The Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
truly I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man
and drink his blood, you have no life in you.
must say that this is not a very pleasant text—or an easy
one to preach on. Whenever it's my turn to preach, I go to the lectionary
schedule ahead of time, somewhat as a school girl goes to find out
her next assignment. And I surely found that this particular assignment
is enough to make the heart sink.
also can't help but wonder what the person new to the Church or
coming here to learn about Christianity for the first time—what
on earth must that person think? You must be ready to turn and say
"Let's get out of here!" But take heart. You're in good
company. Even the disciples who were with Jesus when he said this
turned to one another and said, "This is a hard saying, who
can listen to it?" I was amused to discover several years ago
that the word translated as hard is the same word that means stale—this
is hard, stale bread to swallow!"
So, with that introduction, it is
my task today to try to make sense of this of this almost offensive
saying for us, so we can more clearly hear the word of God in it
and understand better the reality of what Jesus has done for us.
So first let me share some of my own musings with you.
are two in particular.
First of all, as I was pondering this scripture, I couldn't help
but be mindful of the fact that there are three basic elements necessary
for the support of human life: air to breathe, water to drink and
food to nourish us. When you stop to think of it, during his life
here on earth, Jesus referred to all three of these elements in
order to give expression both to the unique nature of his presence
with us and to the unique nurture that he longs to provide for us.
example, Jesus breathed on the disciples and said to them,
the Holy Spirit. —John 20:22
breath, the physical air that he breathed on them, was the palpable,
sensual symbol of the invisible, impalpable Spirit of God. Remember
this on some still, hot day when a sudden cooling breeze comes upon
you, and you feel its refreshment and its balm. Or remember it,
as I once did, when I was climbing a mountain peak in Montana and
it seemed so hot and still, until we reached the top and there was
a strong wind blowing, and from that high peak we could look down
on an eagle gliding and playing with the currents of the wind. Remember
it in these very sensual, physical ways and in each of them look
for the palpable presence of God.
Or secondly, in another part of the Gospel, Jesus asks for a drink
of water from a Samaritan woman at a well. And when she questions
him, he says to her,
Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever
drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the
water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life. —John 4:13-14)
Jesus is using water—actual, physical water—to address
and fill a spiritual thirst. Scripture
is full of such expressions of the holiness of water, which is both
physically and spiritually so essential for life itself.
finally, even earlier in this discourse in the Gospel of John, Jesus
am the bread of life; [those] who come to me shall not hunger..."
and again, Jesus makes the claim that he himself is indeed all of
these three basic elements necessary for human life, and in them,
he is a very real, sensual, physical part of our lives, not someone
to be spiritualized or turned into a symbol or some kind of impersonal,
idealized memory or creation of our imagination. We do him and our
faith a great disservice if we so "spiritualize" Jesus
that we fail to remember that he was flesh and blood, that he was
(Now let me add that I'm aware that the fourth basic element of
the universe is the earth itself. And in that regard, it's significant
to notice that Jesus, as God Incarnate, came to live on the earth
as a part of humankind. And that it was through this living on the
earth that he offered himself as the breath of life, the bread of
life and living water.)
But then second, another way of helping us to understand this particular
passage is to look at the scriptural context in which it appears.
This sixth chapter of John's Gospel begins with the story of Jesus'
feeding people, feeding the multitudes with five barley loaves and
two fish. And incidentally this is the only miracle that is recorded
in all four Gospels. And here again, he is dealing with human hunger,
with both the physical and the spiritual needs of the people. But
when it became clear that the people had misunderstood what he was
doing for them, he turned and tried to teach them, saying,
am the bread of life...the living bread which came down from heaven;
if anyone eats of this bread, he shall live for ever...
we can see his use of physical things to express the deep truths
of his spiritual nurture of God's people. Air,
water and food—all are human necessities, and in Jesus, all
are God's gifts given so freely to you and to me.
So the Gospel lesson read this morning, though at first glance it
may seem offensive, is actually a deeply spiritual and eucharistic
statement: "Take. Eat. This is my body; this is my blood."
But it's also more than that. Out of God's boundless love for us,
God chose to become incarnate. God chose to give us a human being
to come and live among us as one of us in order to make God known.
In Jesus, the Christ, God indeed became flesh and blood.
in the sacrament of Eucharist an extraordinary thing happens. The
bread we receive becomes more than bread, and the wine poured out
becomes more than wine. Through the mysterious power of faith they
become Christ for us in a way that's every bit as real as the wheat
and the grape from which they come—just like the midday sun,
which is a located reality in space, becomes heat and light which
have no substance or location, or just like the notes written out
in lines on a page, become music whose only substance is in our
As we eat the bread and drink the wine of Eucharist, Christ himself
becomes a part of us. His body becomes a part of our bodies, his
blood a part of our blood. But another thing happens as well: We
also become a part of Christ. We also are mysteriously drawn into
the wholeness, into the holiness of Christ, there to become a part
of the Spirit of Christ and to participate in that dynamic movement
of love which flows so abundantly in the godhead of Father, Son
is the invitation and the blessing of Eucharist. This is where a
new unity between God and God's people is born, a new belonging,
a new creation. And all of this is what you and I are offered today.
So come, let us eat and drink of the very essence of Christ, and
in receiving this sacrament of bread and wine, let us become a part
of Christ, for such is the gift that is offered.
©2002 The Rev. Margaret Gunness
Preached at Calvary Episcopal Church, Memphis, TN
Reading: John 6:53-59
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. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal
life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is
true food and my blood is true drink. 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. This is the bread that came down from heaven,
not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one
who eats this bread will live forever." He said these things
while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. NRSV
(New Revised Standard Version)