Abiding in Jesus

August 15, 2021

John 6:51-58

Earlier this year I was asked to preside over the funeral of a dear family friend. One who had known me from the time I was born. In reality, she was part of the reason I was born because my parents met each other through their mutual friendship with her and her husband. Our families were close and when I first heard the news she had cancer, I was shocked. I had recently returned from the Holy Land and mailed her a handheld cross made of olive wood from the Holy Land.

She thanked me for the cross and I was told by her daughter that the cross went with her to every treatment, and she always kept it close at hand. In her actions I saw a witness to the abiding love of Christ. She had faith that no matter what would happen, Jesus was present and abiding in her as she abided in him. The cross was simply a reminder of the love which is intended for all of us. A love which we find in the Bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

We continue this morning as Jesus’s dialogue with the crowd gets even more controversial. I am sure when you first heard this gospel lesson there is a good possibility you were left more in a state of bewilderment than a state of joy. Jesus’ words this week are not easy to hear, and they were just as bewildering in the first century when he spoke to them. To take his words literally really have made some people question Christianity over the last two millennia. When we first heard these words, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood will have eternal life,” they probably made us squirm a little too. Jesus quickly gets our attention as well as he would have those he was speaking to in person. The thought of flesh and blood would conflict with Jewish customs and therefore rattle a few nerves.

The crowd has not fully caught on to Jesus’ teaching yet and he keeps pushing the boundaries to make his point. The point that he is the Bread of Life. The bread of life feeds us and what better way than through the physical, the flesh and blood. Jesus is giving himself wholly to humanity, which means his entire flesh and blood. The author of John’s gospel sets the stage at the very beginning, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and lived among us” (John 1:1, 14). Jesus became flesh and lived among us. He was like us and now he reveals that he is much more than just flesh, but the living bread which will feed the world.

In this revelation, Jesus invites us to abide in him. As we fully grow into relationship with him, we abide in him. As we abide in him, he abides in us. It is a mutual relationship where Jesus is always willing to welcome us in and has a place prepared for us at the table. As we accept this and abide in him, we can begin to understand we will never be left alone. Jesus does not want us to face any darkness or suffering by ourselves, for he is always with us.

As humans we can fall short. We can tend to bottle things up and believe we must be strong and face everything on our own. Jesus is present to remind us that this is not the way God intended for it to be as the Word was made flesh. It is in the bread of life that Jesus chooses to make his presence known. It can also be easy to abide in something else entirely. Today it is easy to get wrapped up in social media and false narratives. We question the truth. And yet, the only thing we can place our faith in is that Jesus Christ is the truth. The church has been guilty of this as it has excluded people from God’s love and has not fully recognized the Bread of Life is for all people.

We read in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, or Eucharist, or Communion as Jesus prepares for his death. The gospel of John does not have such a clear event. Jesus gives instruction in the synoptic gospels of what the meal should look like, but it is here in John’s gospel we are able to see the benefits of such a meal. By welcoming Jesus fully in, through a meal of bread and wine, we find life ourselves. A life which is abundant in Jesus Christ. Not only do we have life, but we have eternal life. And in that promise, we will be raised by Jesus at the last day. You will remain or abide in Jesus as he abides in us. These are not all promises of what the future holds. These words of Jesus speak to us today. They speak to the openness and indiscriminate love which God has for all creation. An indiscriminate love which welcomes in the vastness of creation in all forms.

At the table we can begin to break down those misconceived notions of exclusion when we open ourselves to God’s unbounding love.  We can then release our own image of what we think that love should look like. At the table we learn to abide with one another and create relationships which can last a lifetime.

True relationship transpires when we abide in one another. We are created in God’s image to live into relationship and when we do, we reflect the relationship witnessed in the Holy Trinity. A relationship connected to one another and yet each fulfilling a different calling. Our relationships with one another can reflect the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. We abide with one another as we wait, as we confront suffering, as we endure. God invites us in a myriad of ways into a deep abiding relationship. Our spiritual journeys are all different and we each have come to faith in Jesus Christ in different ways. One way made clear in today’s gospel lesson is at the table. A table where all are welcome and encouraged to sit down and converse with one another. A table having no restrictions. A table where the bread is broken, and the wine is poured. At the table we taste the bread of life and are changed forever.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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