Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost (B)
September 3, 2006
Text: John 6:51-58
In His holy Supper, our Lord Jesus gives us something tangible to hold onto, to eat and to drink. He gives us His very Body and Blood, the same Body and Blood given and shed for us on Calvary, under the forms of bread and wine. How this is so, we do not know. We simply take Him at His Word. He says of the bread, “this is my body” (Matt. 26:26), and of the wine, “this is my blood” (v. 28). “Though the angels desired to look into this great mystery (I Pet. i. 12), yet Christ took not on Him the nature of angels, but the seed of Abraham (Heb. ii. 16). Our Saviour is more nearly allied to us than to the angels themselves; and by this we know that He loveth us, because He hath given us of His Spirit (I John iv. 13), and not of His Spirit only, but of His own body and blood as well.”
Our Lord Jesus did not take on the form of angels, but the tangible flesh of humanity. So as Jesus is tangible, so is His Word for us in the Lord’s Supper. Here He gives us His very real, very tangible Body and Blood. This is tangible forgiveness. This is tangible life. This is tangible salvation. This is Christ in us tangibly. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (John 6:54-56; ESV).
But “How can this man give us his flesh to eat” (v. 52)? It was the objection of the Jews then
and it is the objection of our reason today
. Indeed, how? Does it not make us cannibals, this insistence that the bread is the Body of Christ and the wine the Blood? This is what the Jews thought. In fact, the early Christians were often charged by their enemies with cannibalism for saying that they truly feasted on Christ’s Body and Blood.
But this is not what Jesus means when He promises that the bread and wine are His Body and Blood, nor is it what we confess about the Lord’s Supper. If we were to dissect the bread and wine in the Supper this morning, and hold it under a microscope, we would not find little bits of human flesh in the bread or human blood mixed with the wine. In fact we would only find bread and wine if we were to perform such an experiment. Our Lord’s presence with His Body and Blood is hidden under the elements of bread and wine. It is not observable to the eye. Still, we believe, teach, and confess, that there, under the earthly elements of bread and wine is the true Body and Blood of Jesus. We don’t have to ascend to Him in heaven with our faith in order to receive His Body and Blood. He comes to us here in bread and wine. He is there in a supernatural way. This is what our Lutheran Confessions say. The writers of the Formula of Concord write:
"This is what Christ’s words of institution say, when at table and during supper
he handed his disciples natural bread and natural wine, which he called his true
body and blood, and said therewith, ‘Eat and drink.’ Under the circumstances this command can only be understood as referring precisely to the oral eating and drinking – not, however, in a coarse, carnal, Capernaitic [or cannibalistic] manner, but in a supernatural, incomprehensible manner."
In other words, though the true Body and Blood of the Lord are received orally in the Lord’s Supper under the bread and wine, this takes place supernaturally. But make no mistake. It is not simply a spiritual eating and drinking by faith. It is a true eating and drinking orally, regardless of faith. Even those who have no faith can eat and drink the Body and Blood, though it is an eating and drinking to their judgment. Under the earthly elements of bread and wine are given Christ’s true Body and Blood. It is impossible for our reason to comprehend. But it is true, for it is Jesus’ promise. And faith receives the benefits of this eating and drinking.
Oh, what great benefits this eating and drinking bring to us. Jesus promises, “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (v. 54). The food that Jesus gives for our life and for the life of the world nourishes us for eternal life. It is food not just for our souls, but also for our bodies. When we feast on the crucified, yet resurrected and living Body of our Lord Jesus, we receive also the promise that our bodies will be raised to new life on the Day of Resurrection. We often mistakenly think of eternal life as the eternal presence of our souls with Jesus in heaven, without our bodies. It is true that when we die, our souls are taken to heaven to be with Jesus while our bodies rest in the grave. But that is not yet the whole fulfillment of the promise given us in the Gospel. Jesus promises that He will raise us up on the last day. That is the whole fulfillment of the promise, when our souls are reunited with our resurrection bodies to live eternally and abundantly in a new heaven and a new earth. The Lord’s Supper is the tangible assurance that the Lord will raise our bodies from the grave to live eternally. Because we feast on the Lord’s risen body, His resurrection becomes our own. “Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever” (v. 58).
So also when we feast on the Lord’s Body and Blood, the Lord dwells with us in a special way, again, tangibly. “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (v. 56). In the Lord’s Supper, we receive the forgiveness of sins. Since by sin came death, the obliteration of sin obliterates death. This frees us to live eternally in Christ. We live and abide in Him, and He in us. As the branch is to the vine, so are we in Him. The Lutheran theologian, Johann Gerhard, writes:
"I do not greatly wonder, in view of all this, that the very hairs of our heads are all
numbered (Matt. x. 30); that our names are written in heaven (Luke x. 20); that we
are graven upon the Lord’s hands (Is. xlix. 16); that we are carried in His bosom (Is.
xlvi. 3), since we are fed with Christ’s precious body and blood. Inexpressibly great
must be the value of our souls, since they are fed with the precious ransom of their
redemption. Great indeed is the honor put upon our bodies, inasmuch as they are the
dwelling-places of our souls redeemed and fed by the body of Christ, and are
the temples of the Holy Ghost and the abodes of the adorable Trinity."
In the Holy Supper of our Lord, we dwell in Christ, and He in us. Since this is so, God must place inestimable value upon us. Christ, our great High Priest, enters our bodies with His Body and Blood to cleanse them as temples of the Holy Trinity. When God looks at us, He sees His Son dwelling in us, and we in Him. And so our bodies and souls become the very dwelling place of God. What a marvelous privilege! What a great blessing! “As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me” (John 6:57). Jesus lives because the Father imparted His life to the Son in the resurrection. So whoever feeds on Jesus Christ, on His living Body and Blood, also has life in him. He shall live because Jesus lives. He shall live because the Father who raised Jesus from the dead will also cause His life to dwell in him, and raise him up on the last day. That is the marvelous blessing we receive as we feast on the Body and Blood of Jesus this day.
The Lord’s Supper offers us tangible assurance that God is here giving us the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation in His Son. “What is this bread?” It is none other than “Christ’s body risen from the dead: This bread we break, This life we take, Was crushed to pay for our release. Oh, taste and see – the Lord is peace.”
He is tangible peace. He is peace that we can hold onto and touch and taste. And He offers Himself to us in rich supply this morning. Oh, taste and see, the Lord who is our peace, for He is good. Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him (Ps. 34:8). Blessed is the man who feasts on His Body and Blood. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. 
Johann Gerhard, “Meditation XVIII: The Saving Communion of the Body and Blood of Christ,” Sacred Meditations
, The Rev. C. W. Heisler, A. M. ed.(Malone, TX: Repristination Press, 2000) pp. 98-99.
The early Christians were accused of holding “Thyestean feasts.” See, for example, “Persecution at Lyons and Vienne, 177” in Documents of the Christian Church
, Henry Bettenson and Chris Maunder, eds (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) p. 13.
FC SD VII:64, Tappert.