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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 30 – John 6:53

Food and drink

In the last few verses of this long statement of Jesus John suddenly adds the drinking of blood to the idea of eating the flesh of Jesus. We may well ask – why did he do that? We cannot be sure that all this is something Jesus said in one connected speech. In verse 25 he seems to be at the side of the sea, in verse 59 he is in the synagogue. So these verses from 53 to 58 may be something he said on a different occasion. The big question, over which the experts argue and differ, is whether these verses are about the Lord’s Supper (also called the Eucharist, Communion service or Breaking of Bread, etc.) or not. I think they are. John has chosen not to tell us about the last supper eaten in the upper room, but has put this short section of something Jesus said in instead. Which, of course, raises the very important question – why did he do that? What are the different things this section teaches us about the Lord’s Supper which we might not get from the more straightforward accounts in the other 3 gospels?

There are 2 in particular. They both relate very sharply to the practice of many churches as to how they do the Lord’s Supper. First is about what it means. Following the phrase ‘do this in remembrance of me’ in Luke’s gospel, repeated in Paul’s instruction to the church in Corinth, many churches, taking that very literally, insist that their celebration of the Lord’s Supper is just that and only that – a memorial feast. It is a good guess that this is what was happening in the church that John was associated with 50 plus years later. So, rather than repeating this well known instruction, he puts in these words. He is saying – no – there is more to it than that. When you partake of the bread and the cup you are coming much closer to Jesus. You are becoming part of him, as near as can be. We think of a good marriage as one where the phrase ‘the two become one flesh’ has become a reality. John is here saying that is the sort of way we are to relate to Jesus. We are to become ‘one flesh’, ‘one blood’. That is a hard metaphor, hard to live up to that is, but we need to realize that is the challenge that John puts before us.

Being a bookish person I think of it this way: as I can be excited, enthralled, enthused, changed by a really good book, or a passage in a book, so I should react to partaking in the Lord’s supper. And I find that difficult. The words in the book have challenged me, gone into my mind and my memory store. The flesh and the blood of Jesus are indeed a word, because he is the Word of God but it is still hard to lay hold of such simple things as bread and cup with the same intensity. Perhaps that is just me and you find it better and easier – I hope that is the case.

Second is about how the meal is to be carried out. One might think – many churches do – that because it was only the apostles that were present at that first meal the people involved in leading the service should be special. Rather sadly some denominations even call them priests. A priest is someone who stands between the ordinary worshipper and God. Therefore they are special. But there is no sign of any particular person leading the feast in this passage. There are no priests in the New Testament except ALL the Lord’s people. We all have immediate access to the Lord through the Spirit. Did John mean by the way he phrases it that it could be anyone of the Lord’s people who broke the bread and poured out the from the cup? I think he does and in doing so he was reflecting what Jesus meant. The other 3 gospel writers all say that when the 5000+ were fed it was the disciples who distributed the food. John says simply ‘Jesus distributed …’. No intermediaries are mentioned.

I was horrified when I heard a Christian woman, a missionary in a remote part of Africa, say they had been unable to Break Bread in their little meeting because there were no male converts. What rubbish! Nowhere does the New Testament even begin to hint that it is necessary to have a man, or an ordained man, or a priest to be able to partake of the body and blood of our Lord. Jesus set this feast up in the simplest possible way – we should not complicate matters.

Of course, very sadly, this service has been one of the main causes of disagreement in the worldwide church. Paul, who got so upset when Peter started to say some people can come to this table and these others cannot because of their ethnic background, would be horrified when churches today say some can come to our celebration because they share our particular viewpoint but others cannot because they belong to a church with a different name and different practices. Consequently there are as many individual views as churches on what is right and what is wrong. Hence the above comments must be said to be my view, heavily influenced by my particular background (Baptist/Christian Brethren/evangelical).

Think about all this – carefully. Accept these views or reject them as you think fit. What you do will very likely depend on your background. It is no good bringing the ‘leading of the Holy Spirit’ into your thoughts because he seems much less concerned than we are by all the differences!

This is a wonderful passage that should send us to our knees not to our debating chamber!

One modern song captures the most important things about this passage rather nicely. Here it is:

So we share in the bread of life / And we drink of his sacrifice /

As a sign of our bonds of love / Around the table of the King.

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