Scripture: John 6:44-51
“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Jesus continues the discourse concerning the bread of life with the crowd that has gathered around him in our passage today. He has already revealed to them that he is this bread of life that has come down from heaven earlier in the conversation. However, in this next to last section of the greater story, Jesus gives them this very strange instruction: Eat me. He says that if you wan’t eternal life, then you’ve got to eat my flesh.
I’ll get more into the Eucharistic theology of these passages and how it informs our understanding of Holy Communion more next time because the last verses are full of great imagery. But for now, I thought it’d be fun to tell you a little story. As you may know, early Christians suffered persecution in Rome. This was brought on by practices that we developed very early. One of the primary examples is that Christians refused to pay homage to the Roman gods and to the emperor. Romans actually accused them of being atheists because of their failure to recognize their pantheon of gods. My favorite accusation launched against the early church, though, has to be that early Christians were cannibals. Every time the church would gather, they would take Holy Communion. It was their central act of worship. But because of language instituted by Jesus like that in this passage, all the outsiders heard was that these crazy Christians were eating flesh and drinking blood. There’s no wonder why they believed Christians were cannibals. The whole notion of Communion just sounds weird.
But I think all this strangeness illuminates a very important lesson. We who make up the church are meant to be different. The outside world is supposed to stare at us with curiosity and perplexity because of how strange our lives look in comparison to the world. We are a peculiar people. At least we’re supposed to be. As Christians we don’t have to feel compelled to fall in line with the powers that surround us. We say “no” to injustice. We say “yes” to those people nobody else seems to want or care about. We welcome the stranger. We turn the other cheek. We are just a little weird like that. So be it.
Lord of all, you have set apart your church to be a strange community in a sometimes non-approving world. Help us embrace the calling to be different. Help me embrace my calling to be strange. Amen.
Thought for the Day:
God has set us aside to be different.
Something to Read:
If you want to read more about this topic, I couldn’t recommend more highly a book called Resident Aliens. It was co-authored by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon. The book was first published in 1989, but it still resonates so deeply with our church and culture, today. It’s pretty short and very approachable. If you’ve got time and want to be challenged to think deeply, pick up a copy and let me know what you think.