Homily preached by Br Andrew e.f.o. at Springwood on Sunday 23rd August 2015
I shall share with you something my mate Fr Dave Smith of Holy Trinity Dulwich Hill mentioned in his sermon last week which might clarify things in the end.
He said “Now, in case you’re not familiar with the different understandings that exist between the different Christian denominations when it comes to the Eucharist, the best way of remembering the distinctions, I think, was that given to me by my old mate, Tony Campolo (the great Baptist evangelist) who put it this way:
• In the Catholic understanding, the bread mysteriously becomes the body of Jesus and the blood mysteriously becomes His blood
• In the Anglican understanding, the bread remains bread and the wine remains wine, but to the person who consumes them in faith they become the body and blood of Jesus.
• In the Baptist understanding, he points out, the bread remains bread, and the wine magically becomes grape juice!”
At any rate, if you’re a good Catholic, you may well make an immediate association between this dialogue and the Eucharist – a sacrament that had its origin, you’ll remember, in the ‘Last Supper’ between Jesus and His disciples”
In this the fifth and final interlude of John’s Gospel within this part of the Markan year I intend to state the Non-conformist-middle point of view concerning the understanding of Jesus discourse at Capernaum.
While most agree that the event of the Feeding of the 5000 itself was representative of the first Holy Communion that is where the agreement ends. Protestant Commentators and Theologians such as Matthew Henry and Calvin, agree that Jesus’ teaching in the Synagogue was not about the Sacrament or Ordinance of Holy Communion / Eucharist. Therefore the true meaning intended by his words “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.” John 6:56 are of a Spiritual nature and the instruction concerning His Body and Blood is to be understood figuratively.
Note there is no mention of wine.
Calvin commented that this discourse doesn’t relate to the Lord's Supper, but to the perpetual communication of the flesh of Christ, ["De la chair de Christ."] which we obtain apart from the use of the Lord's Supper. Communion alone does not grant us the Eternal life Jesus speaks of unless those that do so also follow His Words. It has been said by the theologians that they are saved who do not receive the Holy Communion and they are lost with it because it is not in the slavish keeping of the Holy Communion by which we are saved but in participating in this perpetual Communication of the flesh of Christ.
Matthew Poole writes, quote “Feeding is to be meant believing in him; only here is a clearer discovery than was there in John 3:16-18, of the true object of that faith which justifies, namely a Christ crucified, for that is signified by the flesh and blood mentioned.”, end quote. While Albert Barnes draws our attention to the meaning ‘dining together’, had among the Jews, it was expressive of sharing in or partaking of the privileges of friendship. The happiness of heaven and all spiritual blessings are often represented under this image, see Luke 14:15, “One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’”
Poole also comments on the terrible and awful notion that Jesus intended us to take his words literally and speaks disparagingly of the Council of Trent and goes on to comment that the situation demanded Jesus use the figure of eating and drinking because that was the subject of the discourse; because the Jews were very proud of the fact that their fathers had eaten manna; and because, Jesus had said that he was the bread of life, it was natural and easy, especially in the language i.e. the specific words, which he used, to carry out the illustration, and say that bread must be eaten in order to be of any use in supporting and saving men.
At the murmuring of his disciples at such ‘hard sayings’ Jesus asks them “Does this cause you to stumble what if you would see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?” John 6:62, a change of subject?
No, far from it, an illustration that points to the following year when Jesus would be crucified, dead and buried, rise from the dead and ascend into heaven. Meyer in his original language commentary uses these words “Will not this impending sight serve to offend you still more” for “Does this cause you to stumble” and says of it that he whom they believe to be mortal to Ascend into heaven is just as preposterous as literally and actually eating his flesh and drinking his blood. But for those future readers who have formed erroneous or heretical Eucharistic conceptions who are already aware that Jesus is God –They are to understand that their practices and understandings have gotten out of hand because the Son of Man has ascended in his flesh and is not here to be feasted upon.
The crux of this communication Jesus is making both to those in the Synagogue and to us is that Jesus intends all that he has taught them to be understood in the Spiritual context 6;63 “ It is the spirit that quickens; the flesh profits nothing: the words that I speak unto you, [they] are spirit, and [they] are life.”
When we and John’s readers, contemplate the spirit we are drawn past the Ascension to Pentecost when the Holy Spirit is given but John’s subjects remain ignorant indifferent or curious and eager to understand. When those who partake in the perpetual communicating of the flesh of Christ have received this Spirit they will be taught by the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father has sent in the name of Jesus, who will teach them all things and will remind them of everything Jesus had said to them. They will find a deeper meaning than the carnal one as they compare manna from heaven and the Ascension of the Son of Man and will know that Jesus did not intend that the Holy Communion or the Communicating of the Flesh of Christ to be carnal but spiritual.
Any mother will tell you of the amazing experience of ‘quickening’ when she begins to know her child is truly alive and developing.
This quickening by the Spirit is what brings us to Spiritual birth and keeps us alive in Christ if we “obey his word we will never see death." John 8:51
And "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.” John 14:23
But this is conditional on a person being called to perpetual communication of the flesh of Christ (to faith) by the Father for we do not choose God but he chooses us. For faith in Christ is the gift of God, and coming to him, is due to efficacious grace, and is not the practice of man's power and free will. It is truly the will of the Father that all who see Jesus and believe in him may have eternal life; and he will raise them up on the last day. John 6:40
From the pulpit commentary - Christ does not give the hunger, but the bread. From the beginning he saw the existence of the appetite after the bread which he came to bequeath. John 6:40
St Peter gives us the climax “We have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the Son of the living God." After declaring there is nowhere else to go.
This Jesus in whom we believe is the very Son of God without whom we can live and so we feed upon Him in our hearts and by this we mean the continual communication between Him and His Body of all he is and has been to us while in the flesh and all he is now in Heaven.
And we keep his Holy ordinance as the New Covenant in His Blood because he asked us to but before hand or certainly at some time we need to harken to the voice of the Father and be led by him through sanctifying Grace into the eternal communication of love between ourselves and Christ, of the communication of his flesh. United to His Body through the power of the Holy Spirit.