidden to have faith and believe that we will live forever, that we will have eternal life, that we will be raised up on the last day, and that Jesus abides in us and we in him.
And in our believing, yea, our living, we are not merely meant to be, but already are incarnations, embodiments of these gifts and graces.
To put this another way: As Jesus abides in us and we in him, his life is enfleshed in us; in our thoughts and feelings, our intentions and actions, our speaking and doing.
And one word sums up his life: Love.
(1) John 6.1-21
(2) John 6.24-35 and John 35, 41-51
(3) Words by George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959)
(4) John 1.1-4, 14