I will be reading a bit of an earlier passage from John prior to what is printed in the bulletin – and I am reading a different translation. So you may follow in the bulletin if you like – but just know that what I read will be different.
The Gospel according to John, the 6th chapter.
35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 48 I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh." The Judeans 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 gnaw on the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who gnaw on 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 forever." The Gospel of our Lord.
Today’s Gospel is part of a larger story ( which you would have heard if we had not had special Sundays for the last three weeks. ) Jesus had taken his disciples to what was supposed to have been a remote place, but people figured out where they were going – and went by land – and got there first. But in their rush, apparently no one remembered to bring food. But Jesus knew that the people couldn’t hear his words if their stomachs were empty. Jesus had compassion on the people – and fed them… all 5,000 or more of them. And they had leftovers.
The next day, the crowd found them again. Except this time, they hinted rather strongly, that if Jesus was indeed the messiah – he would do what Moses did – and serve them manna from heaven. But Jesus doesn’t want them to just come to him when they are hungry for bread to eat. He did not come to be a free bakery.
So this time, instead of giving them what they ask for, Jesus gives them something more. Jesus tells who he is: "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” This sounds good to the crowd because they are still remembering the sweet taste of the bread that Jesus blessed and fed all five thousand of them the day before and so they say, “Give us this bread!”
But Jesus them he isn’t going to produce manna or barley bread – instead he is giving himself for them and for the sake of the world. Instead, he says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” And that was a bit harder for the religious leaders to swallow.
Many of us, who have grown up in the church, have heard these words all of our lives – so it’s easy for the words to lose their impact, lose their “punch.” But sometimes, when someone hears these words for the very first time – it causes a reaction.
There was a church that practiced sharing the sacrament with great formality. The linens were starched. The table was immaculate. The pastor would not just say the words of Institution but he would intone them with great solemnity. Every Communion Sunday was done exactly like the time before. Except for one Sunday. This Sunday seemed like a typical communion Sunday except…. there was a little girl who was listening very intently to the pastor. And when he got to the part “eat my body… drink my blood”... she said, very loudly, “EW YUCK!”
She’s not alone. In first communion classes, children often ask, “Is Jesus wanting us to be cannibals?” That was the religious leaders response to Jesus too. You may have noticed that I changed the translation. This was in part to help you hear it differently because the word that is typically translated as “eat” is actually closer to the word for “gnaw”. So these religious leaders would have heard Jesus say: “Those who gnaw on my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.” In response, they too were saying, “Ew Yuck.”
If Jesus wanted to get their attention – he certainly did. And people have been gnawing on the question of what Jesus meant ever since.
As Lutherans, we teach that the bread that we serve looks like bread, smells like bread and tastes like bread BUT… and here comes the mystery of it all – it is also the body of Christ. Likewise the wine or grape juice we serve looks, smells and tastes like wine or grape juice but it is also the blood of Christ.
Different denominations and different people understand it differently the point is not to figure out who is “right” but instead to hear what Jesus is doing and to receive the gift that Jesus is giving for you.
Jesus first supplied the people with bread – and fish – when they were hungry. But then he gave them much more than bread for their body. He gave himself so that they would not just be full – but that they – and we – would have life.
Jesus uses these common staples of food and drink – bread and wine – to embody the gift that he was and is still giving to us.
Today, when you come to the table, the gift of Jesus will be given, “for you.” It’s personal. Jesus’ body and blood is given for you. But not only for you. Jesus body and blood is also given for your neighbor who is kneeling or standing beside you and for the neighbor who is in Jerusalem and the neighbor who is in Mexico and for all other neighbors everywhere. This gift of Jesus’ body and blood transcends geography. It also transcends time. When we eat this bread and drink this wine; as we gnaw on Christ’s body and blood, we do so with all those on earth – and in heaven.
Jesus invites you – and all the sinners and saints on earth and the saints in heaven - to his table, to abide in him, so that Jesus may live in you. Jesus does this for you…. But not only for you. Jesus does this for the sake of the world.
“You are what you eat.” Ever hear that phrase? Usually, it’s an appeal to get people to eat more vegetables and less fast food. But I’m not talking about your nutritional intake. I’m thinking about what you eat when you come to the Lord’s table. Jesus said, “This is my body, given for you. Take and eat. This is my blood shed for you. Drink it – all of you. For when you eat Jesus’ body and drink his blood, you become part of the body of Jesus Christ.
Jesus gave himself – his body and blood – for the sake of the world. And the world needs the body of Christ.
If you read the papers, listen to the news or use social media, it is easy to get discouraged. There are many problems in the world – and we hear about them all the time. There are many messages out there that tell us that there are not enough resources to go around, that there is much to fear and that there is little hope.
I’ve heard those messages too. And sometimes I get weary. And sometimes I feel helpless. And sometimes I worry about the changes that I see or fear.
But then I remember… that Jesus had two loaves of bread and five fish and fed 5000 people – with 12 baskets of leftovers. We see scarcity… but God provides abundance. And then I remember… that Jesus has fed me and all of you and will feed us again with his body and blood in just a few moments…and I think… What am I worried about?
The world is in deep need. The world needs Jesus. But remember.. Jesus has given himself for the sake of the world and we, as the body of Christ, are here. Right now. So come and eat. Come and be fed with the bread of life so that you can go out in grace to love and serve your neighbor, praising God who can do all things with us and through us. Thanks be to God. Amen.