Look: “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:54)
This doesn't impart a new truth to me today, Lord. But I see it in a somewhat different light this morning.
Jesus’ words underscore just how amazing Holy Communion is and what actually happens when we receive Christ’s body and blood “in, with, and under” the bread and the wine. We receive life, the life of God that cannot be stopped by death!
Listen: This is why the sacrament must be received with reverence and awe. Not fake reverence and awe. Not with goosebumps we generate. But with gratitude and absolute awe that God deigns to come to us, to sacrifice Himself, to give His life to us. Especially when it would be so easy to give up on the human race as a good project gone bad.
Holy Communion shows us that salvation isn’t something we can achieve by being good people or "religious." God gives Himself to those who trustingly receive Him and what He has done for us on the cross. It’s a free gift for those willing to receive what God offers to us. Not a chicken in every pot and all our material fancies given. But what we need more than anything: Life with God! (Because without God, the Giver of life, we can't live.)
That’s why Jesus’ words earlier in the chapter have such power. He has upbraided the crowd for following Him not because they saw in His feeding of the 5000 a sign of His identity as God and Messiah, but as a would-be king on the campaign trail. They wanted to force Jesus to be their king so that they could get what they could out of Him. Just like most voters today, their concern wasn’t with things like truth, but what was in it for them. Even in pre-democratic times, people (mobs) wanted “leaders” they could lead around and get them to do what was in their interests. Would-be leaders heeded what the ancient equivalents of polling told them and tacked in the direction of the crowds. The wily offered not leadership, but sycophancy. They were tails wagged by the dogs. And the shrewd crowds knew when they had kings they could manipulate. The crowd that followed Jesus figured they had a softie they could buy off with a crown and some huzzahs.
And when Jesus started talking about God, this mob, like the woman at the well, decided to play along and got all religious, asking Jesus what they needed to do to be doing the work of God. He said: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6:29).
That’s probably not the answer they expected. They were looking for something like: “Do these religious acts.” Then, they could pretend to agree (maybe even genuinely think that they could make themselves holy, which no human being can do) and get Jesus to sign on the dotted line to become the king who would always fill their bellies and do their bidding.
They misunderstood their Man.
Simply put, we do the works of God when we receive Jesus Christ and what He has come to bring to us--eternal life with God--by the power of God’s grace through simple faith in Jesus. Receiving what Christ has come to give entails not deal-making, but total surrender and trust in the God we meet in Jesus.
In Holy Communion, Jesus physically, tangibly enacts the grace of God, the Word of God--Jesus Himself, according to John 1--given to us.
The only choice to be made is whether we will receive Him, along with the rightful judgment of our sin and the gracious erasure of the power of that sin over us, that only Jesus offers.
Jesus wants to become our king on His terms, not ours, and for our everlasting good, not for what we think is good for us. (How could we possibly know better what is good for us than the One Who made us?)
The word awesome is thrown around and misused for insignificant things.
Christ coming to us, filling us with His life and salvation, not because we’ve earned it, but because we humbly receive and trust in Him, is truly awesome.
Respond: Help me, Lord, to always receive You, Your body, Your blood, Your life, and Your forgiveness, with awe, thanksgiving, and faith. Help me to commend this faith and this reverence for the sacrament to others. In Jesus’ name.
[Blogger Mark Daniels is a sinner saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. He's also the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]