Jesus: True Food, True Drink,True Life
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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
“Pastor, I need to talk with you,” she said. “I don’t think I should come to communion anymore.”
“Why is that?” I asked, knowing that there are many reasons people choose not to come to communion, but hardly any of them good.
This was someone who took her faith seriously. She asked some of the most thoughtful questions in Bible study, offered insightful comments in our Lutheran Confessions reading group. But she also came from a Christian tradition that does not teach the real presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. And this left her confused. “I shouldn’t come to communion, Pastor, because I don’t believe the same thing about the Lord’s Supper as you teach.”
Now, I could have seen this as unbelief, as a challenge to my teaching, but I took it as a good sign. It showed me that she took the Lord’s Supper seriously. Fortunately she also took God’s Word seriously. So we looked at Scripture, the institution of the Lord’s Supper. We read: “Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body.’ And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’” (Matthew 26:26-28).
“Do you believe these words?” I asked her. “Do you believe Jesus said these words just as they are recorded in Scripture?”
“Yes, I do,” she replied.
“Do you believe that God’s Word has the power to do what He says?”
“Yes, Pastor. At creation, God said, ‘Let there be…’ and there was. God made everything out of nothing by speaking His Word.”
“You believe Jesus is God, right?” I continued. She nodded affirmatively. “So, do you believe Jesus’ words have the power to do what He says?”
“Yes, I believe Jesus’ words. But I don’t understand how it can be.”
And I said, “Oh, I don’t understand how it can be, either. But believing is not the same as understanding. God tells me lots of things I don’t understand. But I find great comfort that I have a God who is so much bigger than me that I cannot understand. I think that’s what faith is. It’s trusting the words because of who said them, not because they all make sense to me at this time.”
The next Sunday, she came to the communion rail and received the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of her sins.
But it doesn’t always turn out so well. Jesus’ words are often troubling. Jesus’ words are often hard to accept. Many, even many who have followed Him, hear His words and walk away.
This is certainly true in our text for today, John 6:53-55:
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him” (John 6:53-55).
This is a hard saying. These are troubling words. “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.” And just in case you thought you could “spiritualize” things and make them more palatable, Jesus shifts the verb to a much coarser one, a subtle variation which our ESV translation picks up: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life.” Not just “eats” but “feeds.” The word is located in the mouth and has to do with the teeth. There is no doubt about what Jesus is talking. He’s not talking about some spiritual eating in heaven or in you, but an eating that goes on in your mouth.
Those are troubling, scandalous words. They appear to be the words of a psychopath! And anybody who thinks we’re going to believe such words is expecting us to be just as crazy or sick.
Many people in the crowd apparently thought along the same lines. Many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him. They no longer wanted to be seen in public with Jesus. They had no problem with a Jesus who teaches, a Jesus who casts out demons, a Jesus who walks on water, a Jesus who works wonders, a Jesus who multiplies loaves and fishes, but a Jesus that talks about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to have eternal life and be raised up on the Last Day? No, thank you. That’s just too weird.
There is no more scandalous teaching in the Church than the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. The world mocks it openly today. I’ve gotten comments on my blog from people who can’t believe anyone who would be so gullible to believe that their Savior comes to them in a piece of bread. Sadly, there are many within the Church who would spiritualize and marginalize and even deny this real food and real drink. Even worse is when we despise the Lord’s body and blood and act as if it’s an option we can take or leave. But that troubling verb Jesus uses for “feeds” takes place in the mouth, which is where the Lord wants His body and blood, the fruits of His sacrifice, to be.
Jesus’ words emphasize the immediate importance of the Incarnation for you and me. God, in the flesh, is truly with us. He doesn’t simply abide with us in the sense of hang around with us, walk with us, talk with us, tell us we are His own, and all that stuff. No, Jesus wants to feed us—true food and true drink. The only food and drink that brings the forgiveness of our sins, life, and salvation. Jesus wants to abide in us and we in Him. And He provides the way: “Whoever feeds on My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” We abide in Jesus by faith, and He abides in us by our eating and drinking His body and blood.
This turns everything upside-down, religiously speaking. Think about it: In paganism, you feed your gods; in Christianity you feed on your God. I guess, we are by nature, all pagans at heart, and that is why this is not easy for us to accept. And unfortunately that is also why some leave.
