TRINITY X. SUNDAY 16 AUG 2009 PROPER 15. YEAR B. Prov 9:1-6. Eph 5:14-20. John 6:51-58
Donald Nicholl describes how a workman got very dangerously stuck between a tree and his tractor in an isolated spot at Tantur. The gang of weary workmen waiting for their evening bus to Bethlehem sprang into life, covered a seven foot wall like steeplechasers and eased the man, tree and tractor apart, so that the ambulance men could get him off and into hospital.
They dropped everything, did the seemingly impossible, to save a human life. Compare with R.S. Thomas:
“On a bare
Hill a bare tree saddened
The sky. Many people
Held out their thin arms
To it, as though waiting
For a vanished April
To return to its crossed
Boughs. The son watched
Them. Let me go there, he said.”
Personally I’ve a rather different, wicked, take on the imagined dialogue.
“You’ve made a mess of it, Dad. You’d better let me go and sort it out.”
What Jesus actually did was to use the image of Moses leading his people out of physical slavery.
Jesus is more than Moses. A greater than Moses is here. One who leads us, out of slavery to the fear of death.
Moses gave them manna in the wilderness. It may have been bread from heaven, it may have been angels’ food. But a greater than Moses is here, who gives us the food of eternal life, life even after death.
David poured out the water from the well at Bethlehem because it could have cost the very lives of the men who brought it right through the enemy lines.
David was a leader of genius, sinner though he was. Someone greater than a leader of genius is here. Who pours out his own life blood for his fellows, so that we have life eternal after death.
The image Jesus gives of eating his body and drinking his blood was so powerful because of the absolutely fundamental Jewish ban on eating meat with the blood still in it, which amounts to drinking blood. Lev 17:14. Because the loss of blood means death, blood was seen as life itself and the life of an animal could only legitimately be taken away by offering it to God. Originally the only meat the children of Israel were permitted to eat was the meat of burnt offerings.
Now Jesus turns the ban on eating and drinking blood right round: it is just because we eat and drink his blood that we receive not just ordinary life but life in the very eternity of God. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up at the last day.”
Something more than flesh and blood is here.
It is the flesh and blood of eternal life himself.
Just in case we might think this holy communion is a more or less spiritual event, a spiritual receiving of Wisdom, John uses the Greek word for munch, or chew, like animals do, when they make a noise chomping hay in the manger. The manger he shared with them..
The same difference as there is in German between essen, to eat, and fressen, which is what animals do. No doubt reflecting Jesus’ own Aramaic vocabulary.
Jesus gives to all who will to receive him, whether deserving or worthy or not.
Who could ever be deserving or worthy of this?
He gives his flesh “for the life of the world” no less.
It is comm-union life that he gives, the gift of comm-unity, life-making, comm-unity-making. The communion of saints and sinners, living and departed, one communion and fellowship now and in eternity.
At some instinctual level we still believe that the life is in the blood. So no wonder there is this outcry at the withholding of the chalice because of swine flu. Yet Christ cannot be divided and those who only receive the Bread receive everything, because they are receiving the bread which is his flesh “given for the life of the world.”