Food and Drink II
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You’ll recall when we started our look at John I talked about TS Elliot’s answer to the question “Why should men come to church?” It went like this:
She tells them of Life and Death, and of all that they would forget.
She is tender where they would be hard, and hard where they like to be soft.
She tells them of Evil and Sin, and other unpleasant facts.
They constantly try to escape
From the darkness outside and within
By dreaming of systems so perfect that no one will need to be good.
Someone has written about the 6th chapter of John that it is written in the shadow of death. Specifically Jesus’ death. She tells them of life and death, and all that they would forget. I think it’s particularly fitting that we look at this passage on the same day that we gather around this table to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. John chapter 6th is written in the shadow of death. Our lives are lived in the shadow of death. We are all going to die. We are all in fact dying. People we love have died or are going to die. Grandparents. Our moms and dads. Husband. Wives. Children. Dear friends. This is inarguable. The question is “What story do we live in the midst of this reality.” Do we say along with Woody Allen that life is meaningless and the best hope we have is to distract ourselves? Do we resign ourselves to living lives of quiet desperation? Do say along with Thoreau “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” We can avoid the question. People don’t like to talk about death. We don’t even like to say “died.” I sometimes talk about the sanitization of death. We want it to be no muss no fuss. We call gravestones “monuments.” We cover up the mound of dirt and the graveside with astro-turf. Sometimes we don’t stay to see the body lowered down. We read things like this in obits or hear it at funerals:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there; I did not die.
I suppose people might find comfort in this but it’s not true. You did die actually. Our friend A pastor friend of mine was talking about this poem recently and he said he won’t read it at a funeral. I agree. We have another story to tell my friends about life and death. We have a song to sing. Let us take a look at our text this morning and see what God may have to say to our hearts.
As we’ve been going through the Gospel of John we’ve seen the oftentimes Jesus and others are talking about two different things. In John 2 the wine gave out, and we weren’t just talking about wine. In John 3 Jeus talks about being born from above, born anew, born again. Nicodemus asks “How can I enter my mother’s womb again?” and Jesus says “Are you serious right now?” The Samaritan woman says “Give me this water which means I won’t have to keep coming to this well,” and Jesus is not just talking about water. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” Jesus is not just talking about bread. The thing of it is we can put our own expectations on Jesus. We can put our own wants and desires on opinions on Jesus. At the beginning of John 6 we have John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000. People saw Jesus do the miracle and said “This is the prophet who has come into the world.” They actually sought to take him by force to make him their king. Like kidnap him and use him for their own ends. Perhaps use him as a figurehead leader in their fight against Roman rule. This is the way the world so often works. There is a lot of talk of special interests and the fear and mistrust about the influence they exert on political leaders. This is the way of the world right? They sought to take him by force. Jesus withdrew to the mountain to be by himself. Of course he wasn’t by himself…
This crowd started following him because he gave them food. It’s like “Hey do you want to come follow Jesus later today? I heard he gives out food once the speech is over!” “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” This is what Jesus tells the crowd. “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They say to him “Sir, give us this bread always.” We’re not talking about bread anymore. Two weeks ago I said “We aren’t talking about wine anymore.” Last week it was “We’re not just talking about water anymore.” It’s like the crowd is saying “Bread of life? Did he just say bread? Is there any left? Can we get it to go? Is it wholegrain? Unleavened?” Bread was a source of life for this crowd. It’s why we say “Give us this day our daily bread.” Be our source of life this day, in every way. I was wondering if this is still the case with bread. I suppose it is, unless you’re on a low carb thing. Maybe coffee would be a good metaphor for some. The coffee of life. Us not getting this is like Jesus saying “I am the coffee of life” and we go off on an extended non sequitur about do we prefer, Starbucks or Tim’s, how we take it, the benefits of a Keurig etc. etc. and all the time Jesus is just shaking his head at us.
He doesn’t leave us there though. “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” We’re not just talking about food and drink. Jesus is talking about fullness of life. Of abundant life. Of life from above. Of eternal life that is not just for the afterlife but for the here and now. Jesus is the answer to the question “What must we do to perform the works of God?” “Believe in him whom he has sent.” This Bread of Life. Believe this. Have faith in him. There is a mystery to faith. I struggle with understanding our role in faith and God’s role in our faith. I think it’s good and right to struggle with this though. I don’t think there’s a clear cut answer. We are involved in making a choice for God and God is involved in stirring our hearts, drawing us to him. This has been a debate among followers of Christ through the years. Are followers of Christ predestined by God or is it all down to our free will? If we thought it was all down to us it might make us proud. We’ve seen this, we get it, we doesn’t everyone else get it? If we thought it all depended on God it might make us fatalistic. I don’t believe so I guess I’m not one of the elect. I believe both are operative. We have a role – we see this in v 40. “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” In v 44 Jesus speaks of God’s role - “No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.”
Jesus brings up the Passover/Exodus story in v. 48-50 – “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” Two weeks ago Pastor Abby talked to the kids about connecting the dots from the OT to the NT. This is one of those times. When we’re talking Passover and Exodus. When we’re talking about a slain lamb and deliverance, we’re talking about Christ’s death. “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The story goes on – v. 52 “The Jews then disputed among themselves saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” Instead of trying to make the message more palatable, Jesus makes it even worse! V. 53 “So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’” How offensive is this to Jesus’ hearers? Drinking blood was not kosher. As one writer puts it “The metaphor for eating flesh and drinking blood was used in the Old Testament for slaughter and desolation.” (Isa 49:26) It’s still kind of gross. We don’t really drink blood? Or eat it. Except for when we do. Ever have black pudding? It’s a cultural thing I suppose. It’s not unheard of, but kind of gross. Kind of offensive maybe.
The question for us is - What do we find offensive about this? If you don’t eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you. Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, all of your righteousness, all of your piety, all of your good works, all of your donations, all of your offerings are as filthy rags. “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.” This is what the prophet Isaiah declares in Is 64:6. If we’re unwilling to make that statement then we’re unable to stand at this cross. If we’re saying “Life is about following the Golden Rule and I’m doing ok with that” then we are not getting behind this man who invites us to come and see, and in this case coming and seeing involves eating his flesh and drinking his blood. This is the Christ who invites us to participate in his death.
This is the Christ that we follow friends. The one who died a violent death on the cross. This was offensive too. Treated like a common criminal. Dehumanised completely. Dehumanised so that we might become fully human, so that we might be made new. We don’t do this without dying ourselves. The wonderful cross bids me come and die and find out I may truly live. Come and die. That’s the invitation. Do you wonder why people aren’t flocking in here on a Sunday morning when this is our message? What if it were true though? Come and die and find out that you may have life, not only for the last day but for now. We need to look at this. We need to look at Christ on the cross, offensive as it may be. I said a few weeks ago read the Gospel of John through in one sitting. Do it a couple of times, a few times. It will be good for you. I’ll tell you to do something else. Go to church on Good Friday. I’m not saying come to this church and invite people because the numbers will make me look good, though I’m not against a crowd and I’m always happy to see you. You know that.
Go to church on Good Friday because it’s the one day of the year we focus most on Christ crucified. Not that we don’t focus on it on other days. If we go from the triumph of Palm Sunday and all the palm fronds and the kids marching and go from there to Easter Sunday and the empty tomb and the joy and the bonnets and new clothes and Easter eggs, then we miss something crucial. Paul wrote to the Corinthians “For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” Paul didn’t say crucified, risen, exalted, reigning. He just said crucified. To miss this is to miss something crucial. To miss this is to make Christ in our own image. I read recently of a mega-church pastor in the US who once described Jesus as “a prize fighter with a tattoo down His leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed.” The Lion of the tribe of Judah appears and it’s a lamb standing as if it had been slaughtered.
To eat the flesh and drink the blood of Christ is to follow him in the way of the cross. The way of self-sacrificing love, redeeming, reconciling, forgiving love. It means dying to self. Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matt 16:25) Dying to our own wills. Our own desires. Our own expectations. Our own grudges. Our belief in self-sufficiency. Our own fill-in-the-blank. What is it we need to die to? Why do we advocate this? Because we believe that this leads to new life, life from above, eternal life, abundant life. Have you experienced this? We spiritualize this and that’s fine but sometimes it means actually dying. It’s meant dying to Christian martyrs from Stephen down through the years. It continues to this day. Finding life when life is lost for Christ’s sake.
Eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Participating in Christ’s death. Paul got this. He wrote “This cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a sharing in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a sharing in the body of Christ?” Eating the bread and drinking from the cup signals our sharing in the body and blood of Christ. We don’t believe that the bread and wine is transformed but I believe something goes on when we gather around this table. Something mysterious. Something inexplicable. Something ineffable. We believe that this act is transforming. We do this to remember. We ourselves are re-membered in this act, because sometimes we feel dismembered don’t we? We remember.
As God’s beloved children we were not made to live lives of quiet desperation, and go to our graves with our song still in us. This story was told in the shadow of Jesus’ death. We live in the shadow of death. Death did not have the final word. Death does not have the final word. Death will not have the final word. We have a different song to sing. Let us sing it. Let us sing it loud and clear. I’m not just talking about singing – though I’m talking about singing too! Let us sing it in every word, every action. This is our story, this is our song. Let us sing it. We’re about to sing “Redeeming love has been my theme and shall be ‘til I die.” May this be true for each and every one of us.