53. Obscure Challenge

Short Meditations in John 6:  53. Obscure Challenge

Jn 6:53 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. 

It gets worse! In verse 51 we read, I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh” and in verse 50 we had to think about what it meant by the talk of ‘eating’ him. But now it’s like he really puts it in our face with direct talk of eating his flesh and drinking his blood.

There is a certain part of the Church that has decided that when Jesus said about Communion, “Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant,” (Mt 26:27,28) it means when we take the cup as we drink it becomes the literal blood of Jesus. I have to say I believe that is the equivalent of magic, almost a superstitious mysticism reminiscent of the Gnostics of the first century, because as we have seen in this chapter, Jesus is using graphic picture language to convey a deeply significant truth.  This is not mysticism but simple metaphor or allegory, a picture from human experience to convey a deep spiritual truth that is not open to just a few, but to all.

So what is that truth? It is, very simply, that you have to take Jesus fully into your life, his life entering your life. This is not about the Holy Spirit coming to indwell us but more about taking the very nature or character of Jesus into our lives so that our lives are changed by it. This idea of being changed to be like Jesus, we know from Paul’s teaching: “we all…. are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory.” (2 Cor 3:18) That is one of primary objectives of our salvation, to be changed to become like Jesus, to become like him in character and in service, related to the Father and seeking to do His will. It is not to be religious, not super-spiritual, not super-devout or super-pious, it is to become like Jesus and he was none of those things.

Perhaps we should just repeat again what we said in Study 50, that Jesus might have explained it as follows: “Follow me, learn of me, live with me, watch me, share with me, encounter me, share your life with me and let me share my life with you, join with me in doing the things our Father wants us to do.” That, I suggested, is ‘eating Jesus’, taking Jesus into your life, absorbing him, feeding on him.

And the blood? In the Law it said, “the life of a creature is in the blood,” (Lev 17:11) When the heart stops, we stop. So, if you didn’t see it with the bread, see it here with the life force that flows in each of us. Take Jesus’ life force into your life because if you don’t, you don’t really have real life. That is the teaching here.

55. Communion

Analogies & Parables in Matthew: 55.  Communion

Mt 26:26   While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body

Of all the analogies we have looked at in Matthew, this one is possibly the most familiar if you are a regular church-goer, for it is probable that we may hear these words at Communion, or the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or whatever else we might call it, because Luke added the words, do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk 22:19) and the apostle Paul added, “whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Cor 11:25,26) Thus we take this ‘sacrament’ (‘a ceremony regarded as imparting spiritual grace’) on a regular basis in most churches, for some weekly, others monthly. Possibly because the Synoptic Gospel writers had covered it adequately, John says nothing about what we refer to as Communion because it was obviously only one small part of all that went on at the Last Supper. John recounts Jesus’ amazing prayer then. (see Jn 17)

But at the heart of it there are two analogies. The first we have above, but then Jesus went on: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.27,28) So we have two sets of analogies: bread and wine, body and blood, and indeed they are both analogies.

Now we have to recognize that in practice there are different understandings of what takes place. For Catholics what takes place is “the conversion of the substance of the Eucharist elements into the body and blood at consecration, only the appearance of bread and wine still remaining.” For most Protestants, it is merely a symbolic act, an act of obedience which wins the blessing of God and therefore a sense of grace imparted

But we will focus, as in the rest of this series, in trying as simply as possible to catch what Jesus was trying to convey when he originally spoke these words to his disciples and ask, what might these ordinary men have made of these words? It is probable, as the Gospels show with so many things, the disciples were simply out of their depth in the face of such picture language and it would probably be many years before the likes of the apostle Paul helped out with understanding. Yet even in his one piece of writing on this Last Supper, it wasn’t his intention to spell it out, merely correct the Corinthians for their bad behaviour. So let’s look at the wording before us.

“While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” (Mt 26:26) Now for many years I thought that this was followed by the words, “which is broken for you” but actually Paul’s wording (and the Gospel writers don’t have this) is simply, “which is for you” (1 Cor 11;24) so any desire to impose a ‘theology of brokenness’ is unwarranted. So what did those words mean. In its very simplest understanding Jesus must have been saying, “As you eat this bread, imagine you are eating me, or if that is too much to cope with, imagine you are taking my very life into your life, so I become a living part of you, we being utterly united.”  i.e. this is what this whole thing is about, my coming to the earth, my living in human form; it is that ultimately we may become one, God in you.

Now there is nothing outrageous about that when you see the wider teaching of the New Testament, that we becomes ‘temples of the Holy Spirit’, vessels that contain the glory of God, humans indwelt by God, by Jesus, by his Holy Spirit. Was this a simple piece of imagery to remind us what his ultimate goal is for us?

But then the blood: “Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (v.27,28) Now the concept of the Passover covenant was probably more familiar to many of them, that to avoid the judgment of God in Egypt, a lamb had to be slain and its blood put on the doorposts of the home so that the destroying angel would see it and “pass over”. The tricky bit here is “my blood” and in that Jesus is ratifying John the Baptist’s words which the Synoptics had not picked up but John did, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (Jn 1:29 and also 35,36). It is also the picture conveyed in the vision John received in Revelation: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne.” (Rev 5:6) The analogy is simple: a lamb was previously sacrificed to save the people; that Lamb was now Jesus. By his death a new covenant is inaugurated.

The talk of body and bread being eaten, signifying a oneness, might cause the sensitive spirit to ask, how can such a thing be? The answer is, because a lamb has been slain on your behalf so that judgment is averted and all the blessing of God is released to your life. That is why we can stand secure before the Lord and in the face of all that the world brings. We are one with him and he made that possible for dying for us. Hallelujah!