Fellow Passengers: This week’s Primary Passage* (John 6:25-59) transports me to the last Sunday of every month at Ecclesia Baptist, a Sunday that finds me and Kim, along with other Ecclesia Baptist folks, rummaging through our pantries before we head off to church. It’s a Sunday we focus on food, as we celebrate the Lord’s Supper and bring in non-perishable food items to donate to Food for Fairview or MANNA Food Bank. I love that phrase, non-perishable food. It’s so idealistic, the very thought that such a thing exists. I recognize that there are people out there doing food experiments on 25-year-old packages of un-opened Twinkies, proving they are as good if you open them today as when they and all their preservatives and chemicals were first vacuum sealed. Cans of Jolly Green Giant peas or Del Monte corn I’m not so sure about. I think they’re likely to perish over time. I have childhood memories of forgotten mason jars packed with green beans or tomatoes that our family had left on some back shelf in our basement, and how their perishing occasionally had an explosive quality. But we persist in our hopeful imagination every month, in our illusions that we can find some non-perishable items in our pantries.
Well before there was the first occasion for a church to feed the hungry, or to gather around a table and call it communion, or holy Eucharist, or the Lord’s Supper, the Lord himself was focusing on food with his disciples. In John’s gospel, Jesus spends more time talking about bread than most any other subject. Here in this passage he challenges his followers to steer clear of perishable food, and seek out the non-perishable. And he’s not talking about those hermetically sealed Twinkies. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you, he says. And what is this food? The Bread of Life, which is Jesus. Feed on Jesus. Nourish yourself on the Body of Christ. A long midrash on Moses and the wilderness manna in this passage concludes with Jesus giving some pre-eucharist words of institution: 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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Bon apetit.
As bizarre and macabre as eating flesh and drinking blood sounds to people who are unfamiliar with the sacrament of holy communion, and even to some who are familiar with the institution, it provides us with a profound image of what it means to believe in Jesus, to cast our lot with him and align our lives with his, as the Message translation puts it. This strange-sounding language is not really so different than some of our expressions in modern parlance; when someone is totally absorbed in something, we say they are eating it up. Or, when a celebrity creates some kind of drama, there is a feeding frenzy. Or, when we enter into something with gusto, we really sink out teeth into it. Our problem is that we eat up the wrong things, we feed on things that are perishable, we sink our teeth into that which spoils. We eat up the daily fare of foolish politics; we feed on the cotton candy of the celebrity world; we sink our teeth into saccharine sports dramas. In contrast, the lasting nourishment that sticks to our spiritual bones is the crusty bread of grace and unconditional love, the meat of mercy and forgiveness, the food of freedom and welcome. May we be absorbed in this. May we eat it up. May we find ourselves in a feeding frenzy around this kind of non-perishable. Buen provecho.
How about you? Where does this Primary Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.