Bread…and Blood?!

The text of the sermon, based on John 6.51-58, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, August 15, 2021.

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For the past three Sundays, our gospel passages have been all about bread (and with one more Sunday to go!).

Three Sundays ago, Jesus fed the five thousand with two fish and five barley loaves of bread.[1]

The past two Sundays, Jesus proclaimed 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 in partaking of bread and wine as the flesh and blood of Jesus, may have led to the charge by some, dating back to the Roman Empire of the second century, that Christians practice cannibalism!

Notwithstanding that scandalous allegation, this – “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood” – is the epitome of paradox. These words, on their face, make little, perhaps no sense, being nonsense (no wonder the people struggled to grasp Jesus’ meaning, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?), but, at their heart, these words embrace and embody (pun intended!) deepest truth.

Even more, these words are meant to be taken equally literally and metaphorically…

Literally, in that we come to the Communion table (at least, before the advent of the viral pandemic and, we pray, one day, to do so again!) to partake of the Sacrament of bread and wine, the outward visible signs of Jesus’ flesh and blood, which he offers to us.

And metaphorically, in that the effect of our partaking of Jesus’ flesh and blood is not something we can perceive with our physical senses, but only believe and receive by faith.

So, we sing:

Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest;

Nay, let us be Thy guests; the feast is Thine;

Thyself at Thine own board make manifest

in Thine own Sacrament of Bread and Wine.

We meet as in that upper room they met;

Thou at the table, blessing, yet dost stand:

“This is My Body”; so Thou givest yet:

faith still receives the cup as from Thy hand.[3]

And the results, the gifts of our reception, Jesus testifies, are awesome! “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.”

Yet as wonderful, wonder-full as these gifts are, they are not the point, which is the giver of the gifts: Jesus, the Life and Love of God incarnate. For that reason and that reason only, we are bidden to have faith and believe.

Now, living forever, having eternal life, being raised up on the last day (which are three ways of saying the same thing!), is not about orthodoxy, knowing or understanding correctly the right things. Or orthopraxy, doing the right things. No. Living forever, having eternal life, being raised up on the last day arise from one thing and one thing only to which Jesus also testifies: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” To partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood is sacramental – the outward physical sign of an inward spiritual reality of Jesus taking root in us. In a word, to partake of Jesus’ flesh and blood is to become what…who we eat.

On April 1, Maundy Thursday, I closed my sermon, entitled We Are Who We Eat, with this illustration, which, today, I use again…

In The Last Temptation of Christ,[4] Nikos Kazantzakis describes the disciples at the Last Supper. Jesus offered each of them a piece of bread. They felt it descend, like a burning ember, to their bowels. Jesus offered the cup. Each took a sip of wine. It was thick and salty, tasting like blood. Their minds spun. Their hearts stirred. Their bodies shook. Suddenly, they sensed Jesus taking root within them. And Peter, for the first time, understood who Jesus was and, therefore, who he was because of Jesus.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Because that is true, we live forever. We have eternal life. We will be raised up on the last day.

© 2021 PRA

#byfaithwebelieveandreceive #thegiftsofChristsbodyandblood #eternallife #abidinginChrist #Jesusfleshandblood


[1] John 6.1-21

[2] John 6.24-35 and John 35, 41-51

[3] From the hymn, Come, risen Lord, and deign to be our guest (my emphases); words (1931) by George Wallace Briggs (1875-1959)

[4] Nikos Kazantzakis (1883-1957). The Last Temptation of Christ (1955)

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