The Body and Blood of Jesus (by Mike Thompson)

Eating His Flesh and Drinking His Blood

Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." (John 6:53)

Tara and I have been meeting to discuss her becoming a communing member of the church.  These meetings have been a true delight.  I have met with many youth over the years, but there is something extra special when it is your own child.  This past week we were discussing the meaning of communion when this passage came up.  There is no good way of getting around the provocative nature of Jesus' words, so I thought it might be good to bring you into our discussion of this text as well as some of my meditations since.  I really believe that Jesus, in a very few words, gets at the very heart of what it means to be a Christian. 

What does it mean to eat the flesh of Jesus Christ and to drink his blood?  This is of utmost importance, for Jesus is very clear that if we do not do "this" then we have no life in us.  In other words, to not eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood is to still be dead in our sins.  Jesus was using his words to challenge the hearts of the multitudes who claimed to follow him.  It is no accident that many of these followers left him at this time.

Still, articulating the precise meaning of these words to Tara was taxing me to say the least.  I thought I knew what Jesus was getting at, but how could I explain this to Tara in a way that she would understand?  I began where I felt most comfortable:  explaining what Jesus did not mean.  (This is what most ministers and theologians do when they are struggling to give a positive answer to difficult questions.)  Jesus was not calling for people to pull out a pocket knife and cut off a portion of his flesh of which to partake.  Nor was he asking people, like vampires, to actually drink his blood.  Let's leave the magical interpretation to the fairy tales.

It can also be said that Jesus was, in some sense, referring to his death on the cross.  In order to be a Christian one would have to accept and embrace the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on his behalf to pay for sin.  Every true believer must give up trying to earn salvation and receive the salvation which is earned by Jesus in his perfect life and death.  but as I spoke with Tara, I began to realize that this is only part of what Jesus was getting at.  And to miss what I am about to explain, is to really miss the whole of the salvation message.

Picture for yourself, as you read this article, a meal spread before you.  This meal represents God's character and purposes.  It represents all that he cares for and loves, all that he has said and done.  There it is before you.  You probably have an opinion about this meal.  There are some parts that you like and other parts that don't look so appealing.  As you sit before this meal, you talk about it with others around the table.  You analize certain aspects of the meal and give praise concerning those parts that are most meaningful to you.  All the while, the food remains on the table.

In order for the meal to do you any good, you must actually eat it.  It must actually become a part of your inner being.  This is what Jesus wants of us.  We cannot simply hold Jesus at a distance.  His character must become a part of our person.  We cannot simply sit before the table prepared for us.  We must actually embrace Jesus, meaning his character and purposes.  But what does this look like? 

Jesus lived his life on earth under one driving principle:  obedience to the will of his Father.  He had many likes and dislikes, just as we do, but he continually died to them.  He submitted his personal wants to the wants of his heavenly Father.  He actually fed on his Father.

Far too often, as Christians, we have no intention of taking that which daily drove Jesus and internalizing it in our own life.  Instead, we have this idea of what our life should look like, or how people ought to treat us, and we are continually disappointed when our expectations are not met.  Instead of seeing these disappointments as God's means to help us die to ourselves, we try harder and harder to control the circumstances and make them more to our liking.  In essence, we are refusing to die.  And in our refusal, we are refusing to eat Jesus' flesh and drink his blood.

Let me give you a real ilife example of a man feeding upon Jesus.  The wife of one of my friends from college came from a home situation which was very unique.  Her mother and father were both believers.  But there was one major difficulty in their marriage.  Her mother struggled with (I believe) paranoid schizophrenia.  This played out in that she really believed that her husband was an imposter.  He was not truly her husband, but had somehow been replaced.  I don't really know all of the details of their relationship,but one thing is certain, the husband did not use this difficulty as an excuse to leave his wife and move on to another marriage.  I have always been impressed by his faithfulness over the years toward her.

His marriage was certainly not what he intended it to be.  There is no doubt that he dealt with plenty of moments of temptation to compromise.  But he chose to obey the will of God for his life.  His desire was for oneness with his wife, yet he was not bitter or full of self-pity.  In this way, he internalized the attitude of Jesus.  there is no other explanation for his attitude than that he fed upon Jesus, and in turn, possessed true life.

We are all called to die to ourselves.  This is not simply an option for those who are elite Christians.  It is the essence of what it means to feed upon Jesus' flesh and drink his blood.  It is the very means to life.  I don't know the specifics of your life, but I am certain that God is calling you to die, so that you can truly live.

Are you feeding upon Jesus' flesh and blood?  Or do you think that it is enough to simply sit at the table and consider the character and purposes of Jesus?

There are many aspects of the Communion Meal, but every time you take the bread or the cup, it is good to ask yourself, "Am I internalizing who Jesus was and is?"  "Are his character and purposes becoming my character and purposes?"

Only in actually feeding on Jesus' flesh and blood do we partake of life...