Saturday, March 28, 2009

Eat my flesh and drink my blood

One of my first posts on here, about a year ago, was about writing and eating God. I was reminded of that post a few days ago in a Gospel of John study group that we are a part of this spring. We talked about a few verses in John (6:48-60):
[Jesus said,] “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 for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

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. 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 for ever.” 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?”
What was interesting about the discussion in our group was how strongly most of us reacted to this passage. Even though most people present were church members, and were used to taking part in the Eucharist, the bodily imagery that is used by the author of the Gospel of John still retains some shock value: eat flesh, drink blood. I must admit, though, that I think the shock is well-placed by the author, and that I'm happy he (?) does not fall back onto any facile resolution of it at the end of the passage; rather, he simply leaves the impenetrability.

This is the only text in the Gospel of John that could be said to pertain directly to the ritual of the Eucharist. In other words, the author of John may have given these words to Jesus in the text while thinking about how the Eucharist was already being practiced in the early Christian community of which the author was a part. And it intrigues me that his understanding of the Eucharist is so fleshly and material. He seems to have had a very robust idea of the importance of the bodily aspect of communal rituals - and the bodily aspect of people's ideas of God.


Jay Weldon said...

Interesting thoughts. It seems to me that the author of John goes to great extent to create such vivid images and contrast. I wonder, though, if this is just more of his or her artistic liberty, or if these vivid images were part of the ethos of the Johannine community. Were they such radicals? Texts like these seem to say "yes."

Incidentally, I wonder what that says about the Episcopal Church (and the Lutherans and Methodists, etc., who call it home). In what ways are we radical? And in what other ways are we so tame and steeped in our own tradition that these other approaches seem so foreign and radical? even when they are really so similar!

Great thoughts, Dr. Hovland!

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Best wishes

Anonymous said...

Here's my take on this passage. Just thought I'd share as I'm researching others thoughts:
This is a two fold process--eat this is my body, Jesus is restoring our broken relationship with God so He is spiritually healing us (believing He is who He says He is)& drink of his blood is telling us that He will sustain us spiritually! That's why it's so important to stay in God's Word! Protection from the ills of this world!

Anonymous said...

I am not a bible scholar, but in Genesis, did not the word become flesh and dwell among us. Therefore it is quite possible that the flesh Jesus was speaking about was actually a vessel(human body) carrying the word of God. Jesus knowing his fleshly body would decay, but his word will remain. So, when we eat Jesus's flesh, he is really talking about the word of God which has remained until now long after the flesh has decayed.