What does he mean?

Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58 - from the Question Mark series of talks?


What does Jesus mean?

Last week we spoke about what we need for our life being in the bread we eat. We explored these four things

1)    Forgiveness

2)    Transformation

3)    Community life

4)    Strength – for our journey


What does Jesus mean in today’s reading? John 6:51-58

Today we have a profound question about the meaning of Jesus’ body being for eternal life. Eating his flesh, drinking his blood.


Church history and disagreement

I imagine that many of you know more about church history than myself. The interpretation of these teachings of Jesus and the Holy Communion, Eucharist, or Mass, has divided the church, and still does. Therefore, I can only sketch the ideas, and ask us to be gracious with one another when we do not agree. It is interesting that the whole passage describes a session of disagreement. John 6:52, “the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves.” In verse 60 – many of his disciples said, this is a hard teaching, who can accept it? And in v 66, many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed him.


The whole teaching described in this passage would have been shocking to Jewish thinking. In fact, in the early church, Christians were persecuted because Roman non-Christians believed they were cannibals, ‘eating flesh and drinking blood’.


Some commentators think that this section of John’s gospel was added at a later date than the rest, added by an editor (redactor) interested in church order and worship (ecclesiology). Ashton (1993:200). The Debate continues about the full scope of meaning.


My own experiences, two notable happy memories

A. Fraternal in previous church community, with gathered Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Baptist, Anglican Evangelical, Anglo-Catholic, a team of about 10, we ate together, prayed together, served together, reflected on ministry together – about Holy Communion – with respect and empathy, and genuine friendship and Christian love.


B. Diocesan Ecumenical Exchanges

Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican – we worshipped together, not necessarily taking communion in each other’s churches, but being blessed and in deep Christian fellowship and common purpose, prayer, and discussion.


What is eternal life?

First point, is that Jesus intended us to understand eternal life not only as spiritual life eternally, after we have moved on from this world, but a living spiritual life in relationship with God that begins now…For example, John 17:3, Jesus’ discourse before the last supper, he is recorded as saying: “Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” So eternal life is not about floating on clouds and playing the harp – or the Zither! Some would argue they believe it will be about the perfect cricket match – or the rugby which was brilliant last night ... It is about relationship with God, as Father, as true God, and relationship with Jesus Christ, that we in the 21C can know in a spiritual way. Not physically. This means that God’s kingdom, his rule, his authority, we see broken in already into our world and into our lives, not perfectly (as we one day shall see God face to face), but imperfectly, as we experience God amidst our everyday lives, and through faith in him.


Spiritual life not spiritual death

Jesus, also in John’s gospel, spoke of coming to bring spiritual life. God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life. John 3:16

The belief that our physical bodies are not all there is – thankfully!

The belief that our being includes another part, different from animals, that has the possibility of living for all eternity. This part can be alive or not.

Not about emotions

Not about thinking

But a unique part of each one of us:

Eat the flesh and drink the blood

Holy Communion. V 54. This person has eternal life and will be raised up on the last day.

Then the question of our sermon today: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?

What does Jesus mean?


There are multiple levels of meaning of the bread metaphor


Bread from heaven – evokes memories of the OT exodus through the Red Sea, and the manna provided in the desert – which is about God’s faithfulness in providing


Bread from heaven – represents the Word of God, which gives and sustains life (Isiah 50, 55).


Both speak of gift from God – miraculous gift of actual food, and the gift of God’s Word.


I am the bread of life, the focus of the metaphor is Jesus himself – the person of Jesus – and the living bread that came down from heaven – He himself is the food that gives life, not the manna, or the multiplied loaves of the feeding of 5,000. It is through eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood, through the Eucharist, that the believer partakes of this food.


The whole symbolism is to include, manna, Word of God, and the bread that people must eat in order to have life, and the bread to whom people must listen in order to have life. It would be a mistake to say that it is only one of these meanings.


In John’s gospel, the richness of the bread metaphor is essential to the presentation of the Eucharist or Holy Communion. The manna in the wilderness, the word of God that gives life, the multiplication of the loaves are all present when the believer eats Jesus’ flesh and drinks his blood. We do not have to choose among them. In John’s gospel they are all included and at play. In John’s record, the Holy Communion does not belong exclusively to Jesus’ passion, and his death, but to the whole of his life. There is an association with his death: V 51 – this bread is my flesh which I will give for the life of the world.


But in eating and drinking we fully participate in all of the life of Jesus and his gifts.

V 56, 57 – whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me.


What do we believe?

bread & wine1) That the bread and wine become the body and blood of Jesus when the priest prays the prayer of consecration; the ‘Real Presence’ of Christ. This may be close to what is described in John’s gospel Chapter 6. The Holy Communion is a meal of Jesus’ presence, perhaps not primarily in this account, if at all, a meal of remembrance. The meal is feeding on and being fed by Jesus.


2) That the bread and wine are symbolic of Jesus’ life-giving death of himself on the cross for us, flesh and blood, and we are remembering his death, that takes away our sin, in the communion service; as Jesus said at the Last Supper: ‘do this in remembrance of me’.


3) That the breaking of bread and pouring out of wine, is more than a remembrance, and the presence of God is real to us as we come for Communion. We receive these elements with gratitude for his life at work in us. His body is real food, his blood real life. We are changed inwardly as we receive. He becomes part of us, we become part of him.


Note also that there is a clear message about the individual here, the gift of Jesus and the believer taking part is a direct gift to those who believe (not about a mediator, the church mediating, the person who presides).


God’s life within, God’s own life, made flesh in Jesus, to cloth itself with us, get into our whole being, and transform us from within.


Some take Communion every day, some every week, some once a year….

Come today, to be part of the worldwide Christian community – ‘the communion of saints’ that stretches back in time, and across the world [thank you to Tim who reminded us].

Come today, to receive bread and wine, and Jesus’ life within. Being thankful of all he has done for us that gives us eternal life. Amen.

Marion de Quidt, August 2015, St John the Evangelist, Hook

backThank you to authors for resources used for this sermon:

New International Study Bible
Ashton, J (1993) Understanding the Fourth Gospel
O’Day, G (date) The Gospel of John. New Interpreters Bible.