Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

Third Sunday After the New Sunday (4th Sunday after Easter)

Sermon / Homily on John 6:51-59

Discipleship - Communion with Christ

by John Jewell

Gospel: John 6:51-58

There is an incredibly powerful image in a phrase from today's gospel reading:

"...the life of the world."

What comes to mind when you think of those words?

"...the life of the world."

What is the life of the world?

Perhaps you think of the laughter of children's voices, the warm embrace of someone you love or a family picnic in your favorite park. To think about the life of the world can fill you heart, mind and soul with wonderful, nourishing thoughts, images and feelings.

To the Lord God, the life of the world seemed to be a good thing. "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." [Gen. 1:31]

On the other hand, when you her the words, "the life of the world," you may think of pain and anguish, hunger and war torn nations. A picture of a nation across the seas where small children and tiny babies are devastated by the aids virus. To think about the life of the world can fill your heart, mind and soul with horrible, toxic thoughts, images and feelings.

To the Lord God, the life of the world was a painful thing. "...the LORD was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart." [Gen. 6:6]

The life of the world is an amazing and sometimes confusing mix isn't it? It can be such a glorious, beautiful place where human hearts are warmed and nourished by friendship and love. And yet it can be such a devastating, ugly place where human hearts are crushed by oppression and prejudice.

It can break your heart.

It can break God's heart!


What makes the difference?

Why is this world such a mixed bag? The answer goes back to the very beginnings of the bible's drama. The story of Adam and Eve and God in the Garden of Eden is a picture of "the life of the world" as God intended it to be. There is harmony and balance in the relationship of the man and the woman to each other and in their relationship with God. There is intimacy between God and Adam and God and Eve and this intimacy is the source of fulfillment and satisfaction.

The notion of selfcenterdness does not exist. The divine intent was that humanity be Godcentered. When the man and the woman chose to have a self center instead of a God center, everything was turned upside down and inside out. The man and woman go into hiding and the intimacy is broken. Instead of fulfillment, there is emptiness and a restless longing takes over the place that was reserved for satisfaction.

And God began the long, long journey to reclaim the children who became lost.

What makes the difference?

When the split between humanity and God has been healed and when our lives are lived in intimacy with the Lord, there is the possibility once again of fulfillment and satisfaction which come as the gift of God.

This intimacy with God is not an automatic, "Garden of Eden" type thing. It is a choice each one of us has to make. On behalf of God, Moses set this choice before the People of Israel right at the beginning of their National Journey:

"I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob." [Deut.30:19-20]


You would think people would jump at the chance to "choose life." Right? Blessings and life and length of days... who would not want that? It would all be a gift and in return their part was, "...loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him..." As some might say today, "It's no brain surgery!"

Amazingly, the more God reached out, the more people turned away. Yet -- God never turned away from them. The bible calls this God's "steadfast love." In the book of Psalms alone the phrase "steadfast love is used 120 times. If you really want to assure yourself of just how strong God's love is for you, read through Psalm 136 where 26 times the words are repeated, "His steadfast love endures forever!"

Nevertheless, God's own people continue to choose self over the Lord, their ways instead of Gods ways and death over life. God became Israel's jilted lover!

Isaiah captures the heartbreak of God with the words:

"I was ready to be sought out by those who did not ask, to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, "Here I am, here I am," to a nation that did not call on my name. I held out my hands all day long to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices..." [Is. 65:1-2]

Throughout the scriptures, indeed the whole point of scripture is God's call to humanity to, "Return to the Lord!" The invitation of God is to find fulfillment, satisfaction, meaning and purpose through intimacy with the One who made us. Yet the invitation is consistently rejected. There are times of repentance and renewal as history proceeds, but still the response of the people as a whole is captured by the Prophet Jeremiah who spells out the disaster that is coming upon the nation and then explains that all of this is happening because:

"...they did not heed my words, says the LORD, when I persistently sent to you my servants the prophets, but they would not listen, says the LORD." [Jer. 29:19]

Still... God does not give up!

It is only in light of the whole biblical story that we can grasp the enormity of these words from the Gospel of John:

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. [3:16]


Now we begin to catch a glimpse of the power of Jesus' words that he will give bread, "...for the life of the world." Even more, "...and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

The steadfast love of God and the persistent pursuit of the Holy Spirit to capture our hearts is more than any human intellect could ever fathom. Even though the world turns its back on the Almighty and spurns the outstretched arms of the Lord, Jesus Christ comes to offer life giving nourishment to all who will choose it.

