Ordinary 21 John Chapter 6
By Rev Charles Royden
It seems as though we have for weeks now been looking at this teaching of Jesus in which he is likened to bread. I suppose the advantage is that if we are away on holiday and miss church for a week or two, then we will still be able to hear of Jesus as the Bread of Life.
Having said that it seems that no matter how often we hear or read a passage, if we have ears we will hear fresh truths. I was in a church service of Holy Communion in Scotland on my holidays and I heard the reading of the feeding of the 5,000. I must have heard it hundreds of times before but on this occasion it struck me completely afresh. I have been struggling with the fact that in Bedford what we dump into landfill is 20-30% food waste. This is terrible because of the waste food involved when so many are starving. It is also a real problem because this waste produces pollution and contributes to global warming. And even if you don’t worry about such things it is still a problem because all councils will soon be taxed on landfill as a penalty to encourage recycling. I have been thinking about how we can encourage recycling of food waste and we have a bin into which we put food waste and we compost.
It was as all of these thoughts were going around my head that I heard the words of Jesus at the feeding of the 5,000. ‘Gather the pieces that are left over, let nothing be wasted’ I am sure that there are many interpretations of this but at it’s most basic there is surely a clear instruction here about the importance of food and need to behave responsibly.
Food is one of our most basic human needs. We are not encouraged by Jesus to pray for our own physical comforts, but he does allow prayer for daily bread. Not bread for tomorrow, but bread for today.
This week Corinne cooked a very nice meal, it was ‘jugged meat’ Now the process of cooking is essentially a stew but the word ‘jugged’ usually means that the meal is thickened by including the animals blood. The traditional favourite is of course Jugged Hare, I am told that a hare will yield about half a litre of blood. But in recent food surveys many people say that they abhor the idea of using blood in cooking, if they find out about it of course!
The idea of blood being consumed is not juts distasteful to some, we find religious prohibitions against such practices. Drinking blood was frowned upon in Judaism. Kosher meat even today has all of the blood drained from it.
In Leviticus 17:10 it says
Any Israelite or alien living among them who eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut them off from his people. For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar, it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. Therefore I say to the Israelites, none of you may eat blood nor may an alien living among you eat blood.’
Once David was fighting the Philistines who had occupied his home town of Bethlehem. (2 Sam 23:17) David had three men who were very brave. When he was very thirsty one day in the battle he said he longed for a drink from the well at Bethlehem. The three men risked their lives to break through and get water from the well and take it to David.
But he didn’t drink it! He poured it out on the ground and said
‘Is it not the blood of men who went at the risk of their lives?
For David to drink the water would be like drinking blood. So David is saying that it would be something which was abhorrent!! David was a shrewd political man he wanted to make the point that he would not take benefit from men who had risked their lives.
It might seem distasteful to us to think of drinking blood, but for the people at the time it was totally abhorrent. So we need to feel some of this reaction when we read the passage today in which Jesus speaks of drinking his blood. It was quite a shocking thing to say! The idea of cannibalism is something which we find disgusting. the thought of eating another person is repulsive to most of us. Even when it is for survival such as the incident which gave material for the film Alive about the 1972 air crash in the Andes, when surviving members of the Uruguayan rugby team ate the dead to stay alive. When the early Christians were accused of cannibalism it was a sure fire to discredit them
Jesus uses this obnoxious language. When the crowd is bothered and confused by Jesus' claim to give his flesh, he makes an even more offensive statement: they will need to eat his flesh and drink his blood (verse 53). The vocabulary of the text only heightens the scandal. In verses 49-51, Jesus had spoken about "eating" the bread from heaven, using a very common word (esthio). In verse 53, however, Jesus switches to a less common word, trogo, a rather onomatopoetic word that has a connotation closer to "munch" or "gnaw." it is a graphic word of noisy eating, the sort of eating an animal does. The audibility of the eating, however, is not the important point; this is eating that is urgent, even desperate. It is eating as
though life depends on it, because it does.
The crowd wanted Jesus as the new Moses, they wanted bread. Many Jewish people believed that one day God would restore manna. The point which Jesus is making is that his people will benefit from drinking his blood which will be spilled. However it would be a spiritual feeding.
