What Does It Mean To Feed On Jesus’ Flesh? John 6:47-59

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(Read John 6:47-59)

Edit, October 28, 2021:

The emphasis of the original article, What Does It Mean To Feed On Jesus’ Flesh? John 6:47-59, is on the importance of the Eucharist and I don’t have anything to add or to change about how important it is to connect with Christ in communion. But I also wrote that taking communion is a symbolic act. However, when I wrote this post in 2016 there were a few things I didn’t understand about the Eucharist that you should know. I was under the false impression that the Catholic church added the idea that Jesus’ real presence was found in the wine and bread used for communion (sometimes referred to as transubstantiation). I have since learned this is not the case. It turns out, for the first 1.5 millennia after Christ, Jesus followers believed in the real presence of our Lord in the communion elements. I truly had no idea.

Here’s a quote from one of the Apostle John’s disciples Ignatius:

“They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again.” — Ignatius, from The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

It also turns out that Martin Luther, the seminal figure in the Protestant Reformation, held this same belief in the real presence. From Luther:

“Not one of the Fathers of the Church, though so numerous, ever spoke as the Sacramentarians: not one of them ever said, It is only bread and wine; or, the body and blood of Christ is not there present.

“Surely, it is not credible, nor possible, since they often speak, and repeat their sentiments, that they should never (if they thought so) not so much as once, say, or let slip these words: It is bread only; or the body of Christ is not there, especially it being of great importance, that men should not be deceived. Certainly, in so many Fathers, and in so many writings, the negative might at least be found in one of them, had they thought the body and blood of Christ were not really present: but they are all of them unanimous.” — Luther’s Collected Works, Wittenburg Edition, no. 7 p, 391

“[S]ince we are confronted by God’s words, “This is my body” – distinct, clear, common, definite words, which certainly are no trope, either in Scripture or in any language – we must embrace them with faith . . . not as hairsplitting sophistry dictates but as God says them for us, we must repeat these words after him and hold to them.” — Martin Luther, Confession Concerning Christ’s Supper

“All right! There we have it! This is clear, plain, and unconcealed: ‘I am speaking of My flesh and blood.’

“. . . There we have the flat statement which cannot be interpreted in any other way than that there is no life, but death alone, apart from His flesh and blood if these are neglected or despised. How is it possible to distort this text? . . . You must note these words and this text with the utmost diligence . . . It can neither speciously be interpreted nor avoided and evaded.”        — Martin Luther, Sermons on the Gospel of St. John: Chapters 6-8

So, as Luther said, “There we have it.” I didn’t know these things about the real presence in the Eucharist during my first thirty-nine years as a Christian. And I didn’t know them when I wrote the original blog post below. So, do I believe in the real presence? If I don’t, I find myself in disagreement with the Apostle John’s disciple and with Martin Luther, the central figure of the Protestant Reformation. And according to Luther, I would be in disagreement with all the church fathers as well. Neurologists tell us the longer we hold a belief in our brain, the harder it is to change, but, I don’t care what I thought about the Eucharist for the last thirty-nine years. What I care about is the truth. I want to see the Eucharist the way Jesus sees the Eucharist. So, I’m going to put this question to the Ultimate Authority. I’m going to put this question to God in earnest prayer.

Original post from August 6, 2016:

Lunch Lady Slammed For Food That Is Too Good

I was reading about a school cafeteria lady today. Her name is Annica Eriksson. She’s locally famous for offering fresh baked bread and a wide ranging vegetable buffet to the students at her school. She also cooks a smorgasbord twice each year to celebrate Christmas and Easter.

At least she used to.

In spite of the rave reviews she receives from her students, the local school district leadership has shut her down. They’ve ordered her to lower her standards to those of the cafeterias in the rest of the school district. So it’s store bought bread, from here on out.

Jesus The True Food And Drink

We left off in our last post from the book of John with Jesus speaking about himself metaphorically. He describes himself as the bread of life that came down from heaven. And he says, “If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

I’m sure you realize that Jesus isn’t speaking of cannibalism here. But to those in the crowd who didn’t have ears to hear, they didn’t get it. They began to argue amongst themselves, saying, “How does this work exactly? How can this man give us his flesh–to eat?” (John 6:47-59)

Then Jesus says, it’s not just his flesh, but his blood too:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”

What Does It Mean To Feed On Jesus’ Flesh (And Drink His Blood)?

It’s interesting that Jesus calls himself food, and drink because food is essential. We die without it. And food is something we take in daily. No one ever has to remind me to eat or drink. I eat food and I drink fluids every day–it’s just a question of how much.

I think that’s what he’s saying here. Jesus is essential to live–eternally. Jesus has said that plainly: “…unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins,” he said. And I think it pleases him when we partake of him daily. When we read about him in scripture, when we connect with other people who love him, when we sing praises to him, and when we pray to him. I know for me, when there’s a day I don’t partake of Jesus I’m significantly less than my best (to put it gently). (John 8:24)

Food For Thought

I learned today that what we eat actually effects the cognitive function of our brain. I also learned about what happens in our bodies after we eat or drink. You might remember these things from middle school, but very briefly, in case you’re like me and don’t remember… We first chew on food while our saliva begins to break down starches. After passing through the esophagus the upper muscle of the stomach relaxes to let in food and drink where it’s mixed with stomach acid to break down protein. From there it enters the small intestine where additional digestive juices break down whatever’s left to be broken down. At this point the food and drink have been reduced to smaller molecules that can be absorbed through the walls of the small intestine into the blood stream. Your blood then delivers the nutrients throughout your body to your cells where they’re used for energy, growth, and cell repair. (The pancreas and liver are also involved. Shall I explain? No? Okay, we’ll move on.)

The point is that what we eat and drink become a part of us at the molecular level. That’s what allows what we eat and drink to provide energy, growth, and healing.

I wonder if Jesus, the one who created our bodies, had this process in mind when he told us to feed on his flesh and drink of his blood. I’ve noticed my Christian friends who aren’t partaking of Jesus very thoroughly–at the molecular level, if you will–also don’t seem to be receiving much of his energy, growth, and healing. And I’ve noticed the same thing in myself as well.

The Three Ways We Need Jesus

I share all this simply to illustrate how we need Jesus in the same three ways we need food and drink:

  1. We need him to live–eternally.
  2. We need to partake of him daily.
  3. We need to partake of him thoroughly, for energy, growth, and healing. We need to experience him at the molecular level so to speak.

We need him in those three ways because, as he himself said,

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:56

References and Resources:

The Local, Lunch lady slammed for food that is ‘too good’, October 6, 2012.

Christopher Wanjek, From Birth to Death, Diet Affects the Brain’s Health, Live Science, November 19, 2014

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Your Digestive System and How It Works

Bible Gateway

Image of the communion elements via Alvin Trusty – Creative Commons

One Comment on “What Does It Mean To Feed On Jesus’ Flesh? John 6:47-59

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