What truly matters, what gives eternal life, is not the food we take into our bodies, but what we feed our hearts and minds.
as interpreted by Deborah
Jesus said, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my very own being.”
The doubters continued to discuss this amongst themselves. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus replied, “I’m telling you truly: unless you partake of the very being of the Son of Man and drink in his life, you have no life in you. Those who take me into themselves have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my essence is true nourishment and my life is truly life-giving. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I in them.
“Just as God sent me, and just as I live because of Him; so it will be for those who feed upon me: they will live because of me. This is the bread that came from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate; for in time they died. Those who partake of this bread will live forever.”
(Jesus said this while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.)
Many who had been following the Lord were disturbed by these words. They said, “That kind of talk is way out there ... who will believe such a thing?”
Jesus, knowing full-well that his disciples were discussing what he had said, asked them, “Are you shocked by that? What would you say if you saw the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; not the flesh. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But some of you don’t get it.” (For Jesus already knew who didn’t believe, and who would betray him.)
He said, “That’s why I’ve told you that no one can come to me except as a gift from the Father.”
This is the reason many of his disciples went away and no longer followed Jesus.
Jesus asked the twelve, “So, are you going to leave, as well?”
Simon Peter answered, “Lord, where could we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe — to know — that you are the Holy One of God.”
In John's gospel text we are told that Jesus revealed himself as the Savior to the people in Capernaum — but he did so in a way that left most of them bothered and bewildered. The Lord called himself “the bread from heaven,” and insisted that, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood live in me, and I in them.”
Taken literally that’s a scary statement. It sounds like cannibalism, pure and simple: eating the flesh and drinking the blood of a human being. With a core message like this one, it’s no wonder that the early Christians were held in disrepute by their fellow citizens.
We, of course, understand perfectly what he was saying.
Jesus was talking about the Eucharist: he was describing the Lord’s Supper before it came into being. His words were a predictive secret — a foretelling of the Mystery Meal that his followers would celebrate as a sign of our faith in him.
He wasn’t talking about real flesh and real blood — that would be ... icky, to say the least — but about sacramental bread and wine. Jesus meant the nourishing food that is set upon the altar and transformed through the priestly words of Institution into “the body and blood of our Lord.” He didn’t say that we should eat real flesh and drink real blood and gnaw on real bones.
It’s all ok. Perfectly logical. We’ve explained it all away: there’s nothing scary or challenging about what Jesus was teaching.
But I wonder....
Those who were in Capernaum back in the day heard the Lord’s message before scholars and preachers had an opportunity to “interpret” what he was saying. They had no theological shock-absorbers to cushion the impact of his words. For them what Jesus said was, as some of his own disciples admit, “difficult”: hard to understand or imagine — never mind accepting it as gospel.
Our modern Western disgust at the idea of drinking blood is nothing when compared to the revulsion it inspired in the observant Jews who heard Jesus speak. To them his preaching was positively inflammatory. Not only did he claim a heavenly pedigree and downplay the miracle of the manna in the desert, he was apparently telling his followers to violate the Mosaic Law against the eating of blood.
That was a grave error: a sin against the One True God; the sort of thing only the mad, the desperate, and demon-worshippers would do. Jesus’ words are so disturbing that many of those who hear him leave at this point; they go away and no longer follow the Lord’s teachings.
But it is a sure thing they always remembered what he said. As did those who remained. It was as if Jesus’ words were etched upon their hearts.
Sadly, we’ve heard those same phrases so many times that we are lost to their power to shock, or amaze, or offend.
Christians have grown calmly confident over these many years, assured that we know what our Lord intended his followers to understand by this astonishing claim. We’re certain he meant “The Lord’s Supper,” and we’re sure he foresaw the wafers and wine that this meal would become. We’re comfortable in our belief that Jesus would look upon the ritual that has developed around this meal as sufficient evidence of our commitment to him.
But I wonder....
In this same passage Jesus tells his disciples, “It is the spirit that gives life; not the flesh” (John 6:63) and we immediately recall his teaching as given in the gospels of Matthew and Luke:
‘One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’
Matthew 4:4 (c.f., Luke 4:4)
Bread is great, bread is important: it keeps us alive, nourishing our bodies and making us strong — but it isn’t all we need. It is not Ultimately Important. What truly matters, what gives eternal life, is not the food we take into our bodies — but what we feed our hearts and minds.
What matters is that we nourish our souls on the teachings of our Lord Christ: “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Jesus is the food that is important: the one who brings nourishment from heaven, the lifeblood of our souls.
Putting this teaching into “flesh and blood” terms was shocking. It got everyone’s attention — and no one ever forgot what the Lord said that day, even down to our present time.
Except when we forget what Jesus was talking about — and slip into a literal interpretation that ignores a far greater truth. When we substitute wafers and wine for the Bread of Life and the Living Vine, we are as far off the mark as the hearers who believed the Lord was encouraging cannibalism.
If we receive the Lord’s Supper as merely food, as some sort of weekly “Christians-only snack,” we’re missing out on what’s important. It isn’t important if the altar is laid with bread and wine or wafers and grape juice — or beer and pretzels, for that matter. What matters is that we nourish our souls on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
If we partake of this blessed meal with prayerful, attentive hearts it becomes a true sacrament: a connection between us and the Eternal One. Holy Communion is an outward sign of the inward grace of Christ’s redeeming presence in our lives, and of our commitment to follow him in all we say and do.
“Those who partake of this bread will live forever.”
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Celebrate Holy Communion — with all your heart.