What are we supposed to actually do with Jesus? Yes, we sing, we pray, we read our Bibles, we try to follow his example, we profess our belief in him. But if we simply follow his example, is he anything more than just a good teacher? If we sing and pray to him, is he anything more than a magic genie that will hopefully grant us some wishes? And if we claim to believe in him, we’re still left asking what that actually means. “Believe” is one of those words we use so much that its real meaning can get lost. What do we do with Jesus that doesn’t ultimately keep him at arm’s length?
Here is his answer: eat my flesh and drink my blood (John 6).
This answer turns a lot of people off. Some are upset that Jesus would ask us to believe something so grand (“I am the bread of life”) about himself. Some are upset that he would say something so bizarre and insane as “eat my flesh and drink my blood.” (Not to mention drinking blood was harshly forbidden in Jewish law.)
Our problem today is a little different, though. The Church has always affirmed the divinity of Jesus. But how do let Jesus in close enough to actually eat and drink him? Are we willing let him be more than a teacher, more than someone who grants wishes? Those who can’t find it in themselves to accept what Jesus is saying here, it’s not simply because Jesus is saying weird things. It’s hard to accept because he is calling us to nothing less than fully eating and drinking him up. This is difficult because we, even in the Church, want to keep Jesus at arm’s length. We want to keep Jesus out of the dark places in our lives. Keep Jesus out of our politics. Out of our comfort zones (because we know he won’t let us stay there). But if we take Jesus up on this invitation to eat every bite of him and drink every drop of him, then he gets full access to every single part of us. It’s exactly the way it’s supposed to be, but it’s scary.
Yet as difficult as it is to let Jesus in this close, it comes with a promise: to be transformed, to be remade. To experience life on a level we never thought possible. This is what the Gospel of John calls eternal life – life so rich with God’s love, so filled with the fullness of Jesus that it cannot be extinguished, not even by death. Jesus says it multiple times here in John 6, that those who will let the life of Jesus become their own life, he is more than ready to raise them up on the last day. And while we typically think of eternal life in terms of time (or the absence of time), it is just as much about what life is meant to be right here and right now. To eat the flesh of Jesus and drink his blood is to become one with him, not someday in the afterlife, but right here and right now. To eat and drink Jesus is nothing less than to be transformed into his image, to have his fullness dwell within us, to have his life become our life. That is eternal life.
The good news is – we are already experiencing this eternal life.
“No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father,” Jesus says (6:44). Whether we knew it or not, God has already been moving us in the direction of Jesus. Every movement we make toward Jesus, every single inch, is because the Father has put that movement into us. Every move we make toward Jesus is a direct result of God planting a desire in us to move toward Jesus. God is placing a magnetic pull within us and within Jesus that will draw us closer and closer together. Yes, we must choose Jesus, choose faith, choose holiness. But let’s not place too much significance on our own responsibility and willpower. When we move toward Jesus, it’s because God was already at work in our hearts. God was already stirring, already beckoning. By the time we realize that we’re moving toward Jesus, God has already been moving us, remaking us, filling us with his fullness. We eat and drink Jesus because God already gave us the appetite for it.
This is strange good news. John 6 ends with a lot of disciples choosing to no longer be disciples. “Eat my flesh and drink my blood” might be hard to take seriously. Or maybe we want to keep Jesus at arm’s length after all, only summoning him when we need something from him. But Jesus is clear: eat and drink him up completely, or walk away.
We will stick around. We will keep following. As Peter says (John 6:68), where else would we go to hear words that impart such life? We will imagine all the ways that the transforming life of Jesus dwelling within us will make us and remake us. What would be different about us if the fullness of Jesus truly dwelled within us? What would we say and do differently? What decisions would we make or not make? How might we perceive the world and people around us differently? We will let our imaginations run wild.