Sermon for Sunday September 2, 2018 Palm UMC by Pastor Michelle Magee
John 6:51-69 “Abiding Bread”
Eat my flesh and drink my blood and you will live forever.
That by itself, is a weird claim. It sounds, cannibalistic, it sounds like a vampire almost, right? The immortality from drinking blood…
I started reading this week a novel, The Historian, it didn’t come out too recently but I read another book by the same author Elizabeth Kostova and really liked it- anyway I’m just getting into this one but the intro has all of this stuff about how this is really based on things her own father told her and letters he wrote, and then the claim has been subtly laid out- through twists and turns that keep you turning pages- but that not Dracula the legend, but the guy the Dracula legend is based on, is indeed still alive. But of course the author hooks you in such a way that you’re not quite sure if this is fiction played cleverly or she’s really asking you to suspend disbelief and go into the story of a person who has lived several hundred years. Don’t spoil it for me if you know what happens- because I’m halfway there, hooked in the story and willing to see where it leads.
Jesus told the people gathered in a synagogue, after first feeding the crowds on the open mountainside and then crossing the lake and being followed there, now he is in a synagogue, still talking about the Bread of Life- and he makes this outrageous claim, that eating his body and drinking his blood is not only kosher- you know, permissible according to their strict dietary rules- but what God really really wants them to do. That that is the way to truly live and to have eternal life.
It takes suspending disbelief to enter the story. It’s trusting God that there can be indeed a bread that abides.
And again Jesus references the manna- how when the people of Israel were escaping from slavery and wandering in the desert, God provided for them, but they had to trust, remember that part- they couldn’t ever gather more than they needed and try to save it- it would go bad, they would have to trust that God would give them more fresh manna the next day. Except on the 6th day they had to gather twice as much and rest on the seventh day. It was a continual exercise in trusting that God would provide and not abandon them.
Now they are being asked to trust that something can happen when they eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood. Of course we are used to knowing that this is about holy communion. That even though we believe in the real presence of Jesus in the elements, thank goodness they still taste like bread and wine- or grape juice in our case.
But even so- it is a trusting that this is something real. That our gathering together, remembering the story of God’s goodness, blessing these elements- that somehow in all that, by the time we put that piece of bread wet in juice into our mouths- that we are somehow receiving Jesus into our beings.
Now I mentioned before how all 4 gospels talk about this miracle of feeding of the multitude from very little. But the Gospel of John does something really different here. Because in John we never get the story of Jesus breaking the bread at the last supper and saying this is my body, of taking the cup and saying this is my blood. But in John, On that last night we hear that they ate together but the action is around how Jesus washed their feet.
And the note in my Study Bible says that this is because, “all of Jesus’ life, rather than one particular event at the end of his life, “institutes” the sacrament of the eucharist… to share in the eucharistic meal is not to remember or commemorate one particular event but to share in all of Jesus’ life. Participation in the eucharist creates a relationship between Jesus and the believer that contains within it the promise of new life. “
In other words- partaking of this meal, is beginning, or deepening, an ongoing relationship with Jesus, that changes us. Changes how we live in this world.
I really like that, and I invite us to reflect on it. It is not only Jesus’ sacrifice that we remember when we eat this bread and drink this cup- it is all of his life. It is about the relationship that we have with Jesus, not only the beliefs that we have.
Because so many times we can concentrate on the dos and don’ts of holy communion. In Santa Paula I would accompany an older gentleman sometimes on First Satrudays of the month in his ministry at the local convalescent home, bringing Holy Communion to the residents there. Every time, afterwards he would want to have a discussion with me about who was really worthy or not of Holy Communion- he was concerned about some people not really knowing what they were doing. And every time I explained to him my own convictions about Holy Communion- that it isn’t about getting our theology just right, but receiving the grace of God in tangible form.
Because if we get right down to it, it is a hard teaching. That a certain person who walked this earth 2000 years ago said we can abide in him, and he in us, if we participate in this meal, trusting in God. You have to suspend your disbelief and just do it- just enter the story, join the community. And not everyone can. Jesus was okay with many leaving after he said all of that.
Because not everyone can suspend the disbelief to go into the story. Not everyone can grab onto the idea of a God who comes to earth in human form and gives himself away, as the path for true life. But if you’re here, you probably have had some version of this moment that Peter has, Lord to whom shall we go? you have the words of eternal life.
This is it. This is where I’m staking my claim, in a self-giving, eternally loving, true way of life God.
And if you do brothers and sisters, be ready for what that means- you will abide in Jesus- Jesus will abide in you- and it will change you. The way of self giving as God’s way- that will become your way. Of loving others- even the ones hard to love- Jesus will push you to do that.
So no, not everyone can accept this teaching. From 5000 fed, Jesus is down to 12 disicples. And even among them was the betrayer, and the denier. But It is enough that some can continue in the story with Jesus, in order to transform the world.
Hooked in the story and willing to see where it leads- that is enough of an opening for God to come, abide in us, to begin to truly live – doing what Jesus did, living how Jesus lived, giving ourselves away also for the sake of others. Yes we should be careful- careful to consider what we are doing… careful to recognize how powerful this can be- that we need to do it more!
What a holy wonderful calling, what a holy wonderful meal, of bread that abides.