"Eat Me" - John 6:51-58
[Jesus said,] “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
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.”
Sometimes my irreverence gets the best of me, and I’m hoping you’ll forgive me if you think this is too much, but I couldn’t help reading today’s Gospel without hearing Jesus say, in no uncertain terms, “Eat me.” And I realize that may cross a line – that it’s my inner, adolescent Beavis and Butthead coming out, but bear with me for a moment, because I think it’s true, with a capital T, in more ways than one.
See, I think there were times – I think there are still times – when Jesus says that, and means it, with all the snark and frustration and seriousness the phrase elicits out there in the world. And I think there were and are times when Jesus says that with more love and more earnestness than we might imagine, too.
Just after these numb-skulls who were listening to him started asking each other, “How could this man give us his flesh to eat?,” Jesus proceeds to explain why the bread of God is better than the manna of the world. How taking in the body and blood of God’s greatest gift in Jesus is different – and better – than all the ways people of all stripes were used to filling themselves up.
For the Jews of Jesus’ day, it was their continued reliance on the old ways of faith – that judged others; that separated the good from the bad; that still pretended they could be saved by following the rules and striving for perfection. For the Gentiles it was their chasing of other gods altogether. For anyone and everyone, it was an inability or unwillingness to rely fully on the new thing God was doing among them, in Jesus.
Because in Jesus Christ, had come a new way to be found and to be filled and to be practiced at being changed by God’s grace – and that was through the eating and drinking of bread and wine, through the sacrament of what has become Holy Communion.
When a friend of mine – an older woman who never had any grandchildren of her own – met my first-born, for the first time, when he was still an infant, just a few months old – she oooed and ahhhd over him with as much joy and enthusiasm as anyone. She wanted to hug and cuddle and squeeze and kiss him all over. She couldn’t get his shoes and his socks off fast enough, because she wanted to see his cute little feet and his impossibly tiny toes. And with her face sandwiched between those feet, she said, “I could just eat him up!”
And her theory is that that’s one of the reasons God gave us the gift of Holy Communion. Because we know what it’s like to want to be that close to…to want to be filled up with the kind of joy and beauty and sweetness and love and grace that comes in the form of that kind of perfection. That the reason we’re given body and blood in the form of bread and wine is because that holy food represents for us a way to eat and to drink – a way to take in and to be filled up with – a way to be nourished by and to become, even, the joy and beauty and sweetness and love and grace that is perfected in Jesus Christ.
You are what you eat, right? So Jesus says, “Eat me.”
When we’re feeling less-than; ugly; unforgiven; unforgiveable – Jesus says, “Eat this bread.”
When we’re feeling sick; broken; unredeemable; unloved; unloveable – Jesus says, “Drink this wine.”
When we’re feeling imperfect, when we think we’ve failed beyond redemption, when we’re convinced there’s no hope, no reason, no way forward – Jesus says, “Take this and eat it. This is my body, more broken, than even your brokenness. This is my blood, poured out to give you new life.”
And it’s bigger than just us, of course. In any place where justice is being withheld, where peace is being denied, where fear is being leveled, where death appears to be winning – Jesus would say, “Eat me.” And he would mean it.
And I don’t mind hearing a holy kind of snark and a deep, abiding love in that refrain. Because Jesus has been saying it and offering himself up in as many ways as there are people in this world and yet, we still refuse to accept his invitation or to follow his command.
We keep looking for other answers…other food…other sustenance…different kinds of nourishment. And we keep coming up empty. Like those ancestors in the wilderness, like his followers back in the day, we still fill ourselves with earthly sorts of manna, don’t we?: wealth, addiction, idols, lies – all sorts of “stuff” and all variety of “things” that pale by comparison and that perish in the face of God’s eternity, unlike the Bread of Life that comes to us in Jesus.
And I’m not saying this is easy or sensible or likely, by the world’s standards. I find myself asking questions, just like those First Century Jews when I read all of this from Jesus. (“How could this man give us his flesh to eat?” I don’t even eat beef or chicken or pork, anymore. Did he just say “Eat me?”)
How in the world is this bread – that comes to us from Linda Snow’s kitchen today – supposed to be the body of Christ? How is this wine or that grape juice supposed to be the blood of my salvation, poured out for me, let alone the sake of the world? And how is any of this supposed to carry the weight of God’s promises for me, or any of us – the stuff of redemption?, the forgiveness of sins?, the resurrection of the body and new life?
One way I make sense of it is to think about what I do whenever I’m physically sick or not feeling well. The first thing I wonder about is what I’ve been eating – or all the things I can’t imagine putting into my mouth. Like, if you’ve had too much to drink the night before, you don’t even want to think about another sip. If you had some bad fish for dinner, the idea of another bite of anything may turn your stomach. It’s time for water – lots of fluids. And maybe some crackers to calm your stomach. What we eat matters, right?
And then there’s the other kind of culinary medicine, too. Like grandma’s homemade chicken noodle soup, maybe, or whatever comfort food that brings with it all kinds of history and a whole lot of memories and more love than makes sense – food can heal and mend and comfort in wonderful, unbelievable, other-worldly, holy and loving kinds of ways, can it not?
Whatever the case then, in Communion sometimes, Jesus is like a mother or a grandmother or nurse, even, sidling up to our spiritual sick-bed, setting down a tray of bread and wine and saying “Here. Try some of this.”
And through the food and drink of Holy Communion, we are connected through time and space and Spirit to this Jesus of history and to the God of all eternity. This bread has already been broken, in Jesus Christ. This blood has already been poured out, for our sake and for the sake of the world. Our sins have already been forgiven. Our lives have already been saved. Our hope has already been restored. Our redemption has already been promised.
All we’re called to do is eat, drink, receive, rejoice, and respond to the grace that is ours when we do.