John 6 is built around Jesus’ proclamation, “I am the Bread of Life,” John’s working of the Feeding of the Multitude. His presentation of the Feeding almost parallels the reports of the other three gospels in which the mighty work appears five times.
It is obviously very important to the early Church; yet all the gospels indicate those involved did not get it. The crowds, the disciples, and the authorities learn nothing, except Jesus can provide bread for the table.
When Jesus tries to explain his message, just about everyone decides it is time to go home. Only the disciples remain, observing they have nowhere else to go. “To whom can we go? You have the Words of Eternal Life.”
This seems to be John’s way of saying, “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” More and more this rings true with me. When it comes to explaining life, there is not much out there that can be called “profound” any more. And a lot of what is there goes no further than talking about the material aspects of life, such as food.
Jesus is talking about more than physical survival. The Word of God leads to eternal life; and again it is clear Jesus means more than an on-going, never-ending succession of days. He is talking about a quality of life that is available in the present, here and now, something we might call “real living” in our day.
Most of the confusion in the chapter centers on Jesus’ describing this as eating his flesh and drinking his blood, a rather awkward way of putting things. The kosher Jews present would have heard it as downright vulgar to consume any blood. It also makes most of us queasy. One of my friends refuses to participate in the Communion meal, because these kinds of descriptions sound like cannibalism to him.
Jesus does seem to be making reference to the Eucharist meal, but not in a way that declares it is the one and only way to eternal life. And when he does not specifically mention the sacrament, he opens the way to recognize all sorts of other intimate relationships that enable us to share the Spirit of the Christ.
My face-to-face classes felt Jesus’ words did have some significant implications for how we use the sacrament. They felt Christ speaking of himself as the Bread of Life indicated the meal should be a means of grace and not an exclusive meal of a special privileged group. They believed the church should focus on the experience of the meal that brings people together and avoid as much as possible making rules and doctrines that divide us from one another.
I find the community of the God’s people have understood this far better than the institutional church for a long time. This was apparent in a special way in one of the classes. Some of them had attended a funeral in which the presider announced those not members of his group were not welcome at the table. One of the class, a retired clergyman who was regarded as family by the deceased, feeling the need for God’s grace, went forward anyway- in clerical garb. And, the priest communed him.
Some of us made the decision to make this kind of public witness years ago in hopes that the church will someday follow Jesus’ practice and be willing to eat with all sorts of sinners and tax collectors.