The Gospel: John 6:56-69
Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”
Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
The Message: So, this morning we are back in the Gospel of John and focusing on Jesus' statements about being the Bread of Life.
This is a central theme throughout John. If we hadn't celebrated The Transfiguration last Sunday this would be the third of five Sundays where we would have been dealing with some aspect of "Jesus as the Bread of Life."
We continue to be faced with, and challenged by, these difficult scripture passages. They challenge us to seek to develop a response to these spiritual concepts. Today's reading is another difficult passage because again it is a challenging concept for us to comprehend or understand.
John 6: 53 - 56 says:
"So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them."
If you struggle to understand what this means you are in good company. Some denominational divides exist because of these words. Thousands of words have been written and countless debates have been held over centuries of trying to grasp what these verses mean.
This morning I am not going to try to explain what Jesus was saying. Can I just say that I believe that this is not only a "spiritual mystery" but it also taps into another aspect of spirituality? This passage opens within us a desire which is often described in Christian spiritual circles as "Holy Longing." I will come back to that "Holy Longing."
For now, I am going to briefly focus on what I talked about last week. You will remember I led us through a conversation about spiritual or Holy mystery. I talked, well actually, I quoted a Catholic Mgsr who pointed out that spiritual or Holy mysteries are not something to be solved. They are not something we have to work out.
Remember Mgsr Pope reminded us: "mystery refers to the fact that there are hidden dimensions in things, people, and situations that extend beyond their visible, physical dimensions." He went on to quote theologian and philosopher John Le Croix says: "mystery is that which opens temporality and gives it depth. It introduces a vertical dimension and makes of it a time of revelation, of unveiling."
So then how do we explore or examine that vertical dimension when we come across these spiritual concepts and thoughts?
This morning I am going to suggest that we need to do that with our senses rather than our thoughts. I will say that again I am going to suggest that we need to do that with our senses rather than our thoughts.
Let me lay a brief foundation here. Most of us when we come across something we don't understand will engage in a process of examination, a process of careful reflection, or of discussion with someone we consider better versed in the subject or question. We will approach the subject rationally or intellectually. We will seek to break it down logically so that we can understand it.
Can I suggest we might be better off coming at this in a different way? We all know that we have five senses right? Sight, sound, smell, touch, and taste.
I am wondering if we can explore the concept of spiritual mystery using our five senses?
Our five senses can be very evocative or provocative. To explain what I mean I am going to invite you to join me on a "memory" journey. I hope you will see how I tie it to the concept of Jesus being the Bread of Life.
When I was growing up in Australia we had a particular loaf of bread that I loved. It was called a "tank" loaf. It was a round loaf with corrugated sides. At that time many Australian homes had rainwater tanks beside their houses to collect rainwater runoff from their roofs.
These tanks were round and made of corrugated sheet metal. The loaf of bread looked something like the water tanks so they were nicknamed "tank" loaves.
Now when you are 12 or 13 and you come home from school you are normally famished. So you hunt out whatever is available to be consumed. Many a tank loaf disappeared from our bread bin when I got home. There was nothing like a loaf of fresh white bread to take the edge of your hunger. The sight of that loaf, the smell of that fresh loaf, and the taste of it freshly broken apart, and eaten, I mean after all who had time to cut it?
Once I started thinking about bread my mind quickly moved to the source of that wonderful delicacy. That provoked another memory for me. When we visited my grandparents we would get to go to Guests Cake Shop. The sights, the smells, and the tastes of those freshly baked goods linger on in my memory, even today. I have to admit that my intellect and my reasoning powers have little to do with these memories. But, I find the thought of opening the door to Guests Cake shop brings my five senses to life and I am back there in a flash.
Now for you, there may be some other memory trigger that activates your senses and draws you to reexperience and relive those moments when something catapults you to that moment in time and it is all very clear and very real to you.
I find that this process creates a longing within me for that time and place. I want to experience that moment again and I long for a way for that to happen.
So, you may be wondering what my bread and bakery story have to do with our reading from John this morning? Well, can I suggest that many of us come to church on Sunday and proceed to move through the worship service in our best intellectual mode? We think and reason our way through the experience. Can I suggest that we might all be better off if we could seek to allow our senses to be more active in our understanding of Scripture and in our experience of worship?
Now, your reaction to coming to church, may not be as evocative or provocative as opening the bakery door and allowing all five of our senses to be activated. But have you ever stopped to think about how your senses are engaged when you come to worship?
What sights, sounds, smells, do you experience? How are your sense of touch, and taste activated by being in worship?
Can you identify what happens, particularly in the Eucharist, to awaken your senses? Does it make you long for something more in your spiritual life?
I believe that worship and particularly the Eucharist is designed to make us more aware of the concept of Holy Longing.
Within each of us, there is a sense which we don't talk about very much. It is connected to our five senses. But it is separate and different from them. They can trigger this sense. Our five senses can be engaged in awakening this sense.
That sense is the sense of Holy Longing. You know what I mean. That sense that all of us have within us that there is something more to life than what we generally experience in the living of our everyday lives.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews captures something of what we are talking about in Hebrews 11: 13-16:
"All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them."
We, each of us, at some point in our lives, experience this "Holy Longing." We know there is more to life. More to our spiritual experience. We know that we haven't yet experienced the fullness of God.
I believe that many of us experienced that Holy Longing when we "existed" through the last 15 or 16 months of suspended in-person worship. I know that we felt that we were somehow less alive than we wanted to be. We were existing, we were going through the motions but we were enlivened by the experience. We longed to get back to church. We wanted more than was being offered to us in the opportunities we had to meet the Lord. We knew there was more to life than what we were experiencing.
Unfortunately many of us, myself included, find it hard to actually know how to live into the fullness of God. "What do we need to do?" This is a question we find ourselves asking over and over again when we feel spiritually dry and separate from the Lord. Perhaps the more accurate question we should ask in these times is how can I be?
I heard a sermon preached once where the preacher encouraged his audience to focus on the fact that we are human beings, not human doings. How can we set aside our desire to do and to think and to reason and just allow ourselves to experience the Lord?
I have quoted Psalm 37 in my Messages in the past. I believe it is worth referencing again this morning. We don't have time to read it this morning, but can I encourage you to read Psalm 37: 3-7 sometime this week.
As I close this morning I want to suggest that Jesus offers himself as the Bread of Life, not in an intellectually designed and processed way, but as a feast for our senses.
Perhaps if we come to worship with Holy Longing and with a desire for all of our five senses to be engaged we might have a new insight into just what Psalm 34: 8 could mean for us: "O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. Psalm 34: 8"