So Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, unless you at the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is the true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.--John 6:53-56
Taken all by itself, this particular passage of the gospel could make the unknowing and unsuspecting visitor to an Episcopal Church this Sunday take pause and look around and wonder if they've wandered into a Donner Party reunion or something. The language of John sounds, well, cannibalistic, particularly if we stayed so focused on Jesus as the fully human man, forgetting that he has fully divine DNA in that fully human body.
Thankfully, this last installment of the "I am the bread of life" lecture from Jesus is coupled with readings about wisdom. Whether you are using Track 1 with the continuing saga of David (he dies and now his son Solomon becomes King and asks only for wisdom) or Track 2 with Proverbs, which is a poetic passage about how Wisdom (depicted as female) has built her house, the core message here is wisdom. In the Proverbs passage, there is the line:
"...she calls from the highest places in the town, "You that are simple, turn in here!"
To those without sense she says, "Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed."
Aahh... putting this statement with what Jesus is saying in the gospel reading makes this "eat my flesh and drink my blood" possibly sound a little less like Hannibal Lecter, and more like an invitation to a deeper understanding of the ritual we do week in, and week out: the Eucharist.
It helps to remember that in how John chronicles the Last Supper, he doesn't have the apostles sitting at the table with Jesus breaking bread and commemorating the Passover, instructing this group of friends in the new meaning he was giving to the bread and the wine. John's Last Supper narrative is the foot-washing, which has become a ritual used at the Maundy Thursday services. So, for reasons probably known only to Biblical scholars, it seems John has included the "new covenant" moment here in Chapter 6 rather than in Chapter 13. But regardless, the placement isn't as important as the point: if you eat of the flesh of God and drink the blood of God there will be life in you: eternal life. The purpose of the Eucharist is to bind us, through the ritual act of eating and drinking the consecrated bread and wine, to God... and to each other as the community that is gathered at God's table. No matter who we are in our individual lives, we are bonded together through God's sacrifice, through the living bread.
And in that "taking in" of the body of Christ, the bread of heaven and the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation we are opening our bodies to the intake of wisdom. Wisdom granted through God. One of the things I have been becoming more aware of as I go along this long and winding river trip with God is that I seem to get in very tiny, sometimes larger, pieces a glimpse of what it means to be a follower of God. It's the wisdom of looking beyond myself and my wants and needs and seeing how to be with others. It's that wisdom that Jonathan Myrick Daniels received in knowing when to check his Yankee self-righteousness at the door, and seeing the child of God in front of him in a Selma, Alabama, police officer.
Wisdom has built her house, and we, the simple and without sense, are invited in to eat the bread and drink the wine that She has mixed for us. The She who is also the He who is also the One. Taste it and see that it is good.