I wrote this on Saturday, but sadly I wasn’t able to post it before Easter Sunday morning.
This passage is one that I have returned to again and again for a couple of reasons. For many years I have struggled to understand new facets of communion. The supper is one of the deepest wells from which to draw, perhaps because of its sacramental nature, and I have found many ways to frame it, though none original, I’m sure. It is something that seems inexhaustible, though, and John 6 has been a passage that leaves me with the feeling that I have much more to understand about what happens in communion.
Another reason that ch. 6 is so difficult to understand, even in retrospect I think, is that I have never ceased to empathize with the disciples who left and, at the same time, the apostles. This is not the only hard teaching I find in Jesus, and it is not even the hardest, so Peter’s words, “To whom would we go?,” have been solid footing for me in many moments of decision.
The teaching is mysterious to begin with, as the supper has not happened yet and the characters have no way of knowing what it would later mean to eat his flesh and drink his blood. On the one hand, those how left reacted appropriately to the idea of cannibalism. On the other hand, anyone who has been around for the last five chapters should have a clue that Jesus uses figures a speech a lot and probably isn’t saying what it sounds like. As a believer, I have no problem with Jesus knowing at this point that he would institute a ritual on the basis of this language, and I find it difficult to imagine what else he could be talking about.
There are a couple of very important Johannine points in the section related to the one I want to focus on here. One is that we have here the first definitive “I am” saying: I am the bread of life (vv. 35, 48; cf. 41, 51). The other is that John introduces here the idea of abiding in him, which will be important later.
For this Resurrection Sunday, the emphasis is appropriately on the life part of the saying (vv. 27, 33, 35, 40, 47, 48, 51, 53, 54, 63, 68). To be the bread of life, in which we abide, is to be the source of eternal life, of resurrection. In fact, there is nothing more central to the teaching than resurrection.
39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. 40 This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.
44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.
54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.
This Sunday is about Jesus’s resurrection and, for those who abide in him, ours too. We know that he will raise us up on the last day, because he himself has overcome death and shown his power to do so. Do not underestimate the act of eating his flesh and drinking his blood at the Table, for it is, among many other things, a sign of our decision and participation in his resurrection. To whom else would we go for life?