"Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me." Before the days of social media, the church’s best marketing tools were t-shirts. Episcopal students at the University of Georgia created one of the more provocative church t-shirts when they translated the before mentioned verse into “Eat me.”
On the front of the t-shirt was the traditional Episcopal shield with the name of the Episcopal campus center. The back of the t-shirt, however, displayed an icon of Jesus saying, “Eat me.” As you might imagine, the shirt caused quite a stir not only on the campus in Athens but also across the Episcopal Church.
In our modern-day vernacular, the phrase “eat me” is most often used in the pejorative sense. You don’t say “eat me” to someone without intending to offend them. Even though Jesus isn’t trying to offend, the Jews who heard this would have been quite offended. According to the Hebrew scriptures, one does not eat meat unless the blood has been drained from the animal. That is what Kosher means. Regardless of Jewish purity laws, there is also the issue of cannibalism…
Whether you take offense at these words of Jesus or not, the statement is so provocative that we should be left scratching our heads. Why would he say that? He can’t be serious, can he? Make no mistake – Jesus is dead serious.
This saying comes at the end of a very detailed and very redundant teaching on the relationship between the living bread of heaven and the Son of Man. Like a teacher who is trying to explain a foreign concept to her classroom, Jesus makes it painfully clear that he is the living bread from heaven – the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh. And finally, he says, “If you eat me, then you will have everlasting life.”
Jesus isn’t simply calling us to think about things differently. Jesus isn’t simply telling us to engage in a new spiritual practice. Jesus isn’t even demanding that we start acting differently. Rather, Jesus is calling us to take on the life of God by consuming his flesh and blood. And like a change in a physical diet, we will undoubtedly think, act, and pray differently.
By inviting us to eat his flesh and drink his blood, Jesus is calling us to be more than bystanders or observers of the kingdom of heaven on earth. By consuming the flesh and blood of Jesus, we engage in a life-long process of being transformed into living members of the body of Christ on earth.
In the flesh of Jesus, God is not offering some spiritual escape from this big, bad world. Rather, like Paul said, in the flesh of Jesus we become citizens in heaven who take up our residence on earth. We become resident aliens. God’s salvation project is about the renewal of this earth by making his heavenly reality incarnate on earth. Why else would Jesus say, “eat me,” if God’s salvation project didn’t concern our physical reality?
Kathleen Norris, author of Amazing Grace, says it like this, “It seems right to me that in so many instances in both the Hebrew Scriptures and the gospels salvation is described in physical terms, in terms of the here and now, because I believe that this is how most of us first experience it.”
Jesus, the incarnate Word of God, the new creation, the kingdom come, thy Father’s will on earth as it is in heaven, is the One who grants salvation to this physical realm. And when we live in him, we, too, become a part of that salvation project in this physical realm.
When we consume the life of Christ, God’s restoration project becomes a part of our DNA. We can’t to help but to think differently, pray differently, and act differently for the skae of Jesus and his kingdom come on earth. Jesus’ flesh is true food and his blood is true drink.
I’ve been doing some reading on how food and drink affect not only our physical health but also our emotional health. In these days of processed foods and pesticides, it is scary to think about all the harmful stuff we put into our bodies all in the name of convenience and mass production. It’s frightening to consider how many of our physical and mental health problems are directly related to the food we eat.
Regardless of your position on the matter, it is hard to argue that what we eat and drink have a direct correlation to how we think and act. As you’ve heard it said before, you are what you eat. Likewise, the spiritual food that we ingest is directly related to how we conduct our spiritual lives on earth.
Unfortunately, too often does the church water down, process, sterilize, and cut corners on spiritual food in the name of consumerism and relativism. Too often does the church encourage spiritual tinkering that allows people to stand at arm’s length to any kind of commitment to Jesus and his kingdom. And I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve given into this temptation.
Will Willimon says, “Jesus wants all of us and he wants us to have all of him.” Or like John of Patmos says in Revelation, be anything but lukewarm. Either you are all in or you are all out. In the fullness of time, the kingdom of heaven makes no room for the middle ground for the middle ground is eroding away. In the end, only the kingdom of heaven will stand and in our body, we shall see God.
The spiritual food and drink we are given in the flesh and blood of Jesus might be described as an acquired taste. If you have been consuming processed or sterilized spiritual food, the flesh and blood of Jesus might seem a little too real. If you have been consuming cheap spiritual carbs, then the spiritual food of Jesus might seem like too much work.
But once the spiritual food and drink of Jesus becomes a part of your regular spiritual diet, then you will want to spit out the other cheap, watered down, domesticated spiritual food. You will begin to crave what is good for the soul. You will begin to seek truth and peace. Your hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied.
Jesus’ flesh is true food and his blood is true drink because he is the One who sacrificed his body and shed his blood and died for a world that was dying of hunger. This passage from John gives me an entirely new theory of atonement to consider. Yes, Jesus died for our sins. Yes, Jesus died to show us that love is more powerful than hate. But Jesus also died to give us the food that endures for eternal life by giving his life for us on the cross.
Our life in the kingdom of heaven is not marked by consuming what we need to have life. Rather, our life in the kingdom of heaven is marked by the One who gave his life so that others might live.
Our life in the kingdom of heaven, available when we eat and drink of Jesus, is about recognizing the corrupt and destructive nature of our earthly kingdoms and instead of participating in those kingdoms or even condemning those kingdoms, we are called to life of repentance where we feed the world with the spiritual food of Christ’s body and blood – a food that makes us work for justice and peace, a food that makes us work for compassion and mercy, a food that humbles us, a food that brings renewal and restoration to this world for the Lamb who was slain is risen from the dead. Amen.