The giver, as the gift John 6, 51-58
Dear congregation, today I would like to take up the topic „Bread of Life“ again, for a second time. Again, this applies to those who were in worship at the beginning of the month and have heard my first sermon. Again, of course, also applies to all those, who have read this text earlieron any other occasion, or even received a sermons aboutit.
And, of course, I hope and try to treat this subject so intelligibly that it becomes clear even without previous knowledge, ofwhat we have heard in the Gospel of John.
Basically, it is essentially the one message of the bread of life, which gets a new facet through the additional componentsof flesh and blood and is repeated several times. Five times Jesus talks about being the bread and giving his flesh to be eaten. If. of course,someone has eternal life and wants to be raised on the last day.
The flesh of Jesus is to be eaten and the blood of Jesus is to be drunk?
Once considered in isolation, the indignant, violent confrontation between the Jews seems to be understandable: „How can this man give us his fleshto eat?“
But for the posthumous, Johannine audience, just as for us today, there is already another connection here. To take flesh and blood, to receive the body and the blood of Jesus? True food and true drink? Right, this is about the sacramentof the Holy Communion.
Once again, as with many other biblical texts, the text heard today shows that there is a narrative level and a level of meaning.
I will go into this narrative and meaning level in a moment, but first I would like to give you a brief overview of today’s main topic. Today I want to focus on the Holy Communionand around this topicthe words sacrament and symbols.
Let’s talk again about the difference between the narrative and meaning levels. On the narrative level the call of Jesus, that the peoplehave to eat his flesh and drink his blood, is, to say the least repugnant, awfulland for the Jews it is simply an impossibility and thus an even greater provocation.
Every male Jew and female Jew knows that it is an eternal order for alldescendants, wherever you live, that you eat neither fat nor blood.
But even for all other listeners this direct call for cannibalism is strange. What is behind this provocation?
On the narrative level, I would say that Jesus wants to emphasize his special status as the Son of Mankindand make it clear. The Son of Mankindwho came from heaven and is to be believed. Not only believed, but believed in. People should not confine him constantly to „the son of the carpenter“.
At this point I would like to point out that Jesus has always protected his stepfather. That is very fine, how Jesus deals with Joseph and does not expose him. The genesis of the story is brought closer to us only in the Gospel of Luke, that Mary, the mother of Jesus, was „overshadowed by the power of the Highest,“ as it says there beautifully. I just think that would have been a possible variantyof rejecting this allegiance, this fatherhood of Joseph, openly in public.
But that is not the point. At the core, it’s always about whether Jesus isbelieved, that he is trusted. I believe, I trust what Jesus says. As absurd or repulsive as it may soundat the moment. That’s the narrative level.
So and on the level of meaning, we are much more advanced in time, than the narrative level. We already know the further course and the end of the story. For the listeners of the Gospel of John as well as for us, the question arises: What do these words mean? What does Jesus, or the author of the Gospel of John in the name of Jesus, wantsto pass on to us?
So for me, verse 57, as a key phrase, has emerged as the answer to that question. Jesus says, „The Father, the living God, sent me, and I live by him. Likewise, the one who eats me will live through me. “
We have to eat to live, there is no doubt about that. And we can probably all affirm the next statement: Our life, our appearance, our health is also determined by what we eat. Anyone who eats every day, 20 kipferl or 20 hamburger or 20 doner kebabs, need not be surprised if he or she eventually weighs more than 150kg.
What does that mean in relation to Jesus? What does it look like,to eat Jesus, to take Jesus into one´s life andlive through him?
Here we arrive at the Holy Communion. The Holy Communion is not the only, butone of several ways to receive Jesus as the life-giving food. TheHoy Communionis the sacramental form of Jesus, so to speak, as a sensible signor symbol.
This sounds a bit complicated and mystical, but it is not so difficult to understand,once you have become aware of what a sacrament really is or what a sacrament stands for.
Stands for, exactly: The sacrament is a sensible sign, that is, a sign that should appeal to our senses and here especially to all oursenses – excluding, for once, ourhead. Excluding our rationalmind. The mind shalllisten to the sermon. The understanding that can rationally explain, grasp, classify, and so on has a pause at the sacrament.
The sacrament is about feeling. It´s about tasting. Touching. It´s aboutsmelling. To all the senses that God has given us-in addition to the head!
In order to perceive the reality around us. It is very important that we perceive the reality, the closeness of God, that we can feel God.
Therefore, the sacrament in our church is quite logically something to which the children are invited as a matter of course. Because the most important thing is not understanding. It´s about feeling. Taste and see how friendly the Lord is. That’s what we’ll hear later and celebrate together.
And in a deeper sense, in the Holy Communion, we associate these words of Jesus with eating his flesh and drinking his blood, with the signs we use for it: bread and the juice of the grapes.
A few years ago, in my thesis as a final report during my education to become a laypreacher, I was quite outraged that in the Holy Communionwe celebrate such a gruesome symbolism: to eat the flesh and blood of Christ. It was precisely this passage in scripturethat we have heardtoday that had troubled me the most. And brisk and provocative, I demanded the change of the words of the Holy Communionand the abolition of the real presence of Christ in bread and wine.
Yes, that was a few years ago.
From today’s point of view, I would still say, as I did then, that flesh and blood must be explained better and more comprehensively. The flesh or the body of Christ, as all that constitutes Christ, his whole life. His life, which he gave voluntarily. Or the blood as the seat of life, as a symbol of what makes us alive, what makes us, our soul.
But to abolish the symbols of bread and the juice of the grapes? Today I would probably like the response of Lothar Pöll, pastor and former superintendent of our church, who describes the lack of alternatives to the symbols of bread and juice of grapes as follows:
„A symbol is a sign or a symbolic action that is“ emotionally „and in a deep sense related to the event that designates it. A logo, a pictogram, a traffic sign are signs and can also be changed according to fashion or taste. A symbol is much more and more deeply connected with what it signifies, not magical,but meaningful.The flag of a country has for example symbolic character and if you ignite it demonstratively out of hatred, then this is aimed directly against the country. It is a disrespect and insult. A wedding ring is not valuable by its gold content but by the loyalty promise of the spouses. He is therefore honored. And if the ring should be made of sheet metal, it has no less value.Symbols can not be easily adapted to the modes. You can not invent symbols either. They must come from a primal experience and have a meaningful history. It is not the substance, not the value of the goods, that turns symbols into symbols, but the meaning that clings to them.“
This expanationmakes it easier for me to confidently deal with this connection between fleshand bread, as well as between blood and the juice of the grapes.
They are symbols with an impact story. Witnessed, throughoutthe centuries and still valid today.
I hope and wish that we willperceive and feel this later, as we celebrate the Holy Communion.
How Christ is,and willbe,our real food and drink, that nourishes our lives, so that we may live through him, Jesus Christ.
Amen Frank Moritz-Jauk