“Truly, truly (amen, amen!) I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:53-56).
Imagine that you are John, the evangelist, the man who recorded the words I just read and you just heard. You have the record of Jesus’ preaching in the synagogue at Capernaum. You heard with your ears. You remember every word distinctly. The question before you is this: Do you write it down and make it part of your Gospel? Matthew, Mark, and Luke didn’t. Will you write this “hard saying” down? This saying the even scandalized the inner group of disciples, maybe even you?
Do you write this down knowing that future generations will read these words aloud about eating the flesh of Christ and drinking His blood and puzzle over them and perhaps be scandalized by them? Perhaps they’ll close your Gospel right then and there at chapter 6 and throw it away, thinking it’s sheer insanity. Face it. If you wanted to write a marketable Gospel, a sellable Gospel, a Gospel that appeared sensible and rational and sane, you wouldn’t include this sermon at the synagogue in Capernaum.
The trouble, though, is this. Jesus said it. They are His own words, words that are Spirit and life. Words from the Word Incarnate, the Word made Flesh dwelling among us, the only-begotten Son of God. Words intended for your ears; words intended to enliven your faith.
They are troubling words. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” And just in case you thought you could “spiritualize” things and make them a bit more palatable, Jesus shifts the verb to a much coarser one which the translation picks up. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Not just eating but feeding. The word is located in the mouth and has to do with the teeth. There is no doubt about what where Jesus is talking. He’s not talking about some spiritual eating in heaven or in you but an eating that goes on in your mouth.
Troubling, scandalous words. These appear to be the words of a madman! And if Jesus didn’t say them, then John, or whoever wrote them, is just as mad, and expects us to be just as crazy as he is for believing them. Let’s face it. I start talking like this, and you pack me away, right?
Many people apparently thought along the same lines. Many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. They no longer wanted to be seen in public with Jesus. There was no problem with teaching Jesus, with demon casting Jesus, with walking on water Jesus, with miracle working Jesus, with multiplying loaves and fishes Jesus. But a Jesus that talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to have eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day? No, thank you. I think we’re going to be moving on, now.
There is no more scandalous teaching in the church than the real presence of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The world mocks it openly today. I’ve seen web sites and have read books that openly mock “Jesus in a cracker” and anyone who would be so gullible as to believe that their Savior comes to them in a piece of bread. Even within the church there are those who would spiritualize and marginalize and even deny this true food and true drink. We do the same when we don’t eat and drink and act as if we don’t need it. But that troubling verb Jesus uses for “feeding” takes place in the mouth, which is where the Lord wants His Body and His Blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, to be.
This pushes the Incarnation all the way home. God doesn’t simply dwell with us in the sense of hang around with us, walk with us, talk with us, tell us we are His own, and all that. No. He wants to lay out bread and pour drinks. True food and true drink. The only food and drink that brings the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. He wants to abide in us and we in Him. And He provides the way: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in Him.” We abide in Jesus by faith, and He abides in us by our eating and drinking His Body and Blood.
Think about it: In paganism, you feed your gods; in Christianity you feed on your God.
Many of Jesus’ disciples checked out after He preached this sermon in Capernaum. It’s understandable. They’d heard enough. They packed their disciples bags and went home. Jesus didn’t go running after them. He didn’t say, “No, no, you misunderstood me. I was only speaking metaphorically, spiritually, I didn’t mean literally eat my flesh and drink my blood. Of course not.” No, Jesus didn’t issue a retraction or try to recast His words in a different light to make them more palatable. He let His words stand.
But He turned to His Twelve, His inner circle, His chosen ones, one of whom would eventually betray Him. Even that is already known. Jesus asks them, “What about you? Do you want to leave too?” Do you want to leave when the teachings of Jesus get difficult, uncomfortable, make you uneasy or embarrassed or even squeamish? Our sinful, self-oriented nature wants so badly to check out, to get away from these troubling words and back to safer ground. Could we maybe roll it back a little Jesus and pick up with the feeding of the 5000? We really liked that miracle. But what about this crazy talking Jesus who speaks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood?
Peter answers on behalf of the group. He makes the good and faith-filled confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” That’s what faith in Christ sounds like. It clings to the words of Jesus. He alone has the words of eternal life. No one else does. No other name. No other Lord, Savior, Redeemer. They had left everything they had to follow Jesus. By the grace of God they trusted His words which had their faith-creating, faith-enlivening way with them. Words of Spirit and life. They heard and believed, and trusting Jesus, they also trusted Him when He pushed their reason and senses to the breaking point. When others we scandalized and fell away, they stuck with Jesus because they hung to His words as the most precious thing they had.
Did they fully comprehend what Jesus was saying? Do we? How could the disciples have known what Jesus would do on the night He was betrayed into death when He took the bread, broke it, gave thanks, and gave it to those same disciples and said, “Take this and eat it. This is my body given for you.”? How could they have known, that Jesus would take the cup after supper, give thanks, and give it to them with the words, “Take and drink of this, all of you; this is my blood of the new covenant which is being poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins”? They could not have possibly known exactly how Jesus would give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink that they may have His life in them. But they trusted His words.
The Lord’s Supper is an exercise in that sort of faith in Jesus’ words. We hear Jesus Spirited, living Word spoken to each one of us. My body given for you. My blood shed for you. Words of eternal life filled with His Spirited-breath, revealing, giving, bestowing, delivering into your mouth the gifts of the cross, Jesus’ own death and life as your true food and drink.
I’m sure you have your doubts. I know do. Doubt goes believing things unseen, things that cannot be measured, examined, tasted, touched, smelled, only believed. When your eyes and your ears don’t agree and you’re called to believe what you hear. Bring your doubts, your misgivings, your uncertainties, as well as your sin, your brokenness, your lostness, your death – bring all of that to the Lord’s table. Bring all of you. Your whole life, your death, your fears, your anxieties. Bring them and let the Lord feed you with His words, with His Body and Blood, with the bread of life and the wine of heaven. True food, true drink, true words from the One who is the Truth.
These hard words spoken in Capernaum cost Jesus His life. Not that people killed Him on account of these words, but to fulfill them He had to die. His body had to be given into death. His flesh offered as the perfect Lamb. His blood had to be poured out like wine; His life for our life, for the life of the whole world. This meal of which Jesus hinted that day in Capernaum, and instituted that night of His betrayal, and gives us all here today, is the meal of the cross and the open tomb. His death wins it and resurrection clinches it – He alone has the words of eternal life. And we trust these words for no other reason than He alone is risen from the dead.
Take Jesus at His word. Trust Him even with these outrageous words. “This is my body; this is my blood.” With this food and drink He abides in you and you in Him, He will raise you up on the Last Day.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.