Text: John 6:51-69
Date: Pentecost XIII Proper 15 + 8/19/18
John 3:16. God so loved the world.
In God there are two kinds of love. The first is His ineffable delight in His whole creation when upon its completion He declared it very good. God created everything reflecting His own perfection.
But there is a second sort of love in God. It is called the highest love. It is called the love of intelligence and corresponding purpose. In other words, it is the love that sees a need and rushes to meet, heal and restore that need. But what need can there be in His perfect creation?
“The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Gen 2:15-17). But surrounded by God’s love and perfection we may wonder at the words “evil?” “die?” And so we are told sin entered the picture and with it death. The perfection is gone. All face the punishment of death for all have sinned. Even the creation itself groans now in its bondage to corruption seeking its deliverance. Sin is the cause. Death is the result. Death’s undoing is the need God’s love now rushes to accomplish.
And how does God’s love respond? “God so loved the world that He sent….” It must be that way. It must begin with God for we are helpless. We are dead. And what did God send? He did not send a manual on how to gain eternal life. He sent Immanuel, the true source of life. He sent His Son. But He doesn’t force His love on anyone. And so He sent His Son so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
The Son of God is life. All things were made through Him in the first place. Then He came. “Since light awoke and life began, Thou hast desired Thy life for man.” When He came into our hall of death He brought life with Him as in His was life. But now to receive that life He must touch you and you Him. And that’s what St. John and our Lord are talking about in this otherwise difficult sixth chapter of John.
Jesus meant to bring to memory God’s saving act of the Passover and of providing manna in the desert as He led them to the promised land. But when He said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” He says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Unlike the manna, unlike the loaves with which He lately fed the 5,000 in the wilderness, and unlike the bread from the grocery store or fresh from your oven, that bread only nourishes the body. Now Jesus is speaking of a different sort of bread, “not as the fathers ate and died,” and, yes, you will get hungry again and, yes, death still stalks our every step. Death can come suddenly, unexpectedly. Or it can take a longer time, illness, injury or disease. But death still will come. Christ came to destroy death and restore life.
In the same way the manna in the desert was to bring to mind the Passover, so now will the bread Jesus speaks of proclaim the Passover of His cross. Mystery of mysteries it was in the giving of His own life to death on the cross and the shedding of His blood there that the great exchange which was always beyond our reach was accomplished.
“God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” It takes faith in His death for us that He now touches us and we Him. But not only so. For, He says, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Now, “unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” So at the Last Passover He took the bread, broke it, and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take, eat; this is my body given for you.” In the early days of the Church they would even say the words of John 6, “this is my flesh given for you.” Now the point is “believing” or “faith” is not just a work of the mind, a decision, a conviction. Jesus here says believing is eating. For it is in the actual touching of Him who has and is life than you receive His life.
The manna in the wilderness should remind you of the Passover wherein, the blood painted on the doorposts to deliver from the angel of death, all then ate the victim, the Passover lamb. Now the flesh of Jesus reminds us of His sacrifice on the cross. And we participate in His life-giving blood when we eat of His flesh in the sacrament.
That participation, that touch fills us with His own eternal life now and makes His promise sure, “and I will raise him up on the last day.”