The people were disgusted by the strong words Jesus used in describing how he saw his sacrifice for the people. Three times he uses the phrase, “eat my flesh”. Two other times, after saying the bread is my flesh, he says they must eat this bread. And three times, drink his blood. Disgusting...if you haven't grown up with this being a common part of our worship service. It reminds me of the time I was serving communion in Harrison. I was giving the words of institution and when I said “this is the blood of the new covenant” a little boy who was visiting with his grandparents shouted out, “BLOOD?” That is the reaction when we aren't so familiar with our phraseology. That was the reaction when Jesus said these outlandish things—eat my flesh, drink my blood. We've gotten so comfortable with this it is not shocking. In fact, too often it barely catches our attention.
So, what was Jesus talking about? Was it communion he spoke of, eating his flesh and drinking his blood that day by the seashore? Commentators disagree about this. Some see this as very specifically about communion and consider this passage John's account of the sacramental nature of communion. John doesn't include an account of the Lord's Supper in his Maundy Thursday account.
Other theologians see this strictly as the revelation of Jesus as the necessary fact for eternal life. As we are exposed to the saving nature of Christ we are called to “ingest” this truth into our very being. Eat and drink of the savior if you will. The Message quotes Jesus this way, “By eating my flesh and drinking my blood you enter into me and I into you.”
Other commentators suggest this speech was added to the gospel years later in order to suggest that Jesus instituted the Eucharist in this way.
When we start studying numerous “experts” we can find whatever theory we like. I prefer to take it at face value. Jesus has fed the 5000 with fish and bread. The people want that food to continue. Jesus wants them to understand that he didn't come to earth to feed their bodies, but their souls. When he uses this somewhat disturbing way of feeding their souls...eat flesh, drink blood, they begin to leave this miracle worker who may be getting too big for his britches.
And here we are 2000 years later trying to make sense of these really strange words. “eat my flesh and drink my blood”. We Protestants have determined that Jesus spoke symbolically here. The Catholic Church has used these commands to support their belief that the bread changes into the flesh of Christ and the wine into the blood of Christ. They see this as the only way to truly obey these commands. We as Protestants understand this to be, not literal commands, but commands so important that Jesus used strong, disturbing, distressful words to make the point as strongly as he could. Jesus was not teaching an easy truth, he was not leading his followers on the comfortable path. Jesus is to be disturbing, unconventional, uncomfortable. We have made the Eucharist, communion, into a beautiful, comfortable, conventional and safe time. Which isn't bad, but it isn't the original state of the sacrament. Originally it was filled with questions, and fear and distrust and danger. When the disciples gathered in the upper room, it was not a quiet time filled with sacred background music. They were divided, their expectations were far different from the reality about to be revealed, they were distressed that Jesus was leaving, they didn't know what came next. It wasn't comfortable. Their whole beings were shaken.
And so, we are doing things a little differently today. That is uncomfortable for many of us; it's uncomfortable for me. We have a well organized system for the communion service which I like....not following it today. The liturgy will be sung, not altogether comfortable for many of us. The words of invitation will be altered a bit; sometimes they are a little too comfortable for remembering Jesus on the cross. And I'll ask us to hold both the bread and the cup and share them together. There will not be sacred music accompanying the serving but a, perhaps, uncomfortable silence; except that as you pass the elements, remind the person to whom you serve—the body of Christ, the blood of Christ-say it to them out loud...the body of Christ. And the service won't be set apart, it is part of the sermon happening right now.
As the servers come forward to prepare the table let's sing a communion hymn—“Eat this bread and never hunger” in your communion booklet.
Christ invites us to the table, where the last become the first. Hear these words from scripture, Jesus said, “Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three...” Not what we expect to hear at communion, is it?
He said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”
"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.”
Invitation to the table.
The Lord be with you it is right to give our thanks and praise
God of mercy, we praise you that in love you have reached across the abyss of our sin and brought us into your embrace. We thank you for the sacrifice of your son on the cross, for the breaking of his body for our sakes, and for the spilling of his blood to seal us in the covenant of your love. By your Spirit, give us the grace of repentance and guide us in the ways of righteousness. For your grace to us we praise you, joining our voices with the heavenly choirs and all the faithful of every time and place, who forever sing to the glory of your name...Holy, Holy, Holy....
You are holy, O God of majesty, and blessed is Jesus Christ, your son our Lord. He took upon himself the weight of our sin and carried the burden of our guilt. He went willingly to his death and by your power was raised to new life. Remembering your grace, we take this bread and this cup and celebrate with joy the redemption won for us in Jesus Christ. Accept this sacrifice of praise that our lives may proclaim the one crucified and risen. Great is the mystery of Faith. Christ has died...
Gracious God, pour out your Holy Spirit upon us and upon these gifts. Quench our thirst with the living waters and satisfy our hunger with the bread of heaven. Give us strength to serve you faithfully. Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honor are yours, almighty Father, now and forever. Amen, Amen, Amen.
Words of Institution.
Sharing the bread and the cup:
“This is not the flesh of Jesus. It is the bread of life and as you receive it you receive Jesus.” (Cup)
Conclusion: This was a little different. Not disgusting or disturbing I don't think. But maybe a little out of our comfort zone. But Jesus calls us out of our comfort zones. It is wonderful to gather here on Sunday mornings and feel the love and grace and good feelings we share. But Jesus is calling us to a life of challenge. Where we don't just do what is comfortable, but we follow our Lord who calls us to live radically for him. We have received, sacramentally, the flesh and the blood of Jesus who told us, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” We live because of Christ and we live for Christ. May our hearts be moved to follow our Lord not just when it is easy and comfortable but when it is difficult and disturbing. Another promise He gave us, “I will never leave your nor forsake you.” Claim that promise as you claim Jesus as Lord of all of life. Let him walk with you through it all. Amen.
There is a Fountain Filled With Blood 230 HLC