August 23, 2015

Today's Gospel continues Jesus teaching in the Capernaum synagogue. This flesh and blood language is pretty coarse and earthy. Nice people, proper people didn’t talk this way. "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood, ...whoever eats me will live because of me." Some stomachs turned when Jesus said these things. We get a polite version of their reservations: "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?"

The response of those known as the twelve disciples is different. Jesus asks them if they too want to leave him. Speaking for the group, Peter answers, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God."

All heard the same teaching. All know the same Jesus. But there are opposite reactions. Some reject what Jesus said and they desert him. Others welcome his words. They confess their faith, and as a result draw closer to him. The same man, the same message, but opposite reactions.

The disciples who leave hear what Jesus said as a threat -- a threat to their way of life, their accepted notions, their grip on reality. Those disciples who continue faithfully hear what Jesus said as a challenge -- a challenge to their way of life, their accepted notions, even their grip on reality.

"Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life." Peter says this as spokesman for the twelve disciples. It's as though Peter says to Jesus, "You're not exactly what we pictured as the messiah, but that's all right, because you're really far more than that."

The language in John’s Gospel is intentionally blunt. He’s challenging people who would like to clean up Jesus’ story. John insists "the Word became flesh." God gets down and dirty into our real flesh and blood material, and that is the way the Spirit is manifest through Christ. Jesus takes on our human lives in all of their earthy reality, including death, and in Jesus all of that becomes eternal life. Eat and drink of this material reality and you will live — truly live.

Down through the ages attempts have been made to tame the words of Jesus about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But these attempts never enjoy lasting success. They demonstrate the sad and dangerous business, very popular among us humans, of trying to be more spiritual than God. The fact is that what Jesus says about eating his flesh and drinking his blood is among his boldest and bluntest and most shocking statements. It's no wonder that some of his disciples are scandalized.

The disciples saw Jesus’ flesh torn and his blood poured out in his painful and humiliating execution on the cross. It was horrifying. And yet, just a couple of days later, while they were breaking bread and sharing wine, they knew Jesus to be alive. He appeared to them in the breaking of the bread. Jesus had transcended all of the limitations of flesh and blood. He was no longer limited by the time and space of location.

Yet he showed them the marks of his wounds. He was the same Jesus who had suffered so much. Now it meant something different. It was not just meaningless pain. Everything was taken up into the resurrection. Flesh, blood, pain, suffering, injustice, death. Everything was raised to new life.

What's more is that Jesus links something so strange, so repulsive as eating his flesh with the gift of eternal life. In effect, he asks: You want to live life to the full? You want to enjoy the life which is life indeed? You won't do it by eating junk food. You won't do it by eating at the best restaurants in town. If you want to live that abundant life, then feed on me!

It is important that the Christian gospel proclaims that God is encountered in the real flesh and blood of earthy human life. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In Jesus, God embraces all of our earthiness and raises it to eternal life. John’s gospel makes those claims in explicit language. "I am in the Father and the Father is in me," says Jesus. "I am in you and you are in me," says Jesus. "I pray that they may be one even as I am one with the Father," says Jesus. All of it is raised to eternal life.

This "eternal life" is not delayed. Eternal life is here and now. It is the quality of resurrection life, now. Jesus says those who eat of this flesh and blood live, right now, right here. They abide in him and he abides in them, right now, right here. They are living in God’s fullness.

For all of us, flesh and blood has become the Spiritual garment of eternal life. God is in it all. God is in your flesh and in your blood. Here in this Eucharist, we eat the flesh and drink the blood and know ourselves to be one with God through the life of Christ poured out for us.

Jesus takes for his own our flesh and blood. Through human birth he is born, and through human death he dies. He accepts for himself our condition. He thereby enters into a new relationship, not only with all who are baptized, but with all who share with him this condition of being human, with all human flesh. It is not too much to say that in Christ, God marries humanity, and the two become one flesh.

In a few moments we will break the bread and share the wine of the Eucharist, the mystery of Christ's flesh and blood. We will have prepared ourselves by prayer and confession to receive these gifts. In this way, we will have died to those things that keep us from rejoicing in our common life together with the risen Christ, and we will affirm the shocking truth of God's limitless love for all human flesh.

But the Eucharist is more than a moment out of the week that is set aside as holy. It is meant to illuminate every corner of the week with the light of Christ.

So look at this celebration in a new way and recognize the flesh and blood of Christ in these elements of bread and wine. And see the flesh of Christ when you gaze in the mirror. Look at yourself, and say that this too is the flesh that God has married.