Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 17, 2003
The Gospel: John 6:53-59
Sermon: "Come to the Table"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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." He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
Come to the Table
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - August 17, 2003
I am very glad I was not a missionary of the church during the 17 and 1800's. I would not have wanted to be in that position and used this scripture to convert people in Africa, South America and Australia. Some of the people in these areas had different dietary habits than the Europeans. So, here comes the missionary. He reads to them, "Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." The missionary is thinking about the Eucharist. The bread and the wine becoming the body and blood of Christ. Some of the people to whom the missionaries were speaking were cannibals. They were thinking dinner. They believed the missionary believed in the same practices they did. Since the missionary was not of their people that made him the perfect candidate for the main course.
This type of behavior was seen as improper and immoral. In most cases the people to whom the missionary was talking were blamed and named as savages, decadent and immoral. Actually, the missionaries and the people were talking on two completely different wavelengths. The missionaries did not know the people and they did not know their characteristics. The first meetings were absolute disasters in communication. The missionaries could not communicate correctly what they were trying to say. They did not know their audience.
The same issue is present in today's Gospel reading. We have come in on the last part of a long discussion between Jesus and some of the leaders of the Jewish people. The discussion concerns the true identity of Jesus Christ as the way to eternal life. Jesus tells them He is the way to eternal life. He also tells them that in order to be part of him they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. Now, the flesh has been a reference back to the manna in the wilderness. Drinking the blood does not have the same reference. In fact, drinking the blood of any animal is against the dietary laws of the Jewish people. Even the suggestion of drinking blood would be offensive to these leaders. So, what is really happening in this Gospel lesson?
First of all, the main audience is not the Jewish leaders of the story. John is writing this Gospel to Christians. The reference here to flesh and blood is then a true reference to the Eucharist. This story is directly pointed at the members of the Christian church in John's own time. These are the Christians of the early church in the very early second century.
All through the first six chapters of John, Jesus has been referred to as the source of life. It is one of the central themes. Now, it is made clear that eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ is a condition for receiving the gift of eternal life. In these verses the explicit reference to the Eucharist tells the community how to receive eternal life. To a community that already has the experience of the Eucharist in their lives these verses can make sense. To people outside of the community these verses may not make sense and in fact may be misinterpreted. As we have already discovered these misinterpretations have already occurred.
However, to those people of the community these verses have a distinctive interpretation. As the members of the community come to the Eucharist they are drawn into a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship is described in the word abide. The word abide is used to describe the very intimate relationship of the believer to Jesus. It also describes the intimate relationship between God and Jesus. To participate in the Eucharist means to enter into this deep, intimate relationship between God and Jesus. To participate in the Eucharist means to have eternal life. To participate in the Eucharist means we live in this relationship of eternal love with the One who created us to love. So to come to the table of God is to respond yes to a deep relationship with God, yes to eternal life, and yes to love God and to love each other. To come to the table of God is to say yes to God's presence in our lives.
These verses assure us of the love of God. These verses also assure us of how available God wants to be to us. All we have to do is come and be present with God. Today, we are invited to come to the table of the Lord. Jesus is the host. He has prepared the table for each of us. We are all welcome to receive the body and blood of our Savior. We are welcome to have an intimate relationship with God.