“Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…for my flesh is true blood and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them….whoever eats me will live because of me.”
A bit heavy handed I’d say. Over the top. Maybe even ghoulish. “Eat my flesh,” “Drink my blood”— Sounds strange to my ears. Does it sound strange to you? “Eat my flesh” “Drink my blood”—that’s no way to gain a following; that’s no way to build a community around a table. And yet there it is— “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no part in me.” How odd. How strange. How outrageous!
Even Jesus’ disciples recoiled when they heard those words. Some said, “This teaching is difficult. Who can accept it.” Others turned tail and ran. And who can blame them. In those days eating flesh and drinking blood were charges people leveled at others when they wanted to cut them down, when they wanted to put them beyond the limits of human decency, when they wanted to keep them in their place. “You cannibal. You flesh-eater. You blood sucker.” An outrageous way of putting someone down. An outrageous way of dissing those with whom you are at odds. An outrageous way of othering.
But that’s where Jesus lived. That’s where Jesus stood. He stood with folks who’d been othered by the powerful in their day—shepherds and tax collectors, day laborers and slaves, women and children, the lame, the sick, the blind and the deaf—people others overlooked. That’s where Jesus stands today as well. With folks who’ve been othered on the basis of the work they do or their race or their age or their sex or their gender identity and folks cast aside because of where they sleep or how they do in school or even their physical attributes.
When Jesus says, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you will have no part in me,” he’s taking on that othering, redeeming it, giving new life to those who have been othered, to those others cast aside.
When I hear those words, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood, you will have no part of me”, I’m reminded of other words that challenge, other words that call us to a difficult way of discipleship. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
The bread, the wine, the flesh, the blood, the cross—all elements of discipleship. And yet so often the haunting, challenging, difficult undertones and overtones of that outrageous kind of otherness Jesus calls us to slip right by us as we eat the bread and drink the wine.
Each week we gather at the table. Each week we hear the words, “This is my body broken for you” and “This is my blood poured out for you, ” I give the bread and say, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” You take the cup and hear the words, “The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”
We come together around the table. We come together in our brokenness. We come together in our experiences of otherness. I can imagine many of us, like Jesus and those who followed him, have been called despicable things. Things that hurt deeply. I can imagine many of us have been put down, dissed, othered in ways we’d just as soon forget. I suspect that many of us have found a way to reclaim those words, to make them life-affirming for us and for those who would stand with us.
“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them….whoever eats me will live because of me.” Those are words of invitation. A way of inviting we who would follow Jesus to step into a most outrageous otherness. To join it. To claim it. To become one with it.
When we join one another in the eating of the bread and the drinking of the wine, we are eating and drinking of one another’s otherness and we are joining in the outrageous otherness of Jesus—an otherness that takes in all the hurts and wounds a broken world inflicts on God’s most tender children, an outrageous enveloping otherness that shouts out with love, “You are my beloved. With you I am well-pleased.”