2021-08-15 the 12th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
A few years ago a fellow photographer in Oxbow had taken these amazing close-up macro photos of a caterpillar becoming a butterfly and posted them online. I was like a little kid staring at those photos thinking, “this is incredibly awesome!!” How can this be?! How can a fat, gluttonous worm transform into such a beautiful winged creature? It seems to be completely beyond belief. It’s truly amazing and nearly miraculous to behold. And life is full of moments like this. Astounding, extra-ordinary, mind-blowing things are happening every day all around us, but more often than not, we don’t perceive them. Or, when we hear of them, we simply write them off in our minds as crazy, ridiculous or impossible.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). These are Jesus’ “butterfly” words. That is to say, these are the words He speaks but they are so amazing and miraculous and beyond belief, that many people think they are impossible, that they don’t make any sense or, that He didn’t actually mean them, or at the very least, they are a hard saying that not many people can accept. He spoke them in a Synagogue in Capernaum, surrounded by Jewish hearers and needless to say, Jesus creates quite a stir. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” they scoff. But it is exactly as Jesus says – “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 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.”
I spent a year studying these words of Jesus from John 6 - in Greek - for my Master’s Thesis. I read over 200 books and articles about these words and finally wrote my 107 page paper about them in Seminary. A lot of the reading was horrendously boring to be honest. Most of the scholarly books written about these words are by people who simply refuse to take our Lord’s words at face value. They refuse to believe what the words actually say. They can’t believe that Jesus’ true body and true blood can be present in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. They, like the Jewish hearers and the Pharisees, write the words off as crazy, ridiculous and impossible! The majority of Lutheran scholars and even Luther himself came out with the same understanding and interpretation – these words of Jesus about His flesh and blood are spiritual, but not sacramental. They don’t actually refer to the true body and blood of Christ in the bread and wine on the altar and God’s people receiving the gifts of Christ in faith. To me, it was like looking at the caterpillar metamorphosing and saying, “Nope! Can’t be happening! Can’t be real! To think so is utterly insane!”
But it is what it is. The words recorded in the Gospels say what they do and Jesus meant them. We are to hear His words sacramentally. We are to hold the mystery in our hearts and minds. And this mysterious core of the Christian faith is what tripped up these theologians. Largely, the Evangelical Protestant world still has the knee-jerk reaction about Sacraments because they are “too Catholic!” Catholic = bad and out goes the baby with the bathwater. But Jesus still says the words, whether we like them or not. His flesh is true food. His blood is true drink. And unless you eat and drink His flesh and blood, you have no life in you. But whoever does eat and drink at our Lord’s table, will dwell and abide in Christ and He in us. Something incredible is going on in these words of Christ.
But will we perceive them? Will we believe them? Or will we, like the Jews and the scoffers simply shun and deny His words? The caterpillar becomes a beautiful butterfly whether we think it does or not. Revenue Canada comes for their tax dollars whether we pay them or not. We fall down, not up, every single time on planet Earth. It’s true and it’s the way it is whether we think so or not.
One fine day, a Pastor was walking along a beach with youngest son. The boy had been talking to his dad about his latest sermon on Sunday about Jesus being Emmanuel, God with us, and living in His people by faith. The boy said “Dad, I don’t get how Christ can live inside us and we in Him at the same time. It seems impossible.” As they walked further down the beach, the father noticed an empty bottle with a cork in it. Taking the bottle, he filled it with water, re-corked it and threw it back out into the ocean. He said, “Son, the sea is in the bottle and the bottle is in the sea. As it bobs up and down, it is a picture of life and motion. It is a life in Christ, and Christ in us.”
And this is the chief blessing of Holy Communion. God Almighty, the maker of Heaven and Earth, the One who formed the stars and counted the grains of sand on the seashore, comes to us and makes His home within His baptized people. We become One with God in Christ. And that union produces life. It produces salvation. It produces forgiveness for sins. It produces resurrection to life everlasting. It’s super powerful amazing stuff! This should be on our hearts and minds as we come forward to our Lord’s Table. In our sins and wrong doings, we ought to be terrified of coming to Holy Communion! Yet by God’s grace, He invites us. He tells us to call Him “Our Father” and here, in His gracious presence He takes our sins away. And it is by eating and drinking our Lord’s true body and blood that our own metamorphosis takes place. We go from being fat, gluttonous sinful worms into beautiful new creations! Notice how this fits so nice with the butterfly illustration?
How is this possible? How can this be? “How can this man give us his flesh to eat!?” (JN 6:52). But that is the wrong question to be asking. At my little old country Parish at Wordsworth, SK we almost always sang the Communion Hymn “Your Table I Approach” every Sunday. We sing it here too. The 4th line of that hymn says “Search not how this takes place, This wondrous mystery; God can accomplish vastly more that what we think could be.” These words of Jesus are one of the great mysteries of our faith and certainly has been a stumbling block too. Just after Jesus speaks His words in Capernaum, the people start getting rowdy. Not only do Jesus’ opponents think He’s crazy, but also many of His own disciples! They say “This is a hard teaching; who can listen to it?!”
And it is a hard teaching, a difficult saying. Our brain likes logic and numbers and quantifiable results. But that’s the thing with the supernatural – God often works outside the box. John’s Gospel tells us “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him” (John 6:66). They simply couldn’t accept the mystery. They simply would not concede that Jesus’ words say what He means. Somehow, in the bread and in the wine are the Lord’s flesh and blood. The medicine of immortality hides in the commonplace. God dwells in His people and we in Him. To not believe, to not eat and not drink is to walk with Jesus no longer.
On the outset this may all seem rather lofty. But it is of the utmost importance for us and for our salvation. “So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God” (67-69). Jesus has the words of eternal life. And nothing is impossible with God. He comes to us and unites Himself to us and by His cross and resurrection, we have life everlasting. He abides in us and we in Him. His words of eternal life transform us from the inside out and make us into the people God wants us to be. The miracles of our Triune God continue to happen before our very eyes in our midst! Thanks be to our miraculous and mysterious God now and forever more! Amen!