The Word is Flesh
This time of year means making jams and pickles for the pantry, sauces and corn for the freezer, a time to preserve the deliciousness of summer for the cold days of winter. Nothing is as bright as the sunshine of peaches in January. One of my dear friends asks me if I know that there are excellent grocery stores in Canada. But when I go into my basement and I see all the jars gleaming in their jewel tones, like found art, waiting to be rediscovered, then a strange joy fills me. The sacrifice of my labour has preserved memory and taste, has made art out of food, has provided delight beyond seasonal limitation.
Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox in their book, Natural Grace, commented on the sacrificial nature of life on this planet. Nothing lives without consuming another part of life. We are all bound together in this, from microbial life to human beings. Sacrifice, that is the holy offering of the self, is not a religious concept but an acknowledgement of reality.
All of this is by way of dealing with that difficult passage from John 6:52ff. In the text it says that the other Judeans and Jesus’ disciples were having a difficult time with this saying:
‘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.
Is anyone surprised that the listeners would have a hard time? Every time I preach on this passage, I have to think creatively and openly. I think it is entirely possible, and even likely, that Jesus never said this, but that John is explaining his sacrificial/incarnational theology. I don’t think a Jew could possibly think about blood and flesh in this way, particularly since it could be literally translated as gnawing on the flesh of Jesus. Read Leviticus 17.
10 “If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. 11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life. 12 Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood.
13 “Any one also of the people of Israel, or of the strangers who sojourn among them, who takes in hunting any beast or bird that may be eaten shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. 14 For the life of every creature[a] is its blood: its blood is its life.[b] Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.
Nor do I believe that John is connecting to the new religion of Mithras, eating the flesh of the bull god, or the older religion of Bacchus, drinking the wine that leads to killing the god. As Mark Davis points out in his commentary, John is turning us around to look at the sacrifice/incarnation question again, not about ritual food at all.
In Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we hear the prophetic passages that relate to Torah as the food of the people. It is the word that gives life and is shared through the prophets. It is the word that inhabits them and gives them strength and vision. To immerse oneself in Torah is to see with prophetic eye and mind.
Your words were found, and I ate them,
and your words became to me a joy
and the delight of my heart;
for I am called by your name,
O Lord, God of hosts. Jeremiah 15:16
But you, mortal, hear what I say to you; do not be rebellious like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. He said to me, Mortal, eat this scroll that I give you and fill your stomach with it. Then I ate it; and in my mouth it was as sweet as honey. Ezekiel 2;8
In the introduction to the gospel of John, the author describes Jesus in this way:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
Another discussion point comes from the gospel of Matthew in which Jesus says that he comes not to abolish, but to fulfill the Law and the Prophets.
John wants us to accept Jesus as living Torah, not a scroll, but a life, and a way of life as was intended always. We are to immerse ourselves in his way of life, in his teachings, in his heart and in his vision. Later in the church, this passage became distorted but I think it began as John pulling together the living and holy presence of Jesus, in scripture and as scripture, in relationship with the Divine and as the divine. Jesus invites his followers here to wrap themselves in this practice, this text upon which to meditate, body and word indistinguishable one from the other.
In The Heart of Christianity, Marcus Borg writes,
The sacramental function of the Bible is also suggested by language of eating, feeding upon, and digesting it. In the Bible itself, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the author of Revelation all speak of ‘eating’ God’s words. . . .The Bible becomes nourishment, God’s word becomes daily bread. Like Jesus, the Bible is both the ‘Word of God ‘and the ‘bread of life’.
it is a common thing to say there is living and then there is real living. To live into the Way of Jesus, we need the sacred texts, illuminated by his life and our lives. To see the miracle in the everyday, we need to treasure the incarnation of grace, in Jesus and in everything that is. As we feed our bodies, so we must feed our souls with the wisdom of the ages, the stories of Jesus, and the common table at which, through tiny morsels, we grow into cosmic body that spans history and cultures, eras and always new possibility. That means letting go of our isolation and allowing ourselves to be shared with the world, just as the world share itself with us. And in that cosmic unity, mysteriously, we become one with the Christ who lives within the Holy, embracing us today as always.