The best traditions in the Church have always been very careful in the language they use about how Jesus is present in the Eucharist. We are not cannibals. We are not eating Jesus' liver, brain and bones.
We should speak of the body and blood of Christ, rather than Jesus. The distinction matters. The Eucharist is a Sacrament of Easter. It is the glorified, risen Christ who is wholly and truly present under the form of bread and wine at the Eucharist.
So why is this important
For Jesus, the new Moses, not only gives bread to the people, but also in his passion, death and resurrection he gives us himself. This is why the Church has always linked the events at Easter with the celebration of Eucharist.
"flesh and blood" means the whole person
The Eucharist is meant to be something that empowers all Christians to go out and transform the world with love and goodness for Christ's sake.
The Eucharist does not turn us into cannibals; it's meant to make us radicals, radically
committed to all God's people everywhere.
Choosing the way of Jesus is a matter of life and death. Eating the body and blood of Christ is about taking all of Christ within us to sustain and empower us, body and soul for the Christian life. Beign a Christian is not just about getting up early on Sunday morning and coming to church, it is about a change of person, a way of special living.
Now there is a problem here. Jesus told his disciples that this was of following him was a dangerous one.
I said to my family this year that the words which had defined my holidays this year were ‘risk averse.’ There were lots of examples but let me give you just an idea of what I mean. I went to Spain for a few days and swam in the sea of Guadamar. Now it was beautiful there on the sandy beach but it was also a bit windy. The wind was whipping up the waves and it was quite exhilarating as I headed off into the surf. Waving to Corinne on her lilo. I was so enjoying myself that I never heard the lifeguard blowing his whistle telling me I was not allowed to swim in the sea. Eventually when they managed to get my attention I was made aware that the sea was full of waves, which of course was the reason why I wanted to go and swim in them, however not allowed. This is Spain where they throw donkeys off churches and all manner of dangerous activities like bull fighting place so I was surprised.
Then back in Scotland I went on a loch in a rowing boat. I love fishing and over the years have spent a lot of time fishing in boats, and I have occasionally fallen out, which can be a bit uncomfortable and disturbs the fish. But now Health and Safety dictates that we have to wear lifejackets, which I hate, whilst we fish. When I asked the man hiring the boat why we had to wear such ridiculous gear to fish on the loch he said knowingly ‘what would you do if you fell out’ My mind went back to all of those hours spent diving to the bottom of swimming pools picking up bricks and I wanted to say ‘I would swim’ Instead I decided to pretend to wear it until we were out of sight. The nonsense of it all came when I was returning to the boat station with the outboard motor at full speed and nearly ran over two menb who were swimming in the lak, I wanted to tell them that had to wear life jackets.
The point that I am making is that we are risk averse. We are just proposing the installation of playground equipment across the green in Waveney Avenue in Brickhill and it has been decided that it will be natural play equipment. There is now a movement which recognises that children have been cosetted too much, with soft surfaces everywhere they play and no real activities. I remember when I was a child of about 8 we played on building sites. There were no fences and we used to re-enact the first world war using the trenches dug out for foundations of houses. We would throw bricks at ach other and when we would escape through half built houses, without a safety helmet.
Now obviously some Health and safety stuff is all very well and good. But we are risk averse and that presents us with a problem. Jesus calls us not to be risk averse. We are called to take up a cross. We have to stick our necks out, and risk having our heads chopped off. This is the Christian way. Jesus is not risk averse he walks the path to Jerusalem. Are we prepared to do the same.
Occasionally people tell me that their prayer life is lacking in excitement. Is this because our their lives are lacking in excitement? If we are facing daily challenge in our Christian service then we can be assured our prayers will reflect that. Of course the early Christians prayed a lot, we would all pray if we were facing the lions. We do not pray because we are all too comfortable.
Jesus calls upon us to share the excitement of the Christian life. To be prepared to drink from his cup and eat his flesh. This is a call to be prepared to swim in the choppy waters of life, to set out in the boat without a lifejacket trusting in Christ to be with us the storm.