Text: John 6:51-58
The Rev. Dr. D. William Faupel
August 19, 2018
In 1985 in St. Petersburg, Florida, three old men, tired of being old decided they would do something about it. They knew the might regret it later, but they sneaked away from their old folks' home and went for a dip in a nearby indoor pool on a huge estate that appeared to be abandoned. They ignored the strange glow at the bottom of the pool as they slowly and painfully entered at the shallow end.
They had a wonderful time floating in the water. That night they felt better than they had in years. In fact, they felt so good that they decided to do again the next day. And then the next. Soon the same men who were creaking down the steps at the shallow end only days before were now doing cannon balls and backflips off the diving board. Back at their retirement home they began ordering spicy food, danced the tango and started flirting with all the women in sight.
Does that story bring back any memories? It was a seen from a movie shot in St. Petersburg. Does anybody remember the name? Does Cocoon ring a bell? It’s a delightful fantasy. A pool in which old age is washed away. It’s a dream that has been around for a long time. Remember your history class back in high school when you read that Ponce de Leon traveled all over our state looking for the Fountain of Youth.
But if Sabine, Van’s granddaughter, were here this morning or if Hailee were not in Sunday school, they might tell you that being young isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. Yes, they can get out of the pew and come up to take communion without groaning, but they can’t show off pictures of their grandkids. And then there are all those things to worry about. Can I get into Harvard when I graduate from high school, or will I have to settle for some junior college? Will I ever get married? Will I get a decent job? Or, more urgently, will this pimple on my nose be gone before Saturday night’s party. Ask any thirteen-year-old if she wants to stay thirteen forever and she will answer in one word. No! Although a youthful body certainly has advantages, it really isn’t eternal youth that we are looking for. It is something else.
I think we get closer to the truth when I think of an event I experienced with my college friend Bob. Once when I was visiting him in Chicago he took me to his son’s little league baseball game. The kid was good. He struck out his first time at bat, but he lined a double to left field his next time up, stole third and trotted home on a sacrifice fly. Bob yelled and cheered him on all the way. As his son trotted across home plate, he turned to me with a grin on his face and said: “Life just doesn’t get better than this!” These are the moments that fill our scrapbooks and become treasured memories that never fade. It is this that we want to last forever. Not youth—Life!
This is what our Lord is talking about in today’s Gospel when he says: “I am the living bread that comes down from heaven, and whoever eats of this bread shall live forever.” When Jesus talks about living forever, you can be sure he is not talking about merely existing. Later in John’s Gospel he will go on to say, “I have come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.
Abundant life is made up of those moments when you want to take a deep breath and hold it. It is those times when you would do almost anything to make it last forever. Almost anything.
But would we really? Do the kind of events I have described fill out the totality of an abundant life? Would we really want a life where we are totally protected from pain, heartache and be always living on a high? Not if we really believe what Jesus has to say to us.
In our Gospel reading today, for example, our Lord’s next statement throws us a curve. “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you have no life in you. When we hear these words, we probably think of coming to the altar rail and taking a wafer and a sip of wine. It is not wrong for us to hold that picture in our minds.
But when our Lord first made the statement it conjured up a very different image. Many commenters have called his statement repulsive. Throughout his discourse, Jesus has used the normal word for eating, as when he refers to the Jews’ ancestors eating manna or eating bread from heaven. But the word he uses to eat his flesh is the one that would be used if a bear or a lion had just made a kill and was now enjoying his meal. A proper translation would be: “Unless you gnaw at my flesh and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” No wonder the early church was accused of cannibalism.
Why did he paint such a grotesque picture? I think he wanted us to remember, every time we partake of communion, the pain and suffering he experienced for us on the cross. The Word which became Flesh and we are now ingesting. It is a very graphic way of stating how he lives within us. For he goes on to say. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them.” This is what St. Paul had in mind when he wrote: that I might know him in the power of his resurrection and in the fellowship of his sufferings.
The abundant life that our Lord offers us does not spare us from the difficulties and that pain and loss that is part of the reality of human existence. Rather it is a life whose experiences are filled with meaning because he lives with us, he sustains us, and we come to understand our reality through His perspective.
Each time He invites us to the Table of Life it is not so much to satisfy our hunger but to whet our appetites, to call us into an ever-deeper communion with Him so that every day of our lives we might wake up longing for the Bread of Life, and those who eat of this bread shall live forever.