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Drink my Blood
John 6: 51-58
Drink my blood. Eat my flesh.
The communion scene is often an illusion to this less than pleasant idea. We usually chalk it up to metaphor. But, here in this text, it’s hard to get past this direct statement from Jesus. “My flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Everyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in them.”
It sounds pretty real to me. No so metaphorical. It sounds a lot like…vampires.
With Alan Ball’s provocative HBO series, True Blood, and the young adult series book and movie series, Twilight, vampires have become the genre du jour.
While I don’t know much about Twilight, I do confess that I have a bit of a thing for True Blood. In this series, vampires that have lived a hidden life for centuries, now mainstream into society because they’ve figured out a way to manufacture fake blood, which they call “True Blood”. They no longer need to count on human blood—they can live on “fake blood” as upstanding citizens, without being a threat to their human counterparts.
The problem with this True Blood drink is that while it satisfies the hunger pangs for the only thing they can eat as the living dead, it does not satisfy the hunger for intimacy that comes with biting into human flesh and drinking warm, human blood.
For humans, vampire blood is not necessary to live, but it is intoxicating. It is like an elixir, and a drug. If a human is sick or injured, it heals them. And if they are not sick, it makes them high. It gives them the ability to see things differently and understand a new reality.
But here’s the thing about humans and vampires sharing blood in this series—when they share blood, they become connected to each other somehow. Because they’ve shared each other’s blood, vampires know when their human friends are in trouble. And when a human has had a little vampire blood, they think about that vampire. They are psychically connected to that vampire. They long to be connected to them again—to share blood again.
All this sounds rather disgusting to us humans living in the real world, a world where there are no vampires. But this drinking blood thing is in the Bible. It’s in the text we read from John today. Eat my flesh. Drink my blood.
It’s not easy to come face to face with today’s text. It’s awkward. It’s gross. It’s a little too literal—lacking the poetry and metaphor that we hear in other parts of the Gospel of John. It’s. Just. Too. Much. We would like Jesus to be a little more metaphorical about this flesh eating and blood drinking thing. We’d like Jesus to not seem so much like vampire Bill. But Jesus does not make it easy.
In fact, Jesus makes it very difficult. His choice of words become more intense. Up until this passage, Jesus has used the greek word—esthia—to describe “eat.” This is civilized eating. But here in John 6: 51-58, Jesus transitions to a more graphic word—trogo—which means to gnaw, to eat primally, to fully consume.
Jesus does not seem to want people to follow him. And, his word choice, leads many of his disciples to leave. In John 6:66, It says, “From this time on, many of the disciples broke away and wouldn’t remain in the company of Jesus.”
Jesus has crossed a line here. He is not talking about the metaphorical. He’s not talking civilized. He’s gone beyond the laws of his people. In fact, he’s stomped all over the sensibilities of his people—on top of this, Jesus says this in the temple. What Jesus is suggesting is an affront to his people’s understanding of what is clean and what is holy. It’s no wonder they walk away. It’s no wonder they decide that they cannot follow him.
Jesus is not doing us any favors here. So let’s step back from this text for a minute. Let’s look at this text in its larger context.
There’s a word that appears over and over in the Gospel of John, and it appears also in this text. In greek it’s “meno”, which means “to abide, to remain, to stay. And, in the case of the inclusive Bible translation that we’re reading today, it means “to live in”. In the gospel of John, there’s a circular conversation that’s happening. Jesus keeps going back to this concept of abiding. And every time he talks about this “abiding”, he goes a little deeper, the abiding becomes more personal, more intimate, and a little more scary.
This word from the greek root—meno—appears at early as the first chapter of John, where the Spirit descended on Jesus and remained (meno) on Jesus.
A few verses later, the disciples met Jesus and remained (meno) with him.
In chapter 4, the Samaritans came to him and remained (meno) with him for 2 days.
In chapter 6, this word, meno, starts to take on a different meaning. “Do not work for food that perishes, but for the food that endures, remains (meno) for eternal life.”
And now, at the end of chapter 6, Jesus goes even deeper. “Those who eat my flesh, and drink my blood, abide in me, and I in them.”
Jesus is making a case for what it means to remain, abide, stay, be present to God. The abiding—meno—doesn’t mean just hanging out with Jesus, it doesn’t mean our simple presence. It means an unmediated relationship with God incarnate. It does not mean bringing a sacrifice in the temple, not an appeasement of an angry God. It’s relationship—a mutual relationship—with a God who wants to abide, remain, stay, endure with you, and wants you to do the same.
Jesus is not talking about the stuff of vampires here. Jesus is talking about a deep, wonderful, terrifying, unmediated relationship with the son of God. But there is something to be said about the vampire analogy—to a point.
The reason the vampires and humans in True Blood have this attraction to one another is because they have shared their life blood. They understand each other because they have had a taste of the very thing that keeps them alive. There is an intimacy, and a sensuality to that—a deep mutual vulnerability in the sharing of life-blood.
In the non-vampire world, this translates to the vulnerability we have in our most intimate relationships, or in the intensity of childbirth. We share each other’s life-blood. We share the deepest parts of each other.
Jesus here is pushing the limits of his potential followers. They can remain with Jesus for a few days, for a meal. They might even be able to seek after this eternal food—the food that doesn’t spoil, but sustains forever. But, Jesus wants to push his followers further. Are they prepared to remain, abide with him, eating the eternal food of life, and living in deep and mutual intimacy with God? Are they prepared to abide, when Jesus’ life blood is poured out, and his flesh is broken open in death?
Jesus requires an unmediated, vulnerable relationship with us. And Jesus is offering the same for us—that he will break himself open, and fully share with us all of his own incarnated self.
That is a frightening prospect—that God might know all of us fully, and that we would open ourselves to that. For those followers of Jesus that turned away after Jesus said the frightening and confusing words—drink my blood and eat my flesh—you can understand why they left. Eating flesh and drinking blood—it sounds like Jesus is going very extreme. But even those who could see past those extreme words to the intimacy Jesus is requiring—that is also frightening. Jesus wants to know all of us, see all of us. Jesus wants us to know all of him.
I said at the beginning of this sermon that it is very difficult to be metaphorical about this text. The words from Jesus feel so real, and so raw. Drink my blood. Eat my Flesh. But to be honest, there’s no way we can do otherwise. It is easy with metaphor to distill things into palatable pieces, into images that make sense. But this text from John disturbs us, disrupts us, makes us question our desire to follow. Jesus asks us in this text, and all throughout the gospel of John—are you ready to abide with me, to be in deep communion, and deep relationship with me? It’s the eternal question for Christians—can we be disciples? Can we follow Jesus into the unknown?
Incarnate God, Intimate God,
Give us to courage to follow you into the unknown.
What can I do?