Feast Day: Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: John 6:51-58
“Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
In our gospel reading last week we heard Jesus refer to himself as the “bread of life,” and we learned that this is because Jesus Christ comes to address human hunger. He comes to address it by fulfilling it and he comes to fulfill it by giving us God. All human hunger is finally a hunger for God. This week Jesus gives us one tangible way that we can eat this bread of life: by eating his own flesh and blood in the bread and wine of Holy Communion.
Do you remember a time in your life when you attended a great banquet or feast? Maybe like me you are thinking of a family wedding. What was that like? How did you feel? Probably you were looking forward to the feast with anticipation—the joy of anticipation, the anticipation of joy! As the hour approached perhaps you got all dressed up in your best threads and then off you went for the ceremony and party that followed, sharing in the joy of the happy couple. Feasts and joy tend to go together.
Friends, Jesus Christ has prepared a banquet to end all banquets for us this morning and he is inviting you to come and dine! Every time you come to church, every time we celebrate Holy Communion, you are coming to a feast of great joy beyond all measure. And the food that we feast on is God himself.
John began his account of the gospel by telling us that the eternal Word of God, “became flesh and lived among us,” (1:14). This morning we encounter that eternal Word-made-flesh, Jesus Christ, as he stands in the midst of a crowd and offers himself to them as food: “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink…So whoever eats me will live because of me.” Jesus Christ is the living bread that has come down from heaven and the bread that he gives us to eat is his flesh. And to all those who feast upon him he grants a share in his life.
The crowds, naturally, are astounded, disputing what Jesus has said. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they wonder. Indeed, a little bit later the disciples themselves are dismayed: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” (6:60).
Perhaps you yourself like the crowds in the gospel are skeptical? How can this be? How can Jesus Christ give himself to us in this simple meal of bread and wine? In this world that is a perfectly reasonable objection. How can one man offer himself to other men and women as food? Could anything make less sense? Yet Jesus does not reply to the objection itself. What does he do instead? He doubles down and stresses all the more the utterly indisputable nature of his offer: “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”
I want you to know that the risen and living Jesus Christ stands in our midst this morning as well and he is here to offer himself to us as food. That is, Jesus offers himself to us not just spiritually, to be received by faith, but also physically, to be received by eating and drinking. In the bread and wine of the Eucharist we eat Christ’s body and drink his blood.
This faith, rooted in Scripture, is reflected in our liturgies. Consider, for example, one of my own favourite prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, the prayer of humble access that we pray immediately before receiving Communion. It begins with the familiar words, “We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness,” and continues on ending with, “grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the Flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his Blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his Body, and our souls washed through his most precious Blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.”
Here is the rather audacious claim that Anglicans along with Christians all over the world have come to affirm: Jesus Christ, the Word-made-flesh, makes himself accessible to us, tangibly, objectively in the Eucharist. Therefore, what Jesus says of himself in the gospel is true of the Eucharist as well: “Whoever eats me will live because of me.” Those who eat and drink at the altar profit from what Jesus Christ has done.
And what has Jesus Christ done? He has offered himself completely to the Father in loving obedience in our place and for our good. In Jesus Christ God takes on flesh and comes down to our level, becoming one of us. Yet he goes further still for as Jesus says his flesh is given, “for the life of the world.” This points to the goal of his whole life and being which is to give himself up to death on the Cross. The Eucharist, therefore, is chiefly a remembrance of the joy of his Passion which was for us. The broken body of Christ on the Cross has become our bread. The blood and water that flowed from his pierced side fills the chalice and has become our drink.
So this earthly bread bears the presence of the risen and living Christ and contains within it the mystery of his Cross and Resurrection and when we eat it his life becomes our life, working itself out in us by the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus says, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
This seems like an appropriate place to remember that the word Eucharist comes from the Greek word which means “thanksgiving and praise.” Thanksgiving and praise! Because when we are confronted with the mystery of Christ’s love for us in the sacrament of Holy Communion the most fitting response is an overflow of gratitude and adoration!
And so if you are still with me this morning there is a challenge here for each of us. If Jesus Christ is truly standing in our midst offering himself to us as food then how might we deepen our Eucharistic devotion this year? What is one step you can take this fall to increase your devotion to Jesus Christ hidden in the Eucharist?
Friends, Jesus stands in our midst this morning offering himself to us as food in the bread and wine of this Eucharist. Come hungry one and fall into the arms of God! Come with joy and feast on him! Eat his flesh and drink his blood that his life might be your life. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, 268.