No matter how many times we hear that phrase I don’t think it ever really ceases to shock. “The bread I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
In the first century it led to people to accuse Christians of being cannibals – eating the flesh of a human being in these secret rituals
“Flesh” is a worldly carnal word. It speaks of the physical and material rather than the spiritual.
But that is not the only reason the people began to take offence. Hold on. They were saying. Who does this guy think he is, talking like this. This is Jesus the carpenter’s son. We know him, and his mum and dad. How can he possibly say “I am the bread that came down from heaven”?
He is just a human being just like us. And they were right. Jesus was and is a human being just like us in every way. But there was much more to Him than that. He was an agent of God’s will and purpose in the world.
Saint Paul put it like this. “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor. 5:19)
Jesus was a fusion of heaven and earth and his resurrection from the dead is the seal and guarantee that this is true, and because Jesus was just like us in every way except sin what happened to Jesus on the third day is our own future revealed to us. Jesus died for us and opened the gates of heaven to all creation in a redeemed, transformed future where there is no more death, decay or pain and every tear will be wiped away.
The fusing of the physical and the heavenly is what happens in every Holy Communion we ever celebrate is a foretaste of the glorious future that has already been inaugurated by the raising of Jesus from the dead. Ordinary bread, ordinary wine, but alive with the Spirit of God it becomes for us also something else, something more.
Jesus’ resurrected body is a fusion of heaven and earth and is our guarantee that the bread and wine becomes for us, in similar fashion, a fusion of heaven and earth, both bread and wine and spiritual body and blood.
This happens when we respond to the Holy Spirit and realise that we too are both flesh and spirit, both a collection of individuals and also the “body of Christ” by the same Holy Spirit.
In the communion the bread and wine we offer to God to be blessed and given back to us to share represents the entirety of creation. Physical things offered back to their creator, to be blessed and given back to us as spiritual food. Jesus in his human body is the perfect offering of all humanity to God which was blessed raised and offered back to us as Spiritual food.
In both cases it is the Spirit of God which is the active agent.
In the Eucharist we unveil the true nature of reality, its past, present and future. Our meal, based on the Passover meal is a foretaste of the blissful heavenly banquet when God will be “all in all”.
In this great Thanksgiving meal we are acting out the good news that was revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and our future participation in the great heavenly banquet in our common future. Past and future are here in this present moment.
Our Communion joins two other great meals together. It is based on the Passover meal which celebrates the liberation from bondage of the Jewish people. Our communion celebrates the liberation from bondage of the entire creation and is a foretaste of the great heavenly banquet that awaits us.
And living in that moment that links the great unfolding of God’s great rescue plan together brings the responsibility to live in that great light. There are so many things to say about how we do that. Jesus, in his teaching and example of his life is our prime source, but others, particularly Saint Paul also have much to say.
Some of it as we heard today is homespun morality and advice like “Do not let the sun go down on your anger; we must amend our ways – thieves must stop stealing; don’t be malicious, instead try building people up instead; do not consciously do anything counter to the Spirit of God; be kind and forgiving.
All these things however homespun or elementary have the same rationale for them – and that is that God has forgiven and renewed you, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ so in gratitude, be like this! Be imitators of Christ.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh”