A couple of weeks after Elliot was born, a family from Aurora surprised Lauren and I by telling us that they had named one of their calves after Elliot. So there is now Elliot the baby and Elliot the calf. We were honored and over joyed. Now, Elliot the calf, as I’ve been told, has been rambunctious and difficult to handle at times. I fully expect the same from Elliot the baby at times, too.
After Elliot the calf won a couple of ribbons at the fair this week, his owner and I were talking about him and how they planned to keep him around for about one more year. And then….well…you know. Suddenly, it dawned on me. It won’t be long before Elliot the calf, named after my own son –my flesh and blood – will not longer be Elliot the calf. But instead, Elliot the hamburger. Or Elliot the BBQ sandwich. It won’t be long before someone is taking Elliot the calf’s flesh and blood into their own body. Which felt a little creepy to think about. It sort of calls into question the joy of having someone name their cow after your first born son.
Our gospel text is equally, if not more, creepy. If fact, I actually pray that there are few people visiting a church for the first time today, because this isn’t the story you want to begin your journey into Christianity on. You hear Jesus say, “Eat my flesh and drink my blood,” and no one would judge you if you headed for the door. It sounds more like a cult than a way of life.
The Jews that Jesus was speaking to found it equally as repulsive, I think. “How can this man gives us his flesh to eat?” they ask. As faithful Jews, they knew their dietary laws and how to be kosher. In the laws of Leviticus, it says, “If anyone of the house of Israel … eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood, and will cut that person off from the people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood;” (Lev. 17:10-11). The life of the flesh, the life of the creature resides in the blood. So if you drink the blood, you drink in their life and their soul. For our Jewish brothers and sisters who keep kosher, they take meat and they soak it in water for about 30 minutes, and then they sprinkle it with salt to draw out any remaining blood, and then they wash it twice more. All to prevent the consumption of blood – so as not to consume another creature’s life force.
But yet Jesus, a Jew speaking to other Jews, says eat my flesh and drink my blood. And it is completely offensive and goes against the very religion that they share.
But maybe we’ve emphasized the wrong word in this story. Maybe what is shocking isn’t that Jesus says, “Eat my flesh,” but that Jesus says, “Eat my flesh.” That the Son of Man, that God the creator of this world would actually come down from the heavens and become a part of this creation. That this God would have flesh to give should be what shocks us.
Which, if you think about it, goes against much of our own understanding of religion and spirituality. Don’t people often think they have to go another country in the East, or hiking in the mountains, or to yoga in order to encounter God? And thus it is shocking to think that God is encountered in flesh and blood in the everydayness of your life. Not in the special trips and the intentional prayers, but in the check out line of Walmart, the computer room of Jostens and the high school cafeteria. It is in the chemo therapy center and at family reunions, the diner at the fair, the cattle barn behind your house where God actually shows up in the flesh and blood.
So Jesus says there is Divine flesh and blood in this world and then he says, “Eat it, drink it.” And as we all know, what you’ve eaten has an affect on the rest of your day. To eat heavy and greasy food leads to you feeling heavy and greasy. To eat sugar-packed energy food, like a bowl of Halloween candy, leads to you being packed full of busy energy. To eat of Jesus’ body and blood is to lead you to be the very embodiment of God in this world. It is to consume the very life force of Jesus. It is to have Christ actually dwell and abide within your very own body, making you the body of Christ at work in the world. The way we as the ELCA is the motto of the ELCA – God’s Work, Our Hands. This confesses that God’s flesh is actually present in our world through your hands!
When a couple has lost a child unexpectedly, they don’t want an invisible god that they can’t see, or touch, or hear. They want a god with flesh and blood. One that can hold their hand and walk beside them. Or when time has taken its toll on a man’s body and he has lost all ability to care for himself, he wants a god who can feed him and wash him and carry him. A God that so loves this world that God would actually enter into it through your own bodies which can be seen, touched, and heard.
Which is the good news of this text and, perhaps, is what actually makes this a perfect text for those who are new to Christianity and those who’ve gone to church their whole life. Jesus invites us to consume him. To take him into our bodies, which means that Jesus isn’t just off somewhere else needing to be found. Where we have to go search him out in the beautiful mountains. And Jesus isn’t grasped for in the tingling feeling of a bedtime prayer. It reminds us that God is not and chooses not to be distant and intangible. But that God actually promises to show God’s self to you and to me in the flesh and blood of creation. In this world. That God does not remain as a beautiful thought in our head and in our hearts, but that God actually has become incarnate in this world, a substance that can be touched and tasted. We don’t simply follow Jesus, or hang out with Jesus, we consume Jesus.
This is the good news and promise of God. And it is for you and your flesh and blood. But how else will you know that this is a promise for you unless you can taste and see it with your very own eyes? Which is what happens when we gather at this table. When at this table, you get to see who this promise belongs to. It belongs to the one with bread and wine in their hand. Come, eat and drink…Jesus is given for you. AMEN