The Gospel this Sunday once again from John 6 presents a most remarkable promise: anyone who eats his body and drinks his blood will live forever. Jesus will raise us up on the last day. One of the reasons that this is so remarkable is that one of the best known prohibitions in the Jewish regulations about food and drink is that blood was absolutely forbidden. The very complex system of kosher butchering has the primary aim of ensuring that no blood should stay in the animal to avoid any blood being eaten or drunk.
The fact that Jesus tells his listeners that they should eat his flesh and drink his blood in this setting gives us important clues. Clearly he does not intend that those who follow him should become cannibals nor that in eating and drinking him should followers of Jesus break the Jewish law against consuming blood.
Jesus, as the true Messiah is not only going to put his own life at risk, he will actually lose it so that his followers will profit from that death. They will ‘drink his blood.’ They will have their ultimate thirst quenched by his death and resurrection.
It should also be clear that what Jesus means is so much more than a merely spiritual eating and drinking whereby we only think about these things in an inner, non-physical meditation. Such things are important, but the language that John uses in this gospel force us to conclude that actual physical eating and drinking is involved. The word for eat is a solidly physical one, meaning something like ‘chew’ or ‘munch’ and is often used to describe the sounds that animals make when they ate.
The best way to understand this rich passage is using the language of sacrament, where Jesus offers his body and blood to the church to be eaten and drunk. Let us always be grateful for such precious gifts.
Recorded at St Col’s (10 mins)
Sunday 20, Year B. John 6:51-58