Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Living Bread -- Reflections on John 6:51-58


51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 
52 Then the Jews debated among themselves, asking, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 
53 Jesus said to them, “I assure you, unless you eat the flesh of the Human One[a] and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in them. 57 As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me lives because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. It isn’t like the bread your ancestors ate, and then they died. Whoever eats this bread will live forever.”  (John 6:51-58 Common English Bible).
The lectionary has taken us through a leisurely journey through John 6, a passage of scripture that is filled with possibility and fraught with danger.  The journey started with the feeding of the 5000, and continued on through a discussion over whether Jesus would provide more bread -- like Moses did in the desert -- and on to Jesus' claim to be the "Bread from Heaven" and the "Bread of Life."  We come to the climax of the conversation where Jesus states in as bold and explicit a way that by partaking of his body and his blood they would live forever.

This passage has been the fruit of centuries of theological debate over what Jesus meant.  The connection quickly was made between this statement and the Eucharistic statements in the Synoptics and Paul.  Thus, when Jesus says -- "this is my body" we're to infer the words offered here -- by eating his body we will experience eternal life.  That inference of course led to the question of how this happens, and that led to the doctrine of Transubstantiation.  Since I've wrestled with that topic elsewhere (see the link), I want to focus on a different sense of this text.

Although I do think that this passage has Eucharistic elements and connections, I'd like to dive into the question of the relationship of faith in Jesus as the key to life eternal. I will admit that I tend toward universalism, though I will leave the final decisions to God.  

The question I'd like to ask here concerns the degree to which our own lives in relationship to Jesus, not just as a role model, but to what degree do we allow Jesus's life force to permeate our lives?  To what degree does Jesus define our own identity

There is in this passage an invitation to allow Jesus to so permeate our lives that we in essence feed on him, he becomes the source of our energy and our power, and as long as we feed on him there is life.  It is a conversation about relationship, not just a personal relationship where Jesus become our buddy, but a relationship in which his life defines our lives.  Yes, he is the bread of heaven, the bread of life, and the living bread, the manna sent from God to sustain the lives of God's people.  Therefore, as we "feed on him with thanksgiving," we find strength and power for living.  Now this can take on cannibalistic imagery and I'd rather not embrace such an idea.  The point here is spiritual not material.  It is with our hearts that we feed on him, that we draw him in to our lives, and as we do, we find that empowerment needed to live life with boldness rather than fear, with love rather than hate, with hope rather than pessimism.

May we today draw upon the one who gives us life so that we might live fully. 

All who hunger, sing together; Jesus Christ is living bread. 
Come from loneliness and longing.  Here, in peace, we have been led. 
Blest are those who from this table live their days in gratitude. 
Taste and see the grace eternal.  Taste and see that God is good.
"All Who Hunger, Gather Gladly," (vs. 3) Words by Sylvia Dunstan. 

No comments: