Environmental Stewardship Commission (MEESC)

Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota

Lectionary Reflection Year B, Proper 15 Gospel

John 6: 53-59

Jesus said, "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. 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.

Reflection on John 6: 53-59 by John G. Gibbs, PhD

Those who want to use religious faith for leaving this world and going into orbit in outer space will be greatly disappointed by this gospel’s earthy, even bloody, account of our faith’s Founder. Flesh eaten, blood drunk are of one piece with eternal life. Bread that is not made on earth comes to earth. Food and drink that let you down even into death are here replaced by “true food” and “true drink.”

What is that food, what is that drink? The symbolism is graphic, about as earthy as you can get, in order to point to a life “sent” on a mission by the Father. Maximum depth and height are brought together in this sacramental life. Eating, which implies eventual dying, in this case brings “eternal life.”

Let us be clear about the situation of this gospel writer and his readers (hearers). They were not waiting to see how the story turns out. Some decades before this gospel was written Jesus had died and been raised. The whole “Christ event” had been reported by word of mouth, and both gospel writer and readers (hearers) had heard about it.

The gospel from its beginning to its end presupposes both resurrection and death of Jesus. On the basis of that complex event, the writer struggles to give verbal expression to the new Reality in which they are caught up. The language is sacramental, pointing beyond itself, beyond the “elements” of the Eucharist, to the Risen Crucified One and his beloved community the Church, within which we partake of this Eucharist.

The Eucharist, in turn, leads us beyond itself into the living that is ours to do in His name, according to His character. To “eat the flesh” is, as Temple puts it, “to receive the power of self-giving and self-sacrifice to the uttermost.” To “drink His blood” is to take into our selves the life (= blood) that He gave, and thereby “to receive, in and through that self-giving and self-sacrifice, the life that is triumphant over death and united to God.” [William Temple, Readings in St. John’s Gospel, p. 95; London: Macmillan, 1952 reprint of 1945] As for the Apostle Paul (Rom. 6:6ff; Gal. 2:1), so for the author of the Fourth Gospel, we are crucified and raised with Christ.

Sacramental living is the point of the sacrament, as Temple states in his observation: “It is not the momentary eating but the permanent abiding that is of primary importance; the sacramental communion is an end in itself so far as it is communion, but a means to an end so far as it is sacramental” (Ibid.).

Copyright Statement

To Reflections on other Readings for this Sunday:
Old Testament Proverbs 9:1-6
not available
Psalm 147 or 34:9-14
New Testament Ephesians 5:15-20
Gospel John 6:53-59
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John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologan, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN. He originally wrote this reflection in 2003. He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
MEESC Holy Trinity Church Box 65 Elk River, MN 55330-0065 USA

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