“I am the bread, my flesh is true food”

A sermon for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost, August 12, 2021

John 6:51-58

The people listening to Jesus are thoroughly confused at this point.

He’s performed a miracle in feeding thousands from practically nothing.

He disappeared but they followed him across the sea and found him once more.

And he began to teach about that bread they had fed on, the bread that fills more than their physical hunger, the bread that they hunger for that comes from God, not from the hands of man.

In this teaching, Jesus begins to push the boundaries of their understanding.

They know the history of God providing food for the people.

They know that God has the power to feed their very real hunger pains.

But, what is this talk of an eternal life through an eternal bread?

What is this talk of consuming the flesh of this man Jesus?

The people listening to Jesus are thoroughly confused at this point.

“How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, well, more confusing things.

“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”

“my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink”

“whoever eats me will live because of me”

I think in this part of our journey in John 6, it is helpful to step back and remember the purpose of John’s Gospel, that is, what is the author of John primarily focused on sharing with his readers?

The DIVINITY of Christ.

The full and realized connection between Christ and God as one in the same, the Word of God made flesh, the incarnation.

This is a radically different Gospel than that of Mark who we had been reading before this current journey through John 6 (and whom we will return to after our conclusion to John 6 next week). Mark is focused on sharing the important beats of Jesus’ ministry. Mark begins with John the Baptist, there is no birth narrative, and ends with the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances of Jesus coming as a later addition after the original Gospel had been completed. Mark is concerned with sharing the importance of this person Jesus and spreading the news of his way as quickly as possible without dwelling on some of the larger theological implications. Mark assumes that piece will work itself out and that it is more important to him to simply get the story out as quickly as possible, possibly even relying on first-hand accounts of witnesses and those who knew personally those involved to hit the most important story beats.

John comes to us after the story of Jesus has become accepted.

Mark set the table, Matthew and Luke have filled in the gaps to draw on specific themes and biblical tradition in order to convince their audiences of the truth of the Good News that is Jesus Christ, so it has fallen to John to wrestle with the deeper theological questions of who Jesus was, is, and is to be for us as we move forward in our tradition of following this man who was more than just a man.

John is focused here in chapter 6 in making an important connection: the divinity of Christ is important, but it doesn’t mean much if there is no connection to the creation that we share with one another. How does Christ’s connection to our creation, how does Christ’s incarnation, the embodiment of the same flesh we all share, continue to move us, continue to connect with us, continue to inspire and encourage and empower us, once Christ has arisen and ascended to be with God once more?

Thus, Christ connects the historical experiences of the people receiving bread from God with a new understanding of what it means to eat of the bread of God now that Christ has walked among us and given himself for us.

This is confusing to the people at the moment because the story isn’t yet finished. Jesus is standing directly before them and they cannot imagine they’re going to start taking nibbles of him right then and there, so how exactly is this supposed to work?

First, we need to forget everything we think we know of how the world works. 

We need to forget everything we think we know of how bread and wine and eating and drinking works.

We need to turn to Wisdom and respond to her call: “You that are simple, turn in here!…Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”

We need to accept that what Christ is telling us is both true and that it is both exactly as it sounds and that there is a little more to it than becoming cannibals in the moment.

We have to trust Christ.

We have to have faith.

That is the only thing we can do really, have faith.

Our worship experience, our celebration of the Eucharist is informed through millennia of tradition, both Biblical and practiced, and is founded on a simple reality: it is solely through our faith in Christ and what has been shared with us that we worship and practice in the way we do.

Without faith, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Without faith, we wouldn’t accept what Jesus is laying before us here in John 6.

Without faith, we would be as thoroughly confused as the people are today in hearing these words from Christ.

Our celebration of the Eucharist is our connection to the flesh and blood of Christ offered for us.

Our celebration of the Eucharist is our connection to the life eternal, made available to us by God through Christ.

We abide in Christ, and Christ in us, every time we come to this table.

We abide in Christ, and Christ in us, when we empty ourselves before this table to be filled once more with the source of eternal life, that bread and wine that only Christ can offer.

I invite you to come to this table today repeating the following prayer:

I empty all of myself before this table:

  • All of my sins
  • All of my doubts
  • All of my failings
  • All of my fears

And I invite Christ into me, to fill me fully, this day and every day.

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