John 6:51-58 – The Italians, Jesus and Me
Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16
John 6:51-58 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So 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. 54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
John 6:51-58 “The Italians, Jesus, and Me”
Pastor Caitlin Trussell with Augustana Lutheran Church on August 16, 2015
Last Saturday, I preached a funeral for a dear, dear saint. He was a member of this congregation. When I would visit Louie he would spend time telling me stories about his children, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. His angels, he’d call them. I don’t know many people who loved this life as much as Louie and who was equally as ready to go be with his recently departed wife as much as he was.
Louie and I shared a love of dry red wine and cheese almost as old. We could talk cheese flavors like some people talk ice cream. Even closer to home, he and I were both drawn into the Lutheran tradition by marriage. Here’s one stark difference. Louie came from a very large, very Italian family, which is also mostly Roman Catholic. His extended family, to a person, was warm and respectful with me through Louie’s last days. This day of celebrating Louie’s life was no exception. At the funeral, I stood to give my welcome and usual greeting. “The Lord be with you.” The response that came back? An enthusiastic, “And with your spirit,” mixed in with, “And also with you.”
The mix of responses created a split-second of space between my greeting and all those other words I was planning to say as we began the celebration of Louie’s life. It was like time stood still just for second. My mind opened to take it in and my heart filled. And I thought, “Oh…right…the church catholic, God’s whole church. Here we all are, Jesus included, right here, together in this place.”
These words of formal greeting between priestly leader and worshiping people are bequeathed to us from our Christian ancestors in the earliest church. The greeting was used well before the Great Schism in the first millennia and both the East and West continue its use today. The words are found in Christian writings as early as the year 215 and belong to no one modern denomination. The Latin reads “Dominus vobiscum et cum spiritu tuo.” (You Latin scholars can correct my pronunciation later.) Some Christian strands prefer the direct translation, “And with your spirit.” Some of you may remember the Norwegian ELC black hymnal that translated it this way.
The point of all of this is to say that several hundred of us were there, celebrating Louie’s life in the face of his death and to hear a good word in the middle of it all. It was what we were there to do. And right out of the gate, a good word arrived in the very first words of greeting that we shared together as a group. I’ll get to what I mean by that. Or, more importantly, Jesus’ words in the Bible verses will help us get there.
Jesus says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The people with him ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” We could wish that Jesus would have stayed poetic and metaphorical talking about fresh baked living bread and its warmth and smell. Proving to everyone that, indeed, the gospel of John is simply, a wild, gnostic tale spun out to be so mystical that only the very few could every attain understanding.
People like to get out their “gnostic” stamp. You know, those wooden stamps that you have to dampen on the ink pad, and then pound the gospel of John with it – gnostic…gnostic…gnostic… In today’s parlance, the stamp could just as easily read, “spiritual.” Because if we do that, if we stamp it all to pieces with the gnostic, or the spiritual, or the metaphorical, then maybe it would do one of two things. We could either ignore it as mythic, romantic poetry. Or it could help distract us from what it going on in this real mess of a life we’ve created for ourselves.
Well, Jesus, the Word made flesh, begs to differ. He rides the knife edge between metaphor and reality. He does not go spiritual and gnostic in answer to the people’s question. He goes flesh and blood. He is relentlessly incarnational. He doesn’t try to explain anything. He simply tells them to eat. For those of us who think that being spiritual is about stuff you can’t see, this is the opposite. It’s anti-gnostic. It’s not romantic. It’s fleshy.
The opening dialogue at communion begins with the pastor’s words, “The Lord be with you.” The assembly replies, “And also with you.” This dialogue doesn’t try to explain anything either. The dialogue simply announces. We announce it, then we give God thanks and praise for it, Jesus words are spoken, and then we eat. So simple. And such good news because in the midst of it all we are claimed by life, by Jesus who is the life – in whom we abide, and who abides in us.
Last Sunday, Pastor Todd and I spoke with the TLC volunteers who regularly visit with Augustana’s home-centered members. Some of these TLC volunteers are on the Home Communion Team. Today, the bread and wine sits on the communion table along with the bread and wine that we share together during our communion during worship. Communion will then be taken out to people who cannot gather with us in worship. Jesus, abiding is us in abundant life, is carried out to those in whom he also abides. The home communion team takes communion out as an extension of the congregation. So that the life that claims us here this morning claims more than us this afternoon.
The language of life shows up in these eight verses nine times. NINE times in EIGHT verses. You’ve known me long enough to have some inkling that Christ crucified is pretty central to my faith. That we have a God who died is utterly mind-shattering to me in only the best of ways. There’s a cross either on me or around me in most of my waking moments. Today, however, is a time for us to revel in the life of God. That we have a God who lived in a body before and after death.
Jesus says, “I am the living bread, that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” Louie is enjoying the eschatological nature of Jesus’ eternal promise. Jesus says in the Bible reading today, “Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.”
But this isn’t only about waiting for the fulfillment of an eschatological hope. We enjoy the eternal in this moment. Jesus, son of the Living Father abides with us now. Because it is the promise of the eternal One to abide with us always, which starts today.
Thanks be to God!