This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. The gospel text was yet another section of “The Bread of Life Chapter,” John 6:51-58.
In last week’s sermon, I mentioned that we are what we eat. There’s some truth to that; if you eat healthier, you will in general be healthier. But there’s a limit to that metaphor. If you eat a hamburger, you don’t actually turn into a cow. If you eat chicken salad, you won’t grow feathers. And if you eat scrapple – well, I don’t even want to think about what you’d become from that.
But you don’t. You don’t actually change to become the thing that you eat. Rather, it changes to become you. That’s how digestion works. Our bodies break down our food into its component parts, and then turn it into all the parts that make us up. I had a sausage sandwich at the Blue Valley Farm Show a few days ago. There’s a bit of it now in the muscle in my right arm. There’s a bit of it in my hip bone. There’s a bit of it in my inner ear. There’s not bits of sausage floating in my body – it’s just that my body has replaced bits of itself with the proteins and carbohydrates and so forth from that sandwich. It’s amazing. Living beings like us can do this with just about anything that was once alive and now is dead. We transform it back into life, we transform it into a living part of us.
It reminds me of a thought I had when my daughter Zoe was just a baby. There was a day when I looked at her, and realized that every single part of her was made of nothing but milk and rice cereal. Those were the only two things she was eating at that point. I remember wondering what I could make out of just milk and rice cereal. Not much! But there she was, this little human becoming, growing and laughing. Milk and rice was transforming into Zoe right before my eyes.
But in today’s gospel, Jesus says it’s different with him. He says, “I am the bread from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. The one who eats this bread will live forever.” None of the food that we eat will protect us from death. But Jesus says that he’s different. If we eat of his flesh and drink of his blood, he won’t transform into a part of us, but we will transform into a part of him. We will abide in him just as he abides in us. And death will be defeated.
What’s so different about Jesus? Well, for one thing, Jesus is the food that doesn’t die. He is the living bread. Digestion changes death into life, but Jesus won’t stay dead! The religious leaders tried to kill Jesus, but he wouldn’t stay dead. He comes back to life, and changes us, from the inside out.
But am I pushing this metaphor too far? After all, Jesus isn’t really food, right? We don’t really eat Jesus, right? I mean, it’s not like Holy Communion is really Jesus’ body and blood, right? How would that even be possible?
It isn’t possible. And yet that’s precisely what Jesus says. At the Last Supper, as Jesus shared the Passover meal with his disciples, he said, “Take and eat. This is my body. Take and drink. This is my blood.” Today’s story doesn’t take place at the Last Supper, but it does take place during another Passover. And Jesus says here, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.” He never explains how it works. He never instructs or teaches about this. He just promises. “Here,” he says. “Here is food. Eat it, and you will have life. Here is drink. Drink it, and you will never die. You will abide in me, and you will live forever.” He makes promises, kind of like the promises God made at the first Passover.
The first Passover occurred when the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God promised to set them free. Promised to take away the yoke of their oppression. Promised to guide them to the promised land. Promised to be their God forever. God fulfilled those promises through the Passover, when the Israelites took the blood of lambs, and smeared it on the doorposts. They ate the lambs that night, along with a special meal. The angel of death came to Egypt that night, killing the firstborn of all Egyptian families, but the angel passed over the families marked with the blood of the lamb. And the next day, the Israelites were set free, and they walked out of Egypt into the wilderness. God fulfilled the promises. And the Israelites ate that same meal, the Passover meal, every year to remember that.
At Passover, Jesus, the living bread from heaven, transformed those promises, into these:
You will live forever.
You will have eternal life.
I will raise you up on the last day.
You will abide in me, and I in you.
And all you need do is eat the bread I provide, the bread that is my own flesh.
That is the good news of Jesus. In order to abide in him, and have eternal life, we do not need to achieve or accomplish anything. We do not need to pass any test. We do not need to be a certain level of good. All Jesus asks of us is that we partake of his food. Listen to his words. Share in his meal. Allow him to abide deeply in you. Allow yourself to abide deeply in him.
Jesus is the living bread. Come. Eat.
Featured image: “Sophia-Mer-Christ.6” Artwork by Anthony DiLorenzo. Photograph by Leah D. Schade.