51… I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
53 Jesus said to them, “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. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.
Jesus has just been saying, “I am the bread of life.” Now he shifts the focus from himself to his hearers. The logical extension of the bread metaphor is that Jesus must be ‘eaten’. That is to say, a person cannot simply agree that Jesus is God’s provision for eternal life. In order to gain that life, metaphorically– spiritually– they must eat and drink of Jesus, who gives up his body and blood on the cross.
So this is not an exhortation to cannibalism. Instead, by faith, the Christian transfers their trust to rest entirely upon Jesus crucified for life with God. Not obedience. Not religion. Not self-reliance or moral living. Jesus alone becomes the believer’s object of faith. In so doing, the Spirit of God unites the believer with Christ. The crucified body of Christ bears the sin of the believer. Jesus’ blood shed on the cross seals the believer’s covenant membership into Christ. This effective union with Christ brings eternal life. These are massive theological truths, all found in the metaphor.
Somewhat surprisingly, in an extended treatment of the Last Supper (Jn 13-17), John’s gospel has no reference to Jesus’ institution of the meal of remembrance; eating bread and drinking wine at the Lord’s Supper. But somehow this passage has echoes of it, with references to Jesus’ body and blood. Although the metaphor is powerful, it is not directed towards a sacramental meal. Instead, faith alone is to be activated.
Lord, I am challenged to entrust myself entirely to you for life. By faith, I embrace your crucified body. By faith, I drink your blood shed on the cross. Your death is my death. Your life becomes my life. I am completely yours. Hallelujah!