The Weird Beauty of “Flesh and Blood”

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

Pentecost 13 | 08.19.2018 | John 6:51-58

So, it’s hard not to admit that the word choices Jesus makes here…are weird. Shocking, actually; in fact, bordering on disturbing.

He says, “Very truly unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you” (John 6:53). That’s weird.

Then there’s the Greek – the original language in which it was written. The verb we translate as “eat” in v. 54 isn’t actually from the common Greek word “to eat” (which would be esthio); instead, Jesus uses an even weirder verb for eating. He says, “Those who [trógón/ τρώγων] my flesh” have life. Trógón means: “to chew.”[1] “Those who chew my flesh…have eternal life.” SO WEIRD!

Even the people around Jesus, who heard him in this passage were startled by the verbiage. As it says—“The Jews then disputed…‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” (v. 52). He startled his original audience.

Likewise, later in Christian history this language startled those living alongside Christian communities – particularly, the Roman Empire. Early Christians actually had “charges made against them” by the Empire that “they practiced cannibalism,”[2] evidenced by things like this that Jesus said.

So, this teaching by Jesus, on the surface, is weird, and needs some interpretation.

According to one scholar, this vivid and seemingly grotesque language about eating flesh and drinking blood is where we really encounter a central meaning of Jesus as the bread of life. Because, really, we know that Jesus is being metaphorical. So, the question we must ask as we encounter this passage is: what does the flesh and blood of Jesus mean? What is the metaphor here?

We can answer these questions with a question: where do we see Jesus’ flesh and blood most intensely? Where is Jesus’ flesh pierced? His blood spilled?

At his death. On the cross.

Therefore, in “these verses,” what we get is Jesus offering a metaphor for his death. In these words, Jesus is offering “his very own [life]”; he’s pointing ahead to the crucifixion where his “flesh which will be stretched upon the cross…[and to his] blood which will flow freely for our sake.”[3] So, effectively, he’s saying, eat and drink in the promise of the cross…and that will give life.

Jesus went to the cross in full display of what his love looks like for the world. On Good Friday, Jesus chose to sacrifice his own flesh and blood rather than to punish our flesh and blood. In response to our sin and imperfection, Christ offered mercy. The crucifixion, the event where Jesus shows solidarity with human pain and oppression, is the place where Jesus was willing to sacrifice his own body in order that we might know how loved and worthwhile we are and just how far he goes for us…THIS promise, this is what Jesus wants us to ingest; THIS is the Bread of Life we are invited to consume.

So, no…Jesus is not instructing us to cannibalism in these verses; rather, Jesus is urging us to consume and drink in his love. With that in mind, his words here go from something vulgar and strange to something beautiful. The flesh and blood he wishes us to take in is the life he will lay down for us (cf. John 15).

And this leads us to the Sacrament of Holy Communion which we are all invited to receive today. As we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, we dine on the promise of God’s love. It’s a stunning ritual when you think about it. We call it flesh and blood although it is bread and wine because in with and under those elements, attached to those physical signs of bread and wine, is the unrelenting promise of God’s love… which he displayed most fully with his flesh and blood.

As we take the Supper we literally consume the promise of Jesus loving us. Think about that…Our bodies digest the bread and soak in the wine and, therefore, the Word of God’s love. The bread and wine become a physical part of us, like all food does. God’s grace literally becomes a part of our physical being.

As a Pastor named Martin Copenhaver explains,

For those who receive Jesus [in Holy Communion] his life clings to their bones and courses through their veins…He can no more be taken from the believer’s life than last Tuesday’s breakfast can by plucked from one’s body.’ This is the promise which God makes to us…in Holy Communion God becomes one with us forever.[4]

So my sisters and brothers, don’t just hear God’s forgiveness. Don’t just read about God’s grace. Don’t just think about Christ’s love. EAT it. DRINK it in (6:53).

This is a broken world with darkness and evil, with bodies that fail us, and psyches that tell us we’re not good enough; this is a life constantly lived with the weights of shame, embarrassment, insecurity, and guilt, and here Jesus is saying: you are enough, you are free, you are loved, and saved. My flesh and blood proves it.

Sisters and brothers, consume this promise for strength and peace “in this so very real and difficult world.[5] Jesus is the Bread of Life—with that it is no wonder he weirdly but beautifully tells us, “Chew on that.”

Amen.

     [1] Barclay M. Newman Jr., A Concise Greek-English Dictionary of the New Testament (Germany: C.H. Beck, 1993), 185.

     [2] William C. Placher, A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1983), 59.

     [3] David Lose, “Pentecost 12B: Meeting the Carnal God,” In the Meantime, http://www.davidlose.net/2015/08/pentecost-12-b-meeting-the-carnal-god/.

     [4] Cf. Ibid.

     [5] Ibid.

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