First reading: 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Ps. 111
Alternate: Prov. 9:1-6; Ps. 34:9-14
Eph. 5:15-20 • John 6:51-58
The synagogue crowd surely was finding this young rabbi’s sermon a bit confusing. But Jews knew metaphor like the back of their hand, and thundering claims were nothing new. They thought they still knew where young Jesus was headed. He claimed to be a wise teacher, so his words must be a bit like bread from heaven. Wisdom had spread her feast of old and invited all to a place at the table. Jesus, surely, was inviting them to his own banquet, promising immortal fare and table fellowship with God. He was ringing the changes on an old, old song, for men had been eating with God and longing to tell the tale ever since he planted the garden in Eden.
But then his conversation takes a turn: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Human flesh and blood were cursed food, forbidden by the law, disgusting to any man of reason. Jesus also uses a strange word for eat, a verb usually reserved for the loud, messy eating of animals. You must “munch” on me, “gnaw” my flesh and drink my blood to be saved. You must eat as those who are lost and frightened, who grasp and stuff food in their mouths as if their very lives depended upon it. This was hardly the heavenly banquet the crowd was expecting.
If we can “abide in God” by having the right sorts of ideas or keeping ourselves in line just a bit more carefully, we do not much need a place at Jesus’ banquet or a stake in his cross. For the scandal in these words won’t find their fullest meaning until water and blood flow from his pierced side. Like Lady Wisdom, he will draw all to his feast, but only when lifted up, naked and crowned with thorns.
The Sacrament of the Altar is a beautiful thing, a profound thing, to be sure, a celestial banquet delivered by angels’ hands. But we munch and gnaw at it because we bear the bruises and carry the stains of this bloody, fleshly world. We receive it because we cannot live without it, because we know what it is like “to have no life in you.” This is not really the feast of the righteous or the wise, but of the wicked and the desperate, the dependent.
To commune with Christ is to seek him in this bloody flesh, hid beneath the bread and wine. It is, as John Donne wrote, to be in “blessed dependency, to hang upon him that hangs upon the cross, there bathe in his tears, there suck at his wounds, and lie down in peace in his grave.” Only from there can we rise to freedom and new life.
Look It Up
Read Ezekiel 39. How did Jesus turn around the prophet’s image of the final feast?
Think About It
In the Book of Common Prayer (1979), the words “that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood” do not appear in the Prayer of Humble Access. Is this a mistake?