Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
Readings: Proverbs 9. 1-6; Psalm 34. 9-14; Ephesians 5. 15-20; John 6. 51-58 (view all)
I was brought up in a very active Christian family, and so, throughout my childhood, believing the things that Christians believed and doing the things that Christians did, especially in church, just seemed normal to me. I can remember the period in my early teens when I began to realise, though, that what I thought was normal wasn’t necessarily what was normal for everybody else. As I found out more about my friends and other classmates, I realised that actually as an active Christian I was in the minority. My friends had lots of questions and found lots of the things I’d taken for granted that everyone believed, and lots of the things we do in church, to be quite strange.
It’s perhaps because of some of those questions and conversations, that I’m often struck as we share communion together by the words we use: ‘the body of Christ’ and ‘the blood of Christ’. That Christians somehow consumer the body and blood of Jesus seemed very strange indeed to my friends.
In our gospel reading, Jesus continues to describe himself as the ‘bread of life’, he invites all those who believe in him to ‘eat his flesh and drink his blood’. Well, what does it mean for us to consume the body and blood of Jesus? How can this strange act of communion sustain and nourish us today in our own journeys of faith?
When Jesus explains that he is the ‘living bread’, he’s describing his own sacrificial death which is to come later in the gospel story, the giving of himself ‘for the life of the world’. This is something that the crowd are already struggling to get their heads around — a martyr’s death intended to bring a new harvest, the new life of God’s kingdom, a feast of redemption, peace and justice to nourish the people of God.
But Jesus doesn’t just stop there — he goes even further! In very matter-of-fact, literal language he describes the way in which his body, which is to be broken, and his blood, which is to be shed, would form the actual content of the feast itself:
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.
For Jesus, at least the way John portrays him, it seems clear that this is more than just a figurative idea — a nice airy-fairy theological concept to think about as we receive communion. Throughout the centuries, theologians have tried to make sense of this, asking ‘how can ordinary things like bread and wine become something special, something different?’
Some have dismissed the idea completely and preferred to argue that the Lord’s Supper is a remembrance, while others have gone to great lengths to describe the way in which the bread and wine are able to physically ‘become’ Jesus’ body and blood.
For me, though, both of these arguments miss the point. The point is not how Jesus is present as we share the Eucharist together. The point is that somehow, in some way, he is in fact present. That, as we eat and drink his flesh and blood, we ‘abide in him, and he in us’, and experience a deep sense of God’s presence with us, of communion with him and others.
In our Old Testament proverb, drawing on the Jewish wisdom tradition in which wisdom is often referred to as a woman, Lady Wisdom invites those who would come to abide with her, saying,
Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine that I have mixed. Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.
Similarly, Jesus invites us into an intimate relationship of communion, which results in maturity, compassion and wisdom.
So it is in sharing that communion that we are nourished, that we realise God’s forgiveness, and that we can find the healing and wholeness of body, mind and spirit which Jesus longs to bring us. And just as those who in the Proverb leave Wisdom’s presence transformed, so we are also transformed by our communion, ready to bring that same spiritual sustenance, forgiveness and healing to others around us.
So, will we journey to the Lord’s table this morning eagerly anticipating God’s presence with us as we receive Christ’s body and blood together? Will we receive the nourishment, forgiveness and healing which Jesus longs to offer us, through the power of his death and resurrection?
How can we, who have been changed by our communion with God, extend hope, grace and healing to those we know — our friends, neighbours and colleagues?
Pope Francis writes this in one of his encyclical letters, entitled The Joy of the Gospel:
The Eucharist, although it is the fullness of sacramental life, is not a prize for the perfect but a powerful medicine and nourishment for the weak.
This morning, our Lord Jesus invites us to come as we are, with all our weakness, to his table of grace, hope and peace. May we, as we celebrate this Eucharist together, be drawn ever deeper into his presence, that we might ‘evermore dwell in him, and he in us’.
Almighty and everlasting God,
you are always more ready to hear than we to pray
and to give more than either we desire or deserve:
pour down upon us the abundance of your mercy,
forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid
and giving us those good things
which we are not worthy to ask
but through the merits and mediation
of Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.