Something to chew on (John 6:51-8 and Eph 5:15-20)

Rev'd Rachel
Monday, August 17, 2015 - 3:15pm

I wonder if you've ever said or done anything deliberately provocative to try and get your point across? I remember in my last church, where we didn't robe to preach or lead services, I once preached wearing a skinny top and leather trousers to make a point about the way God looks at what is inside our hearts and minds, and loves that, without taking any notice of what is on the outside. You are welcome to be grateful that in these more liturgically nuanced surroundings, you are spared such demonstrations.

Jesus didn't have leather trousers - and they wouldn't have suited the climate in Palestine anyway! But we can see in the latter parts of John 6 that telling a bunch of Jews to drink blood has the effect of shocking them rigid because it's simply not something that their religion has allowed them to contemplate. Just as our first encounter with the bread and wine of the Eucharist being the body and blood of Jesus might well have made us go "Euuuuw yuk!", so the affect of such cannabalistic sounding ideas on the blood-avoiding Jews would have been magnified!

But it's all about how we sustain ourselves, and even more importantly, how we are sustained by God.

We all know that what we eat and drink keeps us alive. We actually only need the basics of water, some carbohydrates like bread, some vitamins and minerals, and some of the right sorts of fat. Being married to a Biology Teacher I could of course provide you with a detailed explanation of how we absorb and use all this to keep us alive, but I'll spare you the gory details - there are no science exams to be passed here! But as I've probably mentioned before, it's why one journalist always takes a jar or Marmite and a jar of Peanut Butter on difficult missions - he can almost always obtain bread, and the Marmite and Peanut Butter do the rest of the work keeping him alive - assuming he doesn't put his body between a bullet and its intended target. What we need to remember is that what we eat becomes a part of us, helping children to grow, adults to stay healthy, or indeed our body to heal itself after injury or ill-health.

There is of course the issue that we can eat and drink the wrong things, or things that our body for some reason can't cope with and reacts badly to; and indeed we can have too much of the right things, as the passage in Ephesians 5 unsubtly reminds us with regard to the consumption of wine.   Indeed some things we don't actually need to ingest or inhale at all as a means of survival, they do more harm than good, even if addictions to things like cigarettes try and tell us otherwise.

When Jesus fed the 5000, he fed their hungry bodies. Bread and fish. Carbs, vitamins, minerals and those lovely, health-giving, omega 3 fatty acids. The shock value of that meal offered Galileans more used to a more hand-to-mouth existence the possibility of some sort of economic utopia if they accepted the authority and power it displayed in Jesus. But, of course, Jesus didn't come to earth to provide cheap food with no effort or even yearning being exhibited on the part of those receiving the meal. He came to fill a different hunger, a spiritual one, a hunger that many of Jesus' hearers couldn't relate to because they weren't listening with the right part of their beings.

When Ephesian's 5 asks us to "sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts", it's expecting us to exhibit a spiritual hunger for God to dwell in us in a way that we are really conscious of; a yearning that is not so battened down deep within ourselves that we can't acknowledge it and talk about it. The hymns and songs are both an expression of our spiritual need, and one means by which God meets us in our need and fulfils it. As we know through our use of the psalms today, they express all forms of human emotion, and are both positive and negative but ultimately constructive conversations with God.

Holidays can have a similar effect. We know when we need one - there is a yearning for a different physical and mental space for our brain to rest in. Hopefully there is also a spiritual need for renewal, space to focus our attention on God and what he wants to say to us, that is perhaps different to or greater than what we are able to encounter week by week in our regular lives. Sometimes we can't articulate our hunger it until we meet it in something very different to what we are accustomed to - for me this year, it was in the sparse simplicity of the Church of Scotland.

God has used all methods open to him of renewing us spiritually, including nourishing us with the body and blood of his Son - we just need to be hungry enough to feed on it. Jesus was in the awkward position of being both the voice of God reminding them of Isaiah's prophesy that they would be taught directly by God, and of being its ultimate fulfilment. It should therefore be no surprise that what Jesus had to say was so shocking to the Jews - they had not yet encountered his crucifixion, so they couldn't fully accept the significance of the flesh and blood that he was going to willingly to tear apart for them. But for us who profess the Christian faith, it has to be, by definition, faith in Christ crucified.

If what we eat becomes a part of us, then eating Jesus, will have the same effect. We have to accept, believe, have faith in Jesus' sacrifice, to be nourished in the very depths of our being by God, and be incorporated by that faith into His body so that we proclaim with integrity that 'we are the body of Christ'. Thus we are crucified with him, so that He is able to abide in us - sacramentally set out at the Eucharist - the mystery of an outward and visible sign of God's desire to feed us with his inward and spiritual grace.

But this is a faith that requires us to be spiritually hungry enough to feast on the fulness of Christ. The original Greek language of the Gospel of John uses words that are very physical - meaning munch and chew - real eating. The whole of John's Gospel is informed by Jesus' request to eat and drink him, and it is most obvious in our passage this morning. The last Bishop of Durham, Dr Tom Wright, has written, "If the Word was made flesh, we shouldn't be surprised if the same principle isn't designed by God to work its way through the whole [of] creation." If we accept the presence of Jesus as the living form of the scriptures speaking of God directly to us, then should we be so much more surprised by God's requirement that we eat the body and blood of that living Word?