Text: John 6:51-58
51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink.56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Note: For the Life of the World
This chapter, likely, is a collection of teachings Jesus gave at the synagogue in Capernaum. I mention that because often it is easy to assume that the Gospels are written like chronological biographies. Instead, there was a lot more freedom for the Gospel authors to say something, to make a point about who Jesus is, through the arrangement of the story. Reading John 6, as we have been, is like drinking out of a firehose on the subject of Jesus as the bread of eternal life. This mattered to John; it is important in John’s understanding and transmission of who Jesus is and what it means to follow the way of Jesus. Tonight, I want to attempt to get to the heart of what John wants the readers of this Gospel to get.
You have all heard the phrase, “You are what you eat." That phrase was first written in the late 1800s by a materialist philosopher, Ludwig Feuerbach, who believed that the material is what is. Period. None of this idealist, religious, speculation. Well, I’m going to butcher his point because “You are what you eat” has deeply profound implications that are both spiritual and material. You are what you partake in.
The first people, as told through a poem in Genesis 1, were given the good, God-created world to partake in. God said to the humans God created at the end of the Genesis poem, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food. And it was so.” Everything that has the breath of life in it is given the created earth itself to eat, to partake in. The breath of life is sustained by partaking in God’s creation.
The Jewish listeners to Jesus’ “invitation”—to put it politely—to eat his flesh and drink his blood was the reasonable question, “How? How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” But Jesus wasn’t speaking literally—he was speaking truthfully, but a truth that necessitated metaphor. So “How” wasn’t the most pressing question, but rather “what?” What is the flesh of Jesus? What is the that which is given for the life of the world? What is the life of the world? What is the bread of eternal life? If we know what, then we can know how.
The Gospel writer, John, reworked the Genesis poem at the start of his Gospel narrative. He saw the story of Jesus as beginning in the very beginning. The very life of the world involved Jesus. John writes, “Through him (the Word that would become flesh as the human being, Jesus), all things were made. In him was life, and that was life was the light of humankind.” Through this Word, who would become flesh in Jesus, was life, all life was made through him.
What is the bread of eternal life?
What is it that is given for the life of the world?
The life of Jesus.
What is the life of the world?
Who is Jesus?
The invitation Jesus gives is so often by Christian relegated to communion. Because it’s so weird, and relegating it to a controlled ritual is safer. But Jesus is using this metaphor of the bread of life to get at something so much bigger. It is the invitation to partake in life itself. In what Jesus later in John calls, “Life to the full” or “Abundant life.” The life of the world, the animating force of creation, the fullness of human life is the life of Jesus. Judaism at this time involved sacrifices. The point of the sacrifice was not the flesh and blood of the animal on an altar. The point was what flesh and blood pointed to—life. The sacrifice was about giving life to God, there were many reasons for that, but it gave life back to the creator of life. Jesus points to his own flesh and blood, and the invitation is to accept God giving life to us.
So, as the Jewish people asked in John’s Gospel, how? How do you partake in the life of Jesus? “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him.” Remain, abide. When you partake in the life of Jesus, you do it by abiding in Christ. We partake, ingest, embody the life of Jesus. We abide by living into, by living the Way of Jesus. We do this spiritually, and we do this tangibly. We abide in prayer and by resting in God’s love. We abide by loving our neighbors, by sharing meals, sometimes by flipping tables, by seeking God’s Kingdom and justice and peace on earth, by laying down our privilege to love others, by resting, by cultivating friendships. We abide in the life of Jesus. We live in Jesus. That is life that not even death was able to overcome.
That is what it means to partake in the bread of heaven. We are nourished and sustained by the life of Jesus lived out for the sake of the world—that world includes us.