Life forever, Anyone?
by Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
v60Many of his followers heard this and said, “This teaching is too hard. Who can listen to it?” v61Without being told, Jesus knew that they were grumbling about this, so he said to them, “Does this make you want to give up? v62Suppose, then, that you should see the Son of Man go back up to the place where he was before? v63What gives life is God’s Spirit; human power is of no use at all. The words I have spoken to you bring God’s life-giving Spirit. v64Yet some of you do not believe.” (Jesus knew from the very beginning who were the ones that would not believe and which one would betray him.) v65And he added, “This is the very reason I told you that no people can come to me unless the Father makes it possible for them to do so.” v66Because of this, many of Jesus’ followers turned back and would not go with him any more. v67So he asked the twelve disciples, “And you—would you also like to leave?” v68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. v69And now we believe and know that you are the Holy One who has come from God.” – John 6:60-69
Jesus’ message was not always welcome. It inspired some and alienated others. It united some groups and divided others. It calmed some and enraged others. Jesus asks his disciples if they also ‘wish to go away’. This is the first mention of the twelve disciples in the gospel of John. When Simon Peter answered for them all, he made it clear that there was no one else to whom they could go for the words of eternal life. Eternal life that God promises through faith in Jesus Christ is not like life on this earth. Physical characteristics are inconsequential. Eternal life will be better, deeper, more loving, happier, calmer and more peaceful. Faithfulness to Christ is eternal life. This is the theme of the eight-verse gospel lesson this Sunday, the 13th in the season of Pentecost. The challenges of life that we face everyday in this corrupt and infected world makes us struggle with the issue of whether it is better to be alive or dead. Christian believers have one foot in heaven and one on earth, thus the apprehension. Most of us don’t want to die, at least for now. But do we really want to live forever?
For the past four Sundays, we have listened to Jesus speak about himself as “the bread of life.” Jesus even told them, “The bread that I will give you is my flesh, which I give so that the world may live.” Today we hear the results of his teaching. Some of those listening to him there in the Capernaum synagogue begin to grumble. “This is more than we can stomach!” they say. “Why listen to such talk?” Many of his disciples drop out, and no longer associate with him. The response of the twelve is different. Jesus asks them if they too want to leave him. Speaking for the group, Peter answers, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have faith and we know that you are the Holy One of God.” All heard the same teaching. All knew the same Jesus. But there are opposite reactions. Some reject what Jesus says and then desert him. Others welcome his words. They confess their faith and draw closer to him. The same man, the same message, but opposite reactions. Where does the difference lie?
The disciples who leave hear what Jesus says as a threat, a threat to their way of life, their accepted notions, their grip on reality. Those who continue faithful hear what Jesus says as a challenge. A challenge to their way of life, their accepted notions, their grip on reality. These disciples who remain may not completely understand what Jesus says. They may be uncomfortable with it. But somehow they are intrigued by what he says, and they are intrigued by him.
“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter says this on behalf of the others. I do not hear him saying this in an over-eager way, or in a voice that is too serious, too certain. I think he says it with a gentle sense of irony, with a slight smile on his lips, with even a brief chuckle. It’s as though Peter says to Jesus, “You’re not exactly what we pictured as the messiah, but that’s all right, because you’re really far more than that.”
The Bible tells us that we receive spiritual life by believing in Christ and sharing in the redemptive benefits of his death on the cross. We continue to have spiritual life as we remain in fellowship with Christ and his Word. Jesus is the living Word. The Bible is the written Word. Jesus calls himself the “bread of life”, and elsewhere he relates this bread to the Word of God: “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Therefore, we eat his flesh by remaining in him and by receiving and obeying the Word of God. We are saved and are recipient of eternal life by God’s grace and the Spirit’s regenerating power when we first hear and receive the Word. We continue to be saved and receive grace by remaining in union with Christ and partaking of the Word of God continually through reading, obeying and absorbing its words into our hearts. It is fatal to withdraw from fellowship with Christ or to depart from his Word.
That great American writer, Mark Twain, wrote: “Most people are bothered by those passages in Scriptures which they cannot understand; but as for me, I always notice that the passages in Scripture which trouble me most are those which I do understand.” I suspect that, at times, we all would like to walk away from the church and never come back. We want a God different from the one we find in Jesus. Flesh and blood? Yes. But demanding? No. Resurrected? Yes. But crucified? No. Salvation? Yes. Repentance? No. Love? Yes. Commitment? No. Unfortunately, you cannot have one without the other. The rose comes with the thorns. The pains come with the birth. Night come with day. The best of times can only be lived because there are those times that are so bad. To have life eternal is to have undying commitment in Christ even if the goings get rough – we have to get going.
Christ demonstrates this commitment to us. He takes for his own our flesh and blood. Through human birth he is born and through human death he dies. He accepts for himself our condition. He thereby enters into a new relationship, not only with the baptized, but with everyone who shares this condition, with all human flesh. In Christ God marries humanity, and the two become one flesh.
Every celebration of the Holy Mass we break the bread and share the wine of the Eucharist. Here and now the mystery of Christ’s flesh and blood will become apparent again to the eyes of our faith. We will have prepared ourselves by prayer and confession to receive these gifts. Thus we will have died to those things that keep us from rejoicing in Christian cannibalism and in the even more shocking fact of God’s limitless love for all human flesh. But the Eucharist is more than a moment out of the week set apart as holy. It is a holy flame, meant to illuminate every corner of the week with the light of Christ. What we do this day is our model for how to live life every day.
So look this day on Christ’s flesh and blood as you receive them for your spiritual health. But go beyond this celebration. Die to yourself in new ways, and in new ways recognize the flesh of Christ.
See the flesh of Christ in the poor, and seek justice with them. See the flesh of Christ also in the rich, and pray wealth does not destroy them. And see the flesh of Christ when you gaze into a mirror. Look at yourself, and say that this too is the flesh God has married.
Let us pray.
Gran, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Collect, Proper 16)**