Sermon – May 12, 2019
Jesus has many hard things to say to us. Here in John we have one of his most difficult sayings: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Such a thought is difficult to digest, pardon the pun. But, we believe what the Bible says, and so we believe that this is true, in some sense. But how? Today we are thinking through what it means to eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus Christ, and how it relates to the practice of the Lord’s Supper as we understand it. How are we to understand the words of Jesus, and, what’s more, how are we to put these words into practice?
1. The body and the bread
Are we to take Jesus’ words here literally? Many do, and try to determine the best way to implement them. Roman Catholics have done so through the doctrine of Transubstantiation, believing that the true substance of the bread and wine are replaced with the body and the blood of Jesus. We shouldn’t just reject this doctrine because it is Catholic, weird in our eyes, mysterious, or not based in Scripture (because it sort of is!). Rather, we reject it, and Luther’s view of a Sacramental Union, because it is unlikely that Jesus is speaking in a literal way. While there are many reasons to think that Jesus is using an exaggerated metaphor, the best comes from context. Jesus places both before and behind his most extreme calls to eat his flesh calls for faith and belief. He even goes so far to say that believing (v. 47) and eating his flesh (v. 51) yield the same results: eternal life. If the flesh does not help us (v. 63) then why would physically eating flesh give us life? No, we better understand these things as symbols; pictures of what our faith really is: placing trust that the body of our Lord, broken for us, is our death. In doing so, when we take the Lord’s Supper, we are not just symbolizing what the Lord has done; we are declaring our faith in his sacrificial death, and through our faith being nourished for eternal life.
2. The blood and the wine
Surprisingly, cannibalism is not forbidden in the pages of the OT (although it is clearly not thereby considered valid!), but drinking or eating of blood routinely is. Why then would Jesus pick such a metaphor for us to understand his sacrifice through? The OT forbids the practice, as far as Leviticus 17 is concerned, for two reasons: the blood is the life of the animal, and it is for atonement. While certain cultures were to think that the life of the animal could be transferred to them through the ingestion of blood, the Israelites were never to think this way. Life doesn’t come from the creation, but the Creator. Hence, while the animal can stand in for their death, even in the atonement the life the people need is only thereby granted by God. Only God can grant life. Hence, Jesus’ blood both makes atonement and gives life – precisely because he is God. His blood is true drink, and true life. Those, who through their faith, truly drink it will live!