“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 true food and my blood is true drink.” (John 6:54-55)
The promise sounds a bit too good to be true. The practice sounds more than just a little disgusting. Jesus calls us to eat his flesh and drink his blood. Gross. Weird. Abnormal.
Here are a few common explanations:
–Perhaps it is some weird cult that believes in human sacrifice… the Romans thought that – so they persecuted the early Christians for it to eradicate what they thought was their cannibalism. (They were not too fond of Christians calling Jesus ‘Lord’ either – a title reserved for Caesar.)
-It must just be a metaphor. The word ‘is’ must not mean ‘is’ but mean ‘is like.’ That sounds more palatable… Some of the early Protestants believed and taught a much easier to ‘chew on’ doctrine (pun intended) that bread and wine somehow only “represent” Christ’s body and blood or that somehow we receive them only spiritually. Other Christians push back and say, “Wait a minute! the word ‘is’ means ‘is’ and if Jesus said ‘is,’ then it ‘is’ what Jesus says it ‘is’ (or something close to that – just ask Martin Luther at Marburg in 1529). The church is still deeply divided in understanding what is happening when we share the holy meal of Jesus (a.k.a. The Lord’s Supper, Holy Communion, Sacrament of the Altar, Eucharist).
–Maybe these words are not about the holy meal of Jesus at all, but about the relationship Jesus calls us into instead. That certainly would be a way to get around how disturbing John 6 is, especially when Jesus says, “Whoever eats me will live because of me” (John 6:57).
What if – Jesus actually meant what he said?
What if – when Jesus said, “eat my flesh,” he was telling us exactly what he was calling us to do; to give us exactly what he has promised?
What if – when we gather around the altar today; when the bread is broken and the wine is poured, it ‘is’ exactly what Jesus says it ‘is’ – ‘his true body and blood give for us Christians to eat and to drink?’
What if – even though this story comes after the feeding of the five thousand, and the audience in the narrative were practicing first century Jews who were both offended and grossed out by Jesus words (as any normal person should be) – this story is really told for the church (then as much as now); to wrestle with and experience; to invite and proclaim, to practice and believe; as Christ reigns supreme not only over the cosmos but ‘for you’ in a real, tangible, personal and communal way in the eating and the drinking?
Perhaps we need fewer explanations and more invitations into the mystery in which Jesus proclaims. The eternal awaits, right now. Jesus is offering himself for you. Come and eat.