On 16th August, the eleventh Sunday after Trinity, Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58.
For the last couple of weeks it seems that several people have been getting hunger pangs as a result of my talking about bread when commenting on the gospel passage from John. Today there is more on bread in the passage but I would like to pick up on something else which is in today’s Gospel and Epistle.
I’d like to turn to the matter of drink. We can survive longer without food than without drink so you could say this is the more important topic. However, all the references to food and drink are metaphorical so it doesn’t do to stretch the physical ideas too far. The difficulty for the Jews who were listening to Jesus was that they were taking him too literally. Taken literally, Jesus instruction to eat his flesh and drink his blood is outrageous. If we followed those instructions we would be cannibals. The Jews were not to drink any animal blood, never mind human blood. It’s not hard to understand why they were terribly upset by what Jesus was saying.
Jesus was building on what he had said about himself, that he is the living bread, the bread from heaven. He had been trying to make things clear with little success. Anyone who has read much of what Jesus said knows that he often made startling statements that either offended people or really set them thinking. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life” is certainly one of those startling statements. We can choose to be offended like many of Jesus’ listeners or we can choose to think what this really means.
Jesus was not advocating that we descend on him like a flock of vultures and eat his flesh or that we become like vampires and drink his blood. Jesus was looking towards his crucifixion when he would give his body made of flesh as a sacrifice for us. On the cross Jesus’ blood flowed from his wounds and gushed from his side. The Old Testament feasts pointed towards this great pivotal event of history and the marriage feast of the Lamb will be the great culmination of all that has gone before. The way we eat and drink is by believing in what Jesus has done for us. In the Old Testament it was the blood of animals that brought temporary forgiveness to the people. Now it is the blood of Jesus shed on the cross that brings us forgiveness. To drink Jesus’ blood is to trust that this really is true.
All the way through this long discourse in the synagogue at Capernaum, Jesus emphasised faith and the way that faith would allow us to satisfy our deepest needs. In verse 35 he says: “he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” In verse 40: “everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him will have eternal life.” In verse 47: “he who believes has everlasting life.” In verse 51: “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” And verse 54: “whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up at the last day.” Believing, eating, drinking are all one response. It means taking into ourselves what Jesus has done for us, letting him become to us the source of life, full abundant life.
Accepting by faith what Jesus offers means becoming dependent on him for what we need. There are some things that the western idea of being independent, self-starters just doesn’t work for. The matter of our eternal destiny is one of those things. The only way to gain eternal life is through dependence. Those who go their own way miss out on this. Those of us who choose the route of dependence on Christ find we are never alone. He promised that he will dwell in us as we dwell in him and depend on him.
In the process of eating and drinking we become one with Jesus. We can be thought of as his own flesh and blood, just as we might refer to our children as our own flesh and blood. So we bear the family likeness in our lives. Of course, that family likeness doesn’t arrive fully in an instant. It takes time and another kind of drink.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians contrasts being drunk on wine with filling our lives with the Holy Spirit. Taking lots of wine means we are controlled by the wine’s effect on us. Drinking in the Spirit allows us to be controlled by the Spirit. It is the Spirit who guides us into truth, who draws to our attention the example of Jesus when it comes to lifestyle choices and gives us the power to choose wisely, and who gives us joy and gratitude in life.
Paul admonishes his readers to live wisely, using time well and taking the effort to understand God’s will. The psalmist tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. It seems that the wise person takes care of their spiritual diet as well as their physical diet. Just as we ought to avoid physical junk food, we should also avoid spiritual junk food. Jesus has pointed us to the right diet for our spiritual health: “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.”