Scripture: John 6:51-58
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:51
The last two decades have seen the incredible rise of Comedy News shows – shows like the Daily Show and the Colbert Report have thrived the news-entertainment complex that has arisen. Although they are strictly for entertainment during the early 2000s people under 30 reported getting their news from these shows than traditional print or television news stations. While you might find this a little disheartening and a sign of the erosion of our culture, comedy and the truth are not far apart as you might imagine.
One of the hallmarks of good comedy is shocking the audience, often with a kernel of hard truth about ourselves or the comic themselves. Comedians often push the boundaries of what we might consider offensive (and I don’t just mean profanity), they poke at cultural sore spots or blind spots that if they delivered it devoid of the comedic trappings would have their listeners up in arms ready to riot at the outrageous but often true things they say.
The truth after all can offend, especially when you aren’t prepared to hear it.
Jesus was a master of this. While we like to think of Jesus as our friend, our comforter, even as our teacher and Lord – we don’t like to think that Jesus was offensive. But, if you pay attention to what he says and the reactions of the crowd of his day you can begin to realize that he truly was. The truth after all can offend.
If you have grown up with the stories of Jesus in the church and society at large it is easy to gloss over their truly shocking character. We have heard them so often, or are able to contextualize them with later passages or commentaries from the apostles, but if you strip away all that and take the stories individually they can be truly shocking. Take our Gospel passage for today as a perfect example.
Over the past few weeks, we have heard an extended reading of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John and Jesus’ discourse on the true bread of heaven. After miraculously feeding the large crowds on the hilltop Jesus’ chided the crowds for following after him since they were only coming because he had filled their bellies with food. As he did this Jesus proclaimed himself greater than Moses – the greatest prophet in the history of Israel – saying that he truly is the bread of heaven itself, that the manna in wilderness paled in comparison to him and his body which had now come into the world. And then to go even further Jesus claimed that his flesh and his blood were the true food and true blood and that anyone who ate of this bread and drank of this cup would live forever!
While we have the benefit of hindsight and an understanding that Jesus is speaking of his body broken on the Cross as the true and life-giving bread – we cannot dismiss the shock and offence of Jesus’ language here.
For those who were listening that day, Jesus’ words were blasphemous, presumptuous and seemingly encouraging cannibalism a mortal sin in the eyes of most human cultures throughout history and certainly against the Jewish Torah. And so the crowd was rightfully shocked. Throughout the whole discourse the crowd went back and forth, mostly with each other, questioning his origin – “Is this not the son of Joseph?” – or arguing sharply with one another about the severity and shock of Jesus’ words.
You might be inclined to soften the shock and the offence of Jesus’ words but that would be a mistake. You see Jesus is being offensive, he is shocking the crowd because the truth is shocking, the reality of God and God’s life breaking into the world as a human being turns everything that we know upside down.
Jesus’ words confront the crowds, and us along with them, with the reality that his saving ways are both spiritual and deeply physical, tied to creation, to the here and now in a very earthly way. Jesus is the spiritual food, the divine life that has come into the world to bring us into the very life of God, but Jesus also brings salvation to the here and now, in this life, on this earth in a very real way. The Salvation that Jesus brings is not merely an escape for our souls and eternal life in heaven nor is it merely liberation and joy and betterment of our lives on earth right now – Jesus’ salvation is total, it impacts our daily lived existence and it opens for us an eternal future in the presence of God.
Just as food and drink are necessary to sustain life on earth – the average human can go 1-2 months without food and about 3-5 days without water – so too Jesus’ and his life are necessary to sustain true life on earth, we must partake of his body and blood in more than just a spiritual way to experience the liberation, the abundant life and the joy that Jesus has won for us on the Cross and in his Resurrection.
This certainly connects deeply to the celebration of the Eucharist which we have recently resumed on a weekly basis – we literally take the bread and wine into our bodies which we call the body and blood of Jesus – but it goes beyond that. Whether you believe that the bread and wine literally become the physical body and blood of Jesus, or whether you think it more of a spiritual change, or even if you merely see the Eucharist as a memorial and sign pointing back to the death and resurrection of Jesus and the promises won there – each understanding points to the real-world implications of faith in Jesus and the union between humanity and the divine.
As theologian Chelsey Harmon writes: “The apostle Paul tells us when we drink the communion cup and eat from the shared bread we are “participating” in the body and blood of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10.16) We are acknowledging that spiritually, we are becoming one with God through Christ because of how he gave himself physically, and somehow, we’re becoming part of that physical sacrifice. The meal is meant to be this reminder that Jesus Christ isn’t just a spiritual reality, he was and is a physical one. Lest we forget and let it all be a “spiritual thing,” we remember the gospel story in its entirety with the physical experience, eating the bread and drinking the cup of the communion meal.”
Being a follower of Jesus means that as you receive the spiritual promises of forgiveness and eternal life you are also made to be physically part of the body of Christ on earth. As Paul described in our reading from Ephesians two weeks ago, you are knit together with your fellow brothers and sisters like tendons and muscles and joints to form a body here on earth which has life and acts just as our own human bodies do. Faith in Jesus is therefore not merely a mental or spiritual exercise, following him as Lord and Saviour necessitates involvement in his body, the church, the fellowship of all believers.
The truth of Jesus unites the earthly and the divine: our salvation is played out in our homes, on the streets, in our daily lives as Jesus’ life works its way inside our very own life; as Jesus’ priorities become our priorities; as our spiritual cataracts are removed so that we might see the world as Jesus does; as our hearts of stone are shattered and replaced with new hearts ready to love God and our neighbours as Jesus does.
This process will undoubtedly offend our sensibilities; the truth will shock us. After all, embracing the truth that we are broken by sin, or that we need someone to save us can be difficult. We will certainly be shocked by the paths that Jesus takes us on as a church and as individual disciples, but that is the way, that is what Jesus’ truth will do.
As we slowly emerge from the pandemic into a new reality as Grace Church be prepared to be shocked where Jesus will take us and ask of us: new challenges, new ministries, new ways of doing fellowship, new models of leadership – everything is possible as we strive to remain faithful to our calling as the body of Christ, fed by the very life of Jesus. At the advisory board on Monday we will begin this discussion, we will begin to imagine what Jesus might be calling us to.
Even as he shocks and sometimes offends us, remember that Jesus is constantly providing sustenance for the journey, he is constantly providing you and this community abundant and eternal life here and now and into eternity with his very life: He is the bread of life and the cup of salvation. So, as the psalmist states “Taste and see, that the Lord is good, blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” (Psalm 34).
Let us pray.