“Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” John 6:52-54
One can only imagine the argument that broke out when the people gathered heard Jesus say that he was giving them his flesh to eat. Let’s face it; this would be rather startling to hear today, let alone two thousand years ago. But here is Jesus telling those within earshot that unless they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they will not have eternal life. So let’s unpack this a little.
Last week I happened upon a sermon delivered on the Feast of Corpus Christi, June of 2019 by Canon Mark Birch at Westminster Cathedral. In that sermon, Canon Birch compared the use of the verb “to eat” as used in the passage from John I have quoted above. In the first instance, those arguing about eating are using the Greek verb phagow, which is a more delicate form of eating sort of nibbling as one would do on a small sandwich at a garden party. When Jesus speaks, he uses the Greek verb trowgow, a word that means to gnaw and eat like it was your last meal. The verb that Jesus uses implies that we are to eat of his flesh as if our very life depends upon it, and, as he says, it does.
But, I want to move away from the physical manifestation of what Jesus is saying here to focus on the spiritual. Obviously, Jesus is not giving us his actual flesh and is actual blood. Even in the elements of the Eucharist, considering the real presence, it is not actual flesh and blood but spiritual food.
Jesus, as John’s Gospel tells us, is the Word made flesh that dwelt among us. Jesus has left us with a new commandment to love God and love our neighbor (we also need to love our enemies and ourselves), and Jesus also left us a way to follow. When we feast on Jesus, when we trowgow Jesus, we are devouring the flesh of his word, we are taking that word into our very being, so it courses through our veins. We are feasting on his Word like it is the last meal we will ever eat. Jesus is the very bread of life, and if we feed on his, we shall have eternal life.