Communion with Christ means a restoration of the intimacy with God that brings fulfillment and satisfaction. There is no life sustaining nourishment for the spirit to be had apart from the Lord. "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever..."

Alexander Schmemann, in his little book, "For the Life of the World," captures the sense of relationship between food and life and the biblical notion of feeding the spirit:

" 'Man is what he eats.' { the German philosopher Feuerbach wrote.} Feuerbach was expressing, without knowing it, the most religious idea of man. For long before Feuerbach the same definition of man was given by the Bible. In the biblical story of creation, man is presented, first of all as a hungry being, and the whole world as his food... Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into himself and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood... This image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life."

There is no dichotomy in the Bible between the physical world and the spiritual world. With God the whole of creation is a mark of love and divine goodness towards humanity. We are called to "...taste and see that the Lord is good!"


Jesus' words to the gathered crowd caused a debate among the Jews who heard them. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat!" Jesus doesn't help matters or let them off the hook. Not only does he offer his flesh and blood for the life of the world, there is no life apart from eating the flesh and blood of the Son of Man.

The words had to do with taking the whole of Jesus life and ministry into one's being. It is as though the writer of the gospel is revealing the inner meaning of what Matthew, Mark and Luke will portray in the outward act of eating bread and drinking wine in the transformation of the Passover mean into an eating and drinking, "In remembrance of me."

Communion with Christ is a lifestyle and the celebration of the eucharist does not create intimacy with the Lord -- it is a reflection of it.

True enough, we think of communion with Christ as the sacrament of Holy Communion -- an act we participate in when we are gathered together in corporate worship. We may even use the words, "I am going to Communion." We could, however, also say that we are not so much going to communion as we are celebrating our communion with Christ. We are in communion with Christ in the whole of our lives.

Life in communion with Christ is not confined to a few moments in public worship but is a morning 'till evening, every waking moment feeding on the One who gives us his very self to feed upon.

Communion with Christ has always been a mark of the follower of Christ. We would make significant gains in our life of "followership" -- or "discipleship" if we would focus on the eucharist as the deepest expression of our communion with Christ and not simply a "going to" or "taking of" that begins and ends in the sanctuary.

To feed on Christ all the days of my life is to be in communion with Christ. To exercise that communion with Christ in worship with my sisters and brothers in the faith is to attend and participate in the sacrament of Holy Communion.

May God give us grace and strength to be in communion with Christ.

Discussion and Reflection on the Text

John 6:51-58

Today's text must be seen in light of the whole biblical drama of God's search for a people who were in rebellion from day one. God is the covenant maker and the people are covenant breakers. God reaches out and people turn away. Yet God has never given up and the conclusion to redemption's quest will come through Jesus Christ.

The gospel lesson shows Jesus coming with, God's "last call." "Very truly, (in Greek the strong, "amen, amen") I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you!" For Christian people this will immediately bring the image of the eucharist / Lord's Supper to mind. No such image would have come to Jesus' hearers however, since institution of the eucharist had not yet taken place.

So how did his hears understand his words? They didn't! "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" They ask. However the gospel text is to be interpreted in terms of the eucharist, the deep sense of intimacy with God through feeding on and being nourished by Jesus Christ is the primary thrust of this this interchange.

Two other points:

[1] To understand Jesus' claim to be the substance and nourishment persons need for eternal life goes beyond the rational and into the wisdom of God. (i.e. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." 1 Cor. 2:14)

[2] The words of Jesus lay claim to Messianic vocation. Only God can give and sustain life in the most basic spiritual sense of "life." Jesus' life - "for the life of the world" - is the, "For God so loved the world..." of John 3:16.

God's last call says, "The banquet is set and the guest are invited to come and dine!" We can enter and receive the life and joy of the banquet, or we can refuse and find our sustenance elsewhere. We can not however, unhear the invitation!

Reference:

St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, New York: 1973 [ISBN 0-913836-08-7] p.11

See Also:

Sermons, Gospel Analyses and Bible Commentaries on the Lectionary Readings for the 3rd Sunday after New Sunday

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