Text: John 6:51-69
Date: Pentecost XII + Proper 15B + 8/16/15
There was just something in the way He spoke that drew us to Himself. Then there were the amazing healings. But even more amazing He fed us out in the middle of nowhere. I tasted the bread and the fish that He gave to His assistants to distribute to us sitting on the green grass. Then He disappeared for a time. We figured out that He took a boat to the other side of the lake. So I got into one of the boats while others ran around to the other side on land.
Then He appeared coming down the hill in front of us. And He began to speak. “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves” (6:26). Well, He was right. What’s wrong with that? We tried to make Him our king. I mean what’s better than having a guy, a leader who can provide food almost magically without our even having to work or worry about it? But then He began to talk about another kind of food. “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life” (6:27). That’s where we, where I began to get confused.
He said this food came down from heaven and gives life to the world. We said, “Great! Let’s have it!” But then He said, “I am the bread of life.” Whoa. Wait a minute! What does that mean? Then He began to talk about Himself as if He had come down from heaven, from God the Father. Hold on now.
Then, as if even that was not enough, He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven…. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world…” hang on to your hats, “the bread that I will give is my flesh.”
No, no, no! This is impossible. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We almost started LOL, laughing out loud if the thought weren’t so offensive. Gimme a break. But then He pressed us even more saying, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Besides being not only gross but obviously against God’s Law, the Law of Moses, what do you mean I have no life? I’m alive! I live and move and walk and talk and breathe and run and work. But then He said He was talking about “eternal life.”
He kept going on about eating, actually feeding on His flesh and drinking His blood. At the time we could only think of literally chomping on His hairy arms. This was near Capernaum and so that weird cannibalism has been referred to as “Capernaitic” eating ever since.
Okay. Still, we all said, “this is a hard saying.” We continued grumbling and even arguing with each other.
“No one can come to me unless the Father draws him.” Apparently the Father wasn’t drawing anyone so, people began to leave, sometimes individuals, sometimes in little groups or families. I wanted to give up and leave Him, too. But then I heard Him ask His closest disciples, “Do you want to go away as well?” There was silence. I suppose everyone was blown away by this so-called “Bread of Life” discourse. But it was Simon, whom the Lord renamed Simon Peter, “the rock,” who spoke for the rest of them, saying, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” And I agree. We’ve never heard anyone like Jesus. He came speaking of the idea of “eternal life,” and in His speaking we all were drawn to begin to believe in it, no matter how many funerals we have attended in the past.
But then, finally, I too left the scene. And they were there alone. Abandoned. The end. Did I ever come back to believe in Him? You’ll never know. Which leaves me today only to ask, have you ever come back to believe in Him?
Last Sunday we said that we would address that nagging question as to whether John 6 was the apostle’s way of talking about the Lord’s Supper since he does not include the narrative of the institution of that sacrament like the other three Gospels and St. Paul.
As we have seen, against the background of followers that just would not believe in Him John chapter six is all about faith: faith in the Son of God, come down from heaven into our flesh, in order to fulfill God’s Law for us but then also to die as the perfect, holy sacrifice for the sin of the whole world that by means of faith in Him and His atoning work, His glorious resurrection from the dead, His ascension back into heaven and life and rule from then till now and to eternity, that you and I can be, will be saved eternally.
But was Jesus also hinting, talking about the sacrament of His body and blood at the same time? The first, primary answer has to be “no.” All of Jesus’ talk of bread, flesh, life, eating and drinking have to do with believing in Him, with faith. Here the eating He talks about is absolutely necessary for salvation. Yet all of the Old Testament saints were saved without the Lord’s Supper as was the repentant criminal on the cross next to Jesus, and as are the innocents who die or are murdered, whether by ancient kings or by abortion or other means of cruelty. It is never the lack of the Lord’s Supper that condemns, only the despising of it. There is no such thing as an “emergency communion”! Besides, how could Jesus here be telling the Galileans about a sacrament which He had not yet instituted? So, no, this text is not talking about the Lord’s Supper.
Yet we can talk about the sacrament. For the Lord’s work is complete and we are drawn by the Father to get with Jesus who was crucified for our sins, raised from the dead for our justification (Rom 4:25), ascended to His rightful place in heaven and continues to speak to those who are drawn, who follow Him. So deeply does He desire all to come to Him for life and salvation that He also instituted this sacrament, this way of His presence and coming to us in a very personal way that we can see and touch and taste. Here He does not create faith but feeds and strengthens the faith that has already been given to you. So, you see, while John 6 is not primarily about the sacrament, the sacrament, like John 6, is all about faith—faith in the incarnate Son of God who was crucified for us, faith in Him who promises each of us, “and I will raise (you) up on the last day” (Jn 6:54).
Now, “Do you want to go away as well?” “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (Jn 6:67-69).