Sermon “Eat and Do Not Die”
Our Lord, as we consider your great love for us, open our hearts and minds to receive your Word, which will never pass away. This we pray in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
In our Gospel reading today Jesus presents himself as the true bread of life. Those who come to him will never hunger. Those who believe in him will never thirst. These are bold claims, right? We have the Father and the Son together giving eternal life. We have what we would call an exclusive claim of God, with Jesus saying that nobody comes unless the Father draws him. We have one way, and only one way of approaching God. There is no other way but through the broken body and shed blood of Jesus, who is the true bread of life.
How do we respond to this teaching? Do we respond in faith, accepting that this is God’s world, that Jesus, God’s the Son, can work out life for his people in whatever way he decides? Do we take the words of Jesus at face value? Or will we grumble like the Jews did in verse 41? Will we decide to place our own construction on Jesus’ claims, rather than accept them as he gave them? We might say, “I’m all for Jesus leading, teaching, loving. But really, isn’t this just a metaphor?”
Jesus presents quite the opposite, though. And this is common when we look at the Bible. Let’s remember how a metaphor works. We take one item and make it symbolic of another. The symbol is normally still a real item, but the activity involved doesn’t quite exactly fit the real situation all the way. Here’s an example. Robert entered the room as gracefully as a bull in a china shop. Robert is the real thing. The bull in the china shop is not. But we can picture the trouble an excited bull might cause among narrow aisles lined with shelves of easily breakable items. Now, Robert, the real thing, enters the room, trips on the threshhold, knocks over a lamp, tries to set it up again and takes out an end table, then pulls his coat off and hits three ladies at this tea party that used to be dignified. There’s how a metaphor works.
The Bible tends to have metaphors which work the opposite way from our expectations. For instance, in 1 Peter baptism is mentioned as the fulfillment of the flood of Noah. We probably would have thought of it going the other way, the little thing is symbolic of the big thing, but the Scripture points the other direction. And here in John chapter 6 Jesus presents himself as the fulfillment of the bread in the wilderness. A whole generation of Israelites were nourished by this mystery bread in the wilderness. And Jesus says it is almost incidental. It all points to him, the one who fulfills it. To take us back to our illustration, the bread in the wilderness is the bull. Jesus is Robert, the fulfillment. The whole nation of Israel being sustained for a generation is merely a sign, if we can use the word “merely” for something that influenced millions of people for a whole generation. Jesus is the fulfillment. His body broken for us is what gives life. And he’ll turn up the heat even more as he goes on, but that is in our readings appointed for August 19.
Jesus presents himself as the living bread of heaven. That bread is his flesh. And he calls us to eat and drink, believing. What is the result? He will give us life. Is that offensive to us? It should be. It is offensive to the people who are following Jesus. They have always been taught that eating a person is wrong. They have been told that drinking blood brings defilement. Now Jesus says that he is giving himself to be eaten and drunk and that through those actions the people will receive forgiveness and life. This should be very offensive. But the Lord who created and sustains all things is able to make them work the way he wishes. Jesus is the one who promises us life, as we receive his body and his blood. Jesus is the one who promises to give up his life so that we can receive it in place of our lives. Jesus is the fulfillment of all the signs, all the provision of life, all the sacrifices in the Old Testament which brought forgiveness. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of that.
What does he tell us, then, today? He says to eat and drink. He says to receive him and live. The earliest Christians made a habit of gathering, often daily, to hear the reading of the Scripture and to pray. But when they would gather on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection, they gathered around the breaking of bread. They gathered around what we would now call communion. They gathered to eat and drink. They gathered so as not to die. In those gatherings they were opening themselves to charges of all sorts of criminal activity, including cannibalism. They took Jesus’ claims in John chapter 6 so seriously that they would not make an issue of it. They would say, as Jesus said, “This is My body, broken for you. This is My blood shed for you.” And they would face persecution, arrest, imprisonment, and even torture and death rather than give up receiving the Lord’s body and blood given for them. He is the fulfillment He is the one who feeds us and gives us true life.
Is it difficult to take a stand like this? How many people in our culture today even think that communion is a matter of discussion or debate? I know that most Christians I speak with, at least in this country, are convinced that the bread and wine, except they normally use unfermented grape juice, are symbols. They don’t see that there is any debate. And they don’t seem to think it is important whether we receive communion frequently or not. It seems that Jesus’ very bold claims here don’t matter to most people. And that’s all right. But I know this. Jesus is very clear about what he says. You can take it or leave it. If you don’t see Jesus as the fulfillment, the one who gives us life through his true body and his true blood, you have left something behind, a precious gift that our Lord has given. It is something that people throughout history would live and die for. It is Jesus’ means of grace, to nourish us.
Now, today is not a Sunday when we are scheduled to receive communion. In my opinion, more’s the pity. I’d have us celebrating communion whenever we meet on a Sunday if at all possible. But that’s my conviction, not part of our church’s official doctrine and not part of the practice of this local congregation. But as we look to our next communion service, I want to ask you. Are you tired? Are you stressed, like Elijah was? Do you realize your mortality, that your days are numbered, that you labor and toil in this world and don’t seem to have the kind of abundant earthly reward that you would like? Do you suffer from cares and fears? Elijah did, so much so that he ran away and despaired of life itself. What was God’s solution for Elijah? He had him lie down and rest. Then he woke him up and told him to eat and drink, not to die. Maybe you are hungering and thirsting as well. Jesus calls you to eat and drink and not die. If we come to him we will never hunger. If we believe on him we will never thirst. He is the one who gives his life, and presents it to us, not just in Word, but also in the Sacrament, giving us forgiveness, life, and salvation. He takes our broken life and gives us his life. Come to Jesus. Believe that he is the fulfillment of all God’s provision. Come out of the wilderness with him. Eat and drink. Do not die.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.