The value of a promise
May I Speak in the name of the Son, to the glory of the Father, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen
We have to look at today’s Gospel reading in the context of our Easter celebrations, and especially what took place in that upper room the night before Jesus was betrayed and crucified.
‘Jesus took bread and gave you thanks; he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take, eat, this is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me’.
This is the ‘Bread of Life’ to which the passage refers, and it is Jesus promise of eternal life that we celebrate every time we take the Eucharist. So what defines a promise?
At this very moment in one of her majesty’s secure printing works, some words and printing are being applied to a piece of paper. It is only paper with printing on it; but in fact it is a banknote. The materials from which it is made are probably worth only a few pence at most. But the writing on it says it is a twenty pound note. It’s cost has not altered, but now it has a value far beyond the cost of the materials it’s made of and the labour it took to produce it, and that is because of the promise that it bears; ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of twenty pounds’. It is that promise, made by the governor of the Bank of England, which has given it value.
In this way, the banknote is like the bread of the Eucharist. Without getting embroiled in the theology of what Jesus actually meant, there is no disputing that his words gave to ordinary bread and wine a worth far exceeding it’s material value. It is the added value that counts: the meaning that Jesus put on the bread and wine, and that we put on it when we receive it into our mouths. The bread and the wine, have very little value until we recognize what it means.
Most people would agree that the words of Jesus were symbolic. He talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood; the literal meaning would be appalling, so this must be a symbol of something. In his letters, St. John insists that Jesus has come ‘in the flesh’: ‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh from God.’ Here ‘flesh’ is obviously symbolic language for the humanity of Jesus. Jesus was not just a god dressed up as a human being; he actually became completely human. This means that he faced our human problems, struggled against human temptations, and worked out human relationships, just like you and me. What we need to do is to take that into ourselves, internalize this knowledge. Jesus understands us, even when we are at our lowest, because he has been there himself.
The Jews said that blood represents life: when blood is flowing through a body, that body is alive; when the blood is drained out of it, the body is dead. So Jesus, telling us to drink his blood , doesn’t mean literally; he means we take his life into ourselves. Imagine for a moment a book on a shelf; until you read it, remains just a book and external to you. But once you have read it, it becomes part of you. The life of the author enters into your life. So Jesus calls us to make his life part of our life. Stop thinking of Jesus just as a character in a book. Make him a part of you, his presence always with you, your life caught up into his sacrificial life of service to others. When we speak the words over the bread and wine in the Eucharist, we give them added value; they become the means by which we can take the humanity and the life of Jesus into ourselves.
Jesus said that mere flesh would do us no good; even his own flesh is useless to us until we add the value which comes from his promise in the meaning of his words. So this Sacrament deserves our deepest reverence, because it is the means by which we take the humanity and the life of Jesus into ourselves. In this way it is like the banknote, which is still paper with printing on it, but its value comes from the promise that comes with it.
So in a little while, when we come to eat the bread and drink the wine together in the Holy Eucharist, we feed our hearts, our souls and minds and every fibre or our beings on the humanity of Jesus, and revitalise our lives by drinking his life into our bodies. And we do this together, not as solitary individuals, but as a family. The humanity of Jesus is present in the humanity of the congregation, and the human ways in which we relate to one another. The life of God flows through us, when we have lively fellowship, and allow God’s love to pass through us in the service we give to our neighbours. So in just a little while let us honour this remarkable sacrament, in which so much happens to change us, our character, our relationship to God and our relationships to each other.