Scripture Readings: 1 Kings 2:1-12; 3:3-14; Ps. 34:9-14; Eph. 5:15-20; John 6:51-58 Sermon by Linda Rex from John 6:51-58
Our Living Host
I have a relative who spent years studying bats in many different parts of the world. Someone who knows a lot about bats knows that most of them eat only insects and fruit. But some people associate bats with drinking blood, so they are afraid of all kinds of bats.
The only bat that drinks the blood of animals is the vampire bat, which apparently got its name from stories about vampires who would transform into bats. The concept of a blood-sucking creature or person developed out of folklore and mythology, as well as fears people had of death and disease epidemics, along with misunderstandings about the dying process.
It is instructive that the nation of Israel was told by God to not drink the blood of any living thing. In Leviticus 17 we read, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood… as for the life of all flesh, its blood is identified with its life” (Lev. 17:11-14, NASB). God had breathed life into human beings—it’s that breath of life that keeps us alive. We know from studying the human body that blood carries life-giving oxygen throughout the body, along with nutrients and many other things necessary for life. If any human being or animal loses blood in large quantities, they will likely die.
Something as simple as God’s command to not consume the blood of any living thing can point us to the gift God gave us of his Son. In our Gospel passage today in John 6, we read that Jesus was telling the crowd of Jews that unless they were to eat his body and drink his blood, they would have no real life. In their mind, Jesus was asking them to do something expressly prohibited in the Law of Moses. How could Jesus insist on them committing such an abominable act? This eating a human body and drinking its blood was an act that led to death, not life!
Jesus told them they needed to eat of his flesh in order to live. The Jews also knew that cannibalism was forbidden in the Law of Moses. Why in the world would Jesus insist that they eat his body? They could not see how Jesus was going to give them his body to eat.
Jesus also called himself the bread that came down from heaven. The Jews automatically assumed that this referred to the manna that God provided his people in the wilderness. It was a special gift from God for his special people—what did it have to do with this man who claimed he came from heaven and was God’s Son? He was just another human being like themselves.
The Jews focused on a literal interpretation of what Jesus was saying. They had literal flesh and blood in mind. They could see only the physical Jesus in front of them—they had no idea who Jesus really was. They did not understand or accept his true identity as the Son of God in human flesh.
But Jesus knew who he was. He understood that he drew his life from his heavenly Father. He knew he was the living Word of God in human flesh—the One through whom and for whom all things were made. He was the One who has always lived in loving relationship with Abba in the Spirit.
Jesus said, “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father…” He knew the source of all life is in our heavenly Father. The living Word had taken on a human body and while in that body on earth he drew his life from his Abba by the Spirit. The Father of all remained in close relationship with his Son, in the Spirit, even though his eternal Son had taken upon himself our broken, sinful human flesh.
Jesus lived in total dependence on his Father, just as we are to live in total dependence on the Father, through Jesus, by the Spirit. Jesus trusted his Abba completely, and whatever he saw his Father do, he did. He did the will of his Father at all times—so completely and perfectly that when you saw Jesus, you saw the Father.
Jesus also knew that the reason he took on our humanity was so one day each human being could share in his eternal life. We humans were created for that purpose—to dwell in close, intimate relationship with God forever as those who were uniquely made in his image to reflect his likeness. As human beings, we were designed to draw our existence from the life-giving, life-sustaining love and goodness of God. We were never meant to be self-sufficient or self-determined.
Sadly, since the beginning, we humans have taken the gift of free-will given to us by Abba and turned it into license to do as we wish. We have considered ourselves to be self-sufficient, not realizing our decision to turn from God consigned us to death—to return to the nothingness from which we were made. God never meant for that to happen to us—his heart has always been to deliver us from the judgment we would bring upon ourselves through our stubborn, willful turning away from him.
Throughout his life on earth in mortal human flesh, Jesus slowly but surely took a steady path toward the culmination of his earthly mission—to deliver us from sin, death and Satan—from all the things we have surrendered ourselves to in willfulness and rebellion.
