Jesus said: “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.” – John 6:54-56
John’s Jesus delivers a lengthy dissertation on bread of which today’s Daily Office gospel lesson including these statements is a part. The Jews who were present disputed among themselves about what it could mean. What could he possibly be saying with his claim that his flesh was bread to be eaten by his followers: “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.” (v. 51) To the Jews of Jesus’ day, the very idea of consuming human flesh was off-putting, even disgusting, extremely objectionable. In a world where the zombie apocalypse occurs nightly on cable television, we are perhaps numb to the disgust that the idea of consuming human flesh should engender. Jesus’ contemporaries were not; no wonder they grumbled and mumbled, complained and disputed. Even as a metaphor, the statement demands a lot from Jesus’ followers!
Christians who participate weekly or more often in Holy Communion are perhaps overly familiar with the metaphor. It’s not that we have somehow explained it away, I don’t think we have. Rather, we have religiously we have made it routine, just as television entertainment has made it mundane. Frequent communion, with sweet wine and tasteless little wafer we laughingly call “bread,” together with those zombie movie and vampire television series, has weakened the impact of this shocking metaphor. I mean, really, to someone who does not hear these words through 2,000 years of eucharistic practice, eating flesh and drinking blood sound a whole lot like cannibalism and vampirism, but even those are only elements of popular entertainment.
How can we recapture the power of this metaphor? How can we make it make sense both to ourselves and to the non-church world in the 21st Century? How would we explain this to a person who has watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer, read every word of the Twilight Series, seen World War Z, and can’t wait for the next episode of The Walking Dead, but has never stepped foot in a church or even know what the Bible is?”
I don’t have the answers to these questions, but the answers are less important than the questions themselves. Simply knowing that there are questions, acknowledging that they are real, that they are troubling, that they are important, and that there are no easy answers is the first step in answering our call to show that Christ is real, troubling, and important to the world, that Christ is relevant in the 21st Century.
Questions are much more important than answers, especially the hard ones.
The Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston is rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, an EfM mentor, and a writer of Daily Office meditations offered on his blog, That Which We Have Heard & Known.