Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?" (ESV).
As evangelical Christians we often speak of our relationship with God. We do not like to consider ourselves as merely following religious practices; we relate to God in an ongoing and personal way. John 6:56 helps us to understand the very nature of that relationship.
Author Jean Vanier has an unusual but inviting style of writing that brings us into the challenging but rewarding world of scriptural meaning:
Let us reflect on these words "to dwell in" or "to abide in" or "mutual indwelling," . . .
They reveal a friendship that implies
a certain equality between people,
each one open and vulnerable to the other.
When we become a real friend to another,
we give up a certain personal autonomy or freedom.
In a way we die to ourselves and our needs centred on ourselves,
our need to prove that we are right or are the best.
We listen to friends and try to please them.
We live one in another. That is mutual indwelling.
Vanier, Jean. Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John (Ottawa: Novalis, Saint Paul University) 2004 (page 127).
The answer to the impenetrable mystery of our relationship with Jesus can be summed up by saying "he is our friend." No wonder the classic hymn O What a Friend We Have in Jesus has been so popular throughout the ages.
We can go a bit deeper, of course. Vanier also discusses the power of the images of flesh and blood:
For the Israelites, it is the flesh and blood of a person
That signifies the person with all his or her being.
When Jesus uses the separation of flesh and blood,
He is signifying his death: he has come as the Lamb of God
who will be sacrificed and eaten as the Paschal Lamb.
Jesus is offering to us a personal, intimate relationship with him that will lead us into the very life of God and nourish this life. It will bring us to dwell in Jesus and to have Jesus dwell in us (pages 126-127).
Our relationship with God through Jesus is the means of our salvation. It is also the key to the daily living of our mortal lives. This relationship is as dark and deep as a well with no bottom; it is also as warm and pleasing as a friendly conversation at the top of the well.
John Calvin discusses John 6:56 in the context of the sacrament of communion:
But I deny that it can be eaten without the taste of faith, or (if it is more agreeable to speak with Augustine), I deny that men carry away more from the sacrament than they collect in the vessel of faith (Institutes of the Christian Religion (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans) 1989, page 589, Book IV, Chapter XVII.
To affirm what is both obvious and extremely mysterious, our relationship with God is a faith relationship. To participate in the ceremony of communion may be an acknowledgement of faith, an encouragement of faith, or even a proclamation of faith; but it is not a substitute for faith.
Why wrestle with the meaning of scripture? Why stare at these words, these hard and beautiful words, these rubies glittering in the moonlight? As wrestlers we will be in the good company of notables who have gone before us, like Jacob. There is a time for everything, of course, including a time to think softly. To return to Jean Vanier:
Many of us are not aware of the sacred space within us,
the place where we can reflect and contemplate,
the space from which wonderment can flow
as we look at the mountains, the sky,
the flowers, the fruits and all that is beautiful in our universe,
the space where we can contemplate works of art.
This place, which is the deepest in us all,
is the place of our very personhood,
the place of inner peace where God dwells
and where we receive the light of life and the murmuring of the Spirit of God.
It is the place in which we make life choices
and from which flows our love for others (p. 70).
Peace and fellowship to all,