Jesus knew he was headed to the cross. The cross would be the place where human beings would come face-to-face with the depth of the evil, which had twisted and corrupted their beings. Humans would have to face the reality that when God came face-to-face with them here on earth—they crucified him, subjecting him to the worst torture and death known to humanity at the time.
Jesus willingly faced the cross for our benefit. He was the complete expression of the love of God presented to us in a way in which we as human beings might begin to apprehend a little of God’s abundant goodness, grace and love. Jesus did not run from the cross, but “for the joy set before him, endured the cross, despising the shame…” (Heb 12:2, NASB). Jesus, in his life, death, resurrection and ascension, is the full expression of the love of the Father for every human being with no exceptions.
In the giving of his body and through the pouring out of his blood on the cross, Jesus offered himself in our place. He was the perfect sacrificial Lamb—for us. He poured out his life’s blood so we could and would have life in him. He freely offered himself in his humanity for us, so we would not need to be offered for our sins. Jesus stood in our place—his life for our life; his body for our body. This is the gift of life given on our behalf by Jesus Christ our Savior.
Jesus made this self-offering with joy, sharing the Father’s heart of love in the Spirit for us. The Incarnation—God taking on human flesh—was necessary for our humanity to be redeemed and transformed. The atonement—God in Christ taking our place—was necessary for our redemption and transformation. And Christ in our place was necessary for our intimate relationship with Abba to be redeemed and restored, so that we could share forever in the love and life enjoyed by the Father, Son and Spirit.
But that is not all God gave us in Jesus. Having ascended to the Father after his resurrection, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit so that everyone could have life in him. The Spirit is the breath of God, who breathes new life into each of us as we trust in the saving work of Jesus. Jesus calls us, by the Spirit, to trust—to believe in the truth of who he is and what he has done. As the apostle Paul says in Ephesians 5:18, we are to be intoxicated with the Spirit, not with anything that would steal our life away.
The life God calls us to is life in the Holy Spirit lived in obedience to Christ. We seek God’s face through spiritual disciplines—practices such as worship (with a focus on Holy Communion), praying in the Spirit, reading Holy Scripture, meditating on God and his Word, and fellowshipping with other believers. In all these ways we feed on Christ by the Spirit—eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood. As we do so, we are led by the Spirit to trust Jesus and follow him wherever he leads us.
Living in and participating in the divine fellowship that exists in the Holy Trinity is what we were created for. This knowing and being known is what Jesus said eternal life—real life—is all about. We have this life as we walk with Jesus, through the Spirit, by faith, trusting in Jesus as our living Lord. As we feed on Christ by the Spirit, God breathes this eternal life into us and we respond with humility and gratitude through acts born of faith.
Instead of being shocked by Jesus’ statement that we must eat his body and drink his blood, we can open our hands and hearts to receive this gift and begin to share it with those around us. The beautiful gift of Jesus’ body broken for us and his blood poured out for us brings us life, not death.
All the fears we have of disease, death and dying are swept away in the reality of who Jesus is and what he has done and is doing on our behalf. Because of Christ, we have nothing to fear. No one and no thing can separate us from God’s love in Christ. Abba has set a table for us in his Son that meets all the deep longings of our souls. As we turn to Christ in faith, by the Spirit we feast at the Communion table on our living host, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our life. He is our breath. He is our sustenance—the real and living bread and drink of our existence.
As we come to the Communion table, we are reminded again of the gift of life in Christ Jesus. He offered his body and blood in our place and on our behalf. In offering the bread and the wine to remember him by, Jesus turns us away from our self-reliance and self-sufficiency, and calls us to himself. Take, eat—this is my body broken for you. Drink all of it—this is the cup of the covenant. We are reminded anew of the precious gift of Abba’s love expressed to us in Jesus and in the giving of the Spirit. And we are grateful.
Thank you, Abba, for drawing us to yourself with your two hands of love—your Son Jesus Christ and your Holy Spirit. Thank you for giving us real life—the life of your one and only Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for giving us your breath—the breath of life, the Holy Spirit. Grant us the grace to trust in and receive these gifts and to respond by living in the truth of our existence each day—through Christ and by the Spirit. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.