Many of Jesus’ disciples left after He preached this sermon in Capernaum. They’d heard enough. They packed their bags and headed home. But Jesus didn’t go running after them, did He? Jesus didn’t say, “No, no, you misunderstood Me. I was only speaking metaphorically, spiritually. I didn’t mean literally eat My flesh and drink My blood. Of course not.” No, Jesus didn’t issue a retraction or try to reframe His words to make them more palatable to His audience. Jesus let His words stand as He spoke them plainly. And we dare not do any different!
Then Jesus turned to His Twelve, His inner circle. These were His chosen ones, one of whom would eventually betray Him, another of whom would deny even knowing Him, and the rest of whom would scatter when their Shepherd was struck. Even knowing all of this, Jesus asks them, “What about you? Do you want to leave too?” That’s a hard saying! Who can listen to it?
How about you? Do you want to leave when the teachings of Jesus get difficult, uncomfortable, perhaps even make you feel embarrassed or ashamed? Our sinful, self-oriented nature wants so badly to check out, to get away from these troubling words and back to safer ground. But Jesus loves us too much to leave us there. And so He challenges His would-be disciples: “What about you?”
As he often does, Peter answers on behalf of the group. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he makes the good and faith-filled confession: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.” That’s what faith in Christ sounds like. It clings to the words of Jesus. He alone has the words of eternal life. The disciples had left everything they had to follow Jesus. They had no fallback position.
But by the grace of God, they trusted Jesus’ faith creating words. They had heard and believed, and trusting Jesus, they also trusted Him even when He pushed their reason and senses to the breaking point. When others were scandalized and fell away, they stuck with Jesus because they hung to His words as the most precious thing they had.
Did they fully comprehend what Jesus was saying? I doubt it! How could the disciples have known what Jesus would do on the night He was betrayed into death, when He took the bread, broke it, gave thanks, and gave it to those same disciples and said, “Take this and eat it. This is My body given for you”? How could they have known, that Jesus would take the cup after supper, give thanks, and give it to them with the words, “Take and drink of this, all of you; this is My blood of the new covenant which is being poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins”? They could not have possibly known exactly how Jesus would give them His flesh to eat and His blood to drink that they may have His life in them. But they trusted His words.
The Lord’s Supper is an exercise in that sort of faith in Jesus’ words. We hear Jesus’ living Word spoken to each one of us. “My body given for you… My blood shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” These are words of eternal life revealing, giving, bestowing, delivering into your mouth the gifts of the cross, Jesus’ own death, and life as your real food and real drink.
I’m sure you have your doubts. I know you do. I do, too. Doubt goes along with being called to believe things unseen, to accept things that cannot be measured, examined, reasoned, tasted, touched, smelled, only believed on the basis of the trustworthiness of the One who has spoken them to you. So, what do you do when your eyes and ears don’t agree? You go with your ears! You believe the words that Jesus speaks to you.
And what do you do with your doubts? Bring them to Jesus! Bring your doubts, your misgivings, your uncertainties, as well as your sin, your brokenness—bring all of that to the Lord’s Table. Bring all of you. Your whole life, your death, your fears, your anxieties. Bring them and let the Lord feed you with His words, with His body and blood, with the bread of life and the wine of heaven. Real food, real drink, real words from the One who is the Truth.
The hard words Jesus spoke in Capernaum cost Him His life. Not that people killed Him on account of these words, but that He had to die in order to fulfill them. His body had to be given into death. His flesh had to be offered as the atoning sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God. His blood had to be poured out like wine. His life had to be given for our life, for the life of the whole world.
This meal of which Jesus hinted that day in Capernaum, and instituted that night of His betrayal, and gives us in the Divine Service, is the meal of the cross and the open tomb. Jesus’ death wins it, His resurrection clinches it—He alone has the words of eternal life. And we trust these words for no other reason than He alone is risen from the dead. And if someone can raise Himself up from the dead just as He said He would, He can certainly do anything else that He tells us—no matter how impossible, no matter how scandalous.
Take Jesus at His Word. Trust Him even with these outrageous words, “This is My body; this is My blood.” For with this food and drink He abides in you and you in Him, and He will raise you up on the Last Day. In this Word, Jesus, you have true food, true drink, true life. You are forgiven for all of your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.