This won’t come as a galloping shock to any of you, but I like food. I like good food like at Oliver’s or the other restaurants in town, I like food that’s so bad it’s good like Frosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon Pop Tarts, I like wings and dumplings and beef, lots of beef. I like food, I even like to watch food on TV. I watch Top Chef like I am morally obligated to do so, I watch Chopped and Iron Chef too. I blame it on my childhood: when I was five, I broke my leg and was in traction for 27 days; I was capable of doing very little except watching the Julia Child re-runs that were on continuous loop at the hospital. “I am a French chef!” she would say, banging down saucepan and taking a swig of sherry. I like food, and I especially like bread. My mother loves bread, she gets a hard roll with butter for breakfast every morning, and really, there’s nothing like a hard roll with butter for breakfast, or any time for that matter. Jesus loved bread, He loved bread even though He didn’t have any butter (though He did have olive oil); Jesus loved bread for the same reasons everyone around Him loved bread. Jesus loved bread because bread fills and satisfies, bread tastes of the earth and reflects the hands that made it, bread is, in so many ways, alive.
I have made bread once in my life: the day before this year’s First Holy Communion. I joined the children, teachers, and friends of the Church School upstairs ready to do my duty, which as it turned out, was designated kneader. Once the children had put all the ingredients together they turned it over to me, and I kneaded. And kneaded. And kneaded. My forearms were sore for a week. We made the bread, made lots and lots of it, and then I consecrated it all the next morning, all seven loaves of it. But we only needed one and a half loaves to communicate everyone present, so our acolytes received a new duty: digging the hole in the backyard to properly intern the big pile of needlessly consecrated Bread. A priest friend tells the story of her first time using big loaves of bread for the Eucharist. When it came time for the Fraction, time to break the Bread, she lifted the loaf off the corporal, gave the Loaf a tug and a squeeze and a turn, and when it broke, out came: Bread goo. The center of the loaf hadn’t finished baking, so all over her hands, all over the corporal, all over everything was bread goo. And not just bread goo remember, but consecrated bread goo. I wonder if the hole they dug was bigger than ours.
I like bread because you have to knead it, I like it because if you don’t bake it right you end up with bread goo, I like it because Jesus liked it. Jesus even likened Himself to bread, He said of Himself that “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.” This bread of His Body, this Bread of Life, Jesus’ own Body and Being, we can get down with that. But Jesus didn’t leave it there, with some comfortable comparison to the manna the Israelites ate in the wilderness, He didn’t stop at bread references. What He said was a bit weird, a bit striking: “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. 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 true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.” My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Living food and living drink, food and drink that bring life, true life. Striking indeed.
Too striking, perhaps, maybe too bold, too vivid, too much for us to handle. But as Flannery O’Connor once said, “In the land of the nearly blind, you need to draw really big caricatures.” Jesus was talking to the nearly blind, those who heard Him in the synagogue that day couldn’t see the big picture, couldn’t fathom that the One speaking to them could offer them His flesh to eat and blood to drink; their expectations were too low, their hopes trivial, their longings pedestrian. Maybe they were waiting for Jesus to take it all back, to cash out what must be just a metaphor, certainly He couldn’t have been talking about actually eating flesh and drinking blood.
Do we wait for the same thing? Are we sitting here this morning hoping that Jesus took it all back in next week’s Gospel lesson? Are you waiting for me to stand here and tell you that it’s all a metaphor, are you waiting for me to quite literally take the blood and guts out of this Gospel? Well I can’t. I can’t because Jesus didn’t. I can’t because the Gospel is blood and guts. Not that we don’t try to clean it all up; we’re constantly trying to tear the claws of the Lion of Judah so as to make him a nice household tabby, but as C.S. Lewis wrote, Aslan is no tame lion. Anything that is sufficient to save us is by nature sufficient to shock us.
And there is nothing more shocking than the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because there are no other means sufficient to save us. The Gospel is shocking because it is about life and death, Jesus is shocking because it is His saving life and saving death that is the Gospel. Compared to that, eating flesh and drinking blood seems tame.
Jesus says “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.” And so we now prepare to do just that, to eat the Flesh of Jesus Christ and to drink His Blood, under the accidents of Bread and Wine, for His Flesh is true food and His Blood true drink. We eat and drink because true life comes from true food and true drink. So come, take and eat, come and drink the Blood that washes your soul. It’s a matter of life and death.
+In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.