This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.
Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58
The Gospel reading this week is the fourth of a five-week journey through the sixth chapter of John. Known as the Bread of Life discourse, chapter six begins with the feeding of a “large crowd” of people. Interestingly, John’s Gospel does not give a head count. Starting with a youth’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to all those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish. After the meal, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.
In the ensuing discussion over what just happened, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He faces opposition from those who do not understand. They compare his bread to the bread of heaven which fell for Moses in the wilderness. This is why this passage begins, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)
The talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is not a helpful metaphor for a lot of people. It feels overly graphic and a little gross. This teaching however, is a great chance for us to remove the Sacrament of Communion from the blood and violence of substitutionary atonement. Jesus is the bread of life. This is very different from “this is my body, broken for you.”
For many, the idea that Jesus had to be sacrificed for the sin of the world to appease an angry God is an illogical interpretation of the Trinity. If God is love, the violent sacrifice of God’s Son is not a helpful metaphor. Let me add here that substitutionary atonement is a metaphor. It is a Biblical metaphor, but it is but one of many ways that Paul and early Christians came to understand the atoning work of Jesus. Through the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, humanity and all creation is reconciled to God.
Unlike what some would have us believe, there are many ways of understanding how this happens. Here, Jesus does not call himself the sacrificial lamb. He does not point to a broken piece of bread. He reminds his disciples that he is the bread of life. He is bread that is plentiful. He is bread that fulfills, satisfies, and leaves no one hungry.
Jesus uses eating as a metaphor to describe the intense and intimate relationship he has with those who believe. We cannot be separated from Jesus any more than we can be separated from bread that we eat. When we read that we are to eat his “flesh” we should remember that it is the “flesh” that is the eternal Word of God. In the prelude of John, we are told that the incarnation happens when “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”
Now Jesus tells us that by eating the flesh, we have life. Jesus revealed God’s way of abundant life for all people. We are invited to not simply believe, but to abide with him. When we do, we are joined in the eternal life of the eternal Word. We eat the bread – not just at the ritual of Communion – but in the life that is abiding with Christ.
We abide with Christ and eat the bread when we live in non-violent love and grace. We eat the bread when we live as Jesus lives, eat as Jesus eats, heal as Jesus heals, invite as Jesus invites, and love as Jesus loves. When we do this, we abide with Christ. We eat the living bread and live into eternal life.