On eating Jesus and Holy Communion
Jesus said, ‘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.’
Food has become a new religion.
It is what many people live for. It is what we do on Sundays. We go to a gastro pub; we invite people round for a BBQ. There has been a proliferation of food programmes and celebrity chefs.
And if things go wrong, often food is perceived to be the problem. Too much sugar, not enough bran, too little fruit or water.
And equally food is often put forward as the golden bullet. If we can get people to eat healthily, and particularly children, then many of our social and personal ills can be sorted out. This week we heard of another government initiative about school dinners.
But it makes sense. If it really is only about the here and now, if it is only about this world, then food is as good a new religion as any.
We read some verses from John 6. Earlier in John 6, the Jewish leaders have challenged Jesus. They say, ‘Do you remember the story of Moses. Our ancestors were in the wilderness. They needed food. Moses prayed and God provided this miraculous food from heaven called manna. Well, if you are who you claim to be, give us food. Give us food from heaven’.
Jesus answers them, ‘Your ancestors ate that food which came from heaven, and they died. Why? Because although it came from heaven (and actually all our food is a gift from God) it was physical food. But, I am going to give you true food, spiritual food - food that will give you eternal life.’
What Jesus is saying is that the physical food that we eat here is, in fact, not the real, ultimate, true food. It is shadow food. It will sustain our physical bodies, it will sustain our physical life, but it will not give us true life, eternal life.
He is saying that the real food, the true food - and this is where it gets weird - is him! ‘My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.’ He is the source of shadow food, the one who gives us shadow food (he has just fed 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish) but he is more than that. He is the real food.
The verb 'to be' the verb 'to eat' are the same in Russian.
We are what we eat.
If we eat dead stuff (however tasty or attractive it is) we will stay dead. Jesus says to them, 'Your forefathers ate manna and died’
But if we eat that which is living, that which is the source of life and love, then that which is living, that which is life and love will come into us. It will give us life and it will enable us to love.
And if we eat that which is eternal, we will know eternal life:
Jesus says, ‘But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’
John uses many pictures to show us what it means to become and live as a Christian. He tells us that we are to come to Jesus, enter through Jesus, receive Jesus, look to Jesus, follow Jesus, abide in Jesus. Earlier in this chapter he has said that the work of God is to believe in Jesus.
But here Jesus goes one step further. He tells us that we are to eat him. His listeners found that very hard to take. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they ask. But actually what Jesus is speaking about is an incredible intimacy. We are to allow him to come into us and become part of us.
I don't think that Jesus here in John is speaking of communion. My own opinion, for what it is worth, is that John at one level is pretty non-sacramental.
When Jesus says that his flesh is true food and his blood is true drink, he is not claiming that he will be changed into physical bread and wine. What he is claiming is that if you want to know what is true food, real food, if you want to know what will give us real life (and for John what is real is what is eternal) then you need to believe in him, receive him, eat of him. It is all the same thing. The bread and the wine, and all other physical food, is merely shadow food. Jesus is here claiming that when we receive him by faith we receive the real food.
But at another level John is completely sacramental. Everything here is a shadow of the reality which is Jesus. When we sit down to eat any food, we are immediately reminded of the true food.
And I am not one of those who think that we can separate these verses from communion.
Paul writes that when we come to communion, and eat the bread and drink the wine, we participate, we share in Christ. So when we come to communion we remember that Jesus lived, that he died, that his body was broken for us on the cross, and his blood poured out for us, but we do more than remember. By faith we come to him, we believe him, we eat him, and by faith we receive Jesus Christ, the living bread.
It is the most precious gift.
Today we are invited to come to him and to eat him, so that he comes deep into us, so that he fills us, so that He makes us who we truly are.
It is no wonder that people like Ignatius were so grabbed by the mystery of it (and possibly let their heart run away with their head) that they called communion 'the medicine of immortality and the antidote which prevents us from dying, [and] a cleansing remedy driving away evil'.
The picture that I like to use is that as we eat the bread and drink the wine through our mouth, so by faith Christ comes in [from the head down], fills our whole being and gives us life.
We are what we eat.
If we eat this bread and drink this wine, putting our trust in Jesus, in who he is – the Son of Man and the Son of God - and in what he did, receiving Jesus, then we will be changed and we will become like Jesus.