Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson
When I was a Vicar in Yorkshire the neighbouring Roman Catholic priest had an icon in church of Jesus laughing.
He was very proud of it as he’d never seen one before and it was certainly unique. The same priest also had a notice in the sacristy indicating the name of the bishop. It was surrounded by a crown of thorns, as that was how the priest viewed his Father in God. The memories of that icon got me thinking about how Jesus is portrayed in the gospels and how we might imagine him. There are certainly times when Jesus played with his hearers a little like a stand up comedian. You can imagine a twinkle in his eye and a wry grin as he talked about taking a plank of wood out of your eye in order to see the speck of dust in your sibling’s eye. Or saying it would be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Although we may often picture Jesus as meek and mild, there are times when we see a very different side, like the time when he overturned the tables in the Temple and threw out the money changers.
The Jesus we meet in our second lesson isn’t angry but he is uncompromising and very clear in his teaching. ‘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.’
It is difficult for many in the 21st century to understand these words, but we can’t underestimate the scandal that this would have caused the religious people of Jesus’ day. This teaching was utterly outrageous and tantamount to cannibalism in their eyes. ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ they mutter. It’s pagans who ate flesh with blood in it not the children of Abraham. ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ they ask. ‘Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.’
So how should we approach this difficult teaching? There’s no Passover in John’s gospel, so here is his teaching on the Last Supper and the Eucharist. Jesus gives his life on the cross in order to bring about abundant life for his followers; for you and for me. In the celebration of the Eucharist time and eternity meet and we encounter the Living Lord in the bread and wine of the altar, the Body and Blood of Christ. In the Eucharistic celebration we receive Christ’s life and the promise of eternal life. It’s no more cannibalism than a child feeding at its mother’s breast. The child receives the life of the mother and yet does not consume her. Jesus offered his first followers, and us today, the promise of life without end, lived in God’s presence. Like those first disciples, we are given the choice of responding to God’s invitation or we can walk in the opposite direction.
When Jesus asks Peter, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Without hesitation or doubt, Peter replies, ‘Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words one eternal life.’ By following Jesus we can put aside our desire to be in control and to allow God to be at the centre of our lives. Feasting on Christ and abiding in God, allows us to begin putting aside our fear and allowing ourselves to rest in God. What will be our response?