No greater love

After being fed by Jesus, the crowds track him down - and they get a mouthful!

Full Text: 

No greater love

February 16, 2014 – John 6:22-59

 

            One of my first churches – Yellowstone Lutheran Church – served a Norwegian dinner the first Saturday of every November.  There was lefse and romegrot and meatballs and mashed potatoes.  And something called, “klub.”  I grew up Norwegian – American Norwegian anyway – and I had never heard of klub. 

            A few weeks before my first dinner there were a few men talking in the church kitchen. They said they would need to go soon to the local meat locker to pick up five gallons of blood.

            “What’s the blood for?” I asked.

            “Oh, it’s for the klub,” they replied.

            Klub is a kind of blood dumpling, I learned.  You take the blood from whatever animal you’ve butchered and mix it with flour – graham flour, I think – and make dumplings and gravy.

            I thought to myself, “How on earth am I going to eat that stuff?”

            The first Saturday in November came.  There was a huge crowd.  We were ushered down into the basement one table at a time.  The food was served family style, so we began passing plates.  I took a little of everything, some of which I recognized and some of which I didn’t.  Then I began to dig in.

            At one point I thought, “Gee, one of these must be klub.”

            I had been eating along with everything else, but once I started thinking about what it was, my stomach got a little funny.

            I ate klub every year at the Yellowstone Norwegian dinner.  But it took me four more years before I could eat it without flinching.

 

            If my stomach felt queasy at the thought of eating blood-soaked dumplings, how much more would the ancient Israelites felt at the thought of drinking human blood.

            From the time of Noah, in fact, consuming animal blood had been forbidden.  In the creation story in Genesis 1, we read that God gave human beings dominion over all the fish and birds and animals, but gave them plants yielding seeds for food.  Only after the flood do we read that God give every moving thing to the human family for food.

            Animal blood was used in sacrifice, of course.  It would be poured on the altar.  But it was never consumed, because it was a sign of the power of life.  It was against the law of Moses.  And if that was true of animal blood, how much more then for human blood?

            I tell you all this to give you some sense of the shock that Jesus’ hearers felt when he said, “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”  When we eat the bread and wine of communion that is the body and blood of Jesus, it is a life-giving thing for us.  We hear these words in a gracious way.  But it is offensive to them.

            But just in case you also feel some sense of offense, or even if you simply have trouble understanding what Jesus is talking about, let’s follow the conversation that Jesus has with the people following his feeding miracle.

 

            In some ways, it’s not that different from the conversations that Jesus has had with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.  In much of the conversation, it’s almost like they’re talking passed each other.  They are stuck very much in their life as it is.  Jesus wants to draw them out of it.  They say, “A.”  He says, “C.”  They ask, “B?” He says, “D.”  Although some get more than others, no one understands completely, I believe.  That is instructive in itself.

            Just as the Samaritan woman is at first intrigued by the possibility of not every having to fetch water from the well again, the crowd that has just been fed an abundance of food wants more of the same.  In fact, they want to make him king so he can keep doing this for them and for the whole country.

            He disappears.  When they finally catch up to him on the other side of the lake, they ask: Rabbi, how did you get here?

            Jesus turns the question back to them:  You didn’t come looking for me because my actions inspired faith.  You came looking for me because I filled your bellies.  You’ve already got plenty of that food, food that nourishes your temporary life.  Look instead for the food that nourishes your eternal life in God.

            There is some back and forth about the works of God and signs and the manna from heaven.  Then Jesus says: “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

            Then the crowd realizes there is indeed something more than daily bread.  So they say, “Master, give us this bread – always.”  Finally, the people are doing what Jesus said at the beginning of this conversation – they are seeking the food that endures to eternal life.

But then Jesus says what is most controversial, what people have the hardest time accepting: I am.  I am that bread.  I am the bread of life.

            Then they began to murmur, as their ancestors of old did in the wilderness: Who does he think he is?  We know him.  We know his parents.  We know where he came from.  How can he say, “I came down from heaven”?

            Jesus says it again, in even stronger terms: I am the 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.

Then they say, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”  That is not only their question.  It is our question.  How can this man give us his flesh to eat?  We get the part about Jesus coming from God.  We nod our heads when he says, “I am the bread of life.”  We’ve been saying it all of our lives, for hundreds of years.

But I think this is the question we can’t quite get – how can this man give us his flesh to eat?

I don’t think this is so much a question about Holy Communion.  It is connected, yes.  I don’t even think it’s primarily about the incarnation, the Word made flesh.  It is related, certainly.  I think this is a question about the crucifixion.  How can this man give of himself in this way?  How can the Messiah give his flesh and blood in death?  How can the Messiah die?

This is the central offense of Jesus – that he died.  No one expected that. None of the crowd expected.  Not even Jesus’ own disciples expected it.   More than this, if you die, you are eliminated from the list of possible candidates for Messiah.  It’s an automatic DQ.

But this is the way God conveys love.  God wonders, “What can I do to get through to people?  What can I do to reach a world that no longer recognizes the Source of its own life?

How do you convey love?  Self-giving.  Jesus said to his disciples, “There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  This is the length to which God will go to win us back, to win the whole world back.  This is the length God will go to convey divine love – the divine love that is the Source of life, that is the Bread of life.  No greater love.

I can’t tell you how the bread we share around this table week after week is actually the body of Jesus.  There are theological answers to that question.  Some of them are sort of convincing.  But none of them really feed me.

Perhaps the only thing for us to do is to do as Luther said.  Simply believe the word of Jesus. Simply trust that what Jesus says is true.  When we hear the words, “given for you,” we can think, “No greater love.”  And when we hear the words, “shed for you,” we can think, “No greater love.” 

Believe with your whole heart that this bread and this wine has the power of life within it because the power of love is behind it.  It has the power to give life because the life of Jesus is given in love, great love, no greater love.  This is the love that is at the heart of the universe and has come to us in the flesh and blood that is Jesus.

 

There is no greater love.