Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Devotion of the Day: Blood and Bread

And now we take a Break from "Photo of the Day." It's that time again: time for Matt to write devotionals for the Hospital Chapel services. Will he write five all new ones or resort to digging in the stacks of older devotionals before week's end? Stay tuned to find out...


Well. Here’s Jesus (point to stained glass). He looks very gentle. Very meek and mild. He’s holding a lamb, and the other sheep are looking towards him with loving trust. He is indeed a good shepherd. It’s no mistake that we have this image of Jesus here in chapel. Day after day, hurting people, you, the very people watching stream through this place seeking the peace and hope that the banners on either side of this room point us to. But if we really take Jesus seriously, if we’re willing to take a long hard look at him, I think he’s more multi-faceted than any stained-glass mosaic can make him. Sometimes, if we’re honest, Jesus can be downright confusing.

Listen to this story from John’s gospel. Jesus has been talking to some of the religious Jews not long after he has just done his miracle where he fed 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish. He’s trying to teach them that they have greater need than food.

John 6 (NASB)
41 Therefore the Jews were grumbling about Him, because He said, "I am the bread that came down out of heaven."
43 Jesus answered and said to them, "Do not grumble among yourselves.

47 "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life.

48 "I am the bread of life.

49 "Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

50 "This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

51"I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh."

52Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, "How can this man give us His flesh to eat?"

53So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves.

54"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.

55"For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink.

56"He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.

Wow. He did he just say that? Remember these are Jews we are talking about here, religious Jews. They live by a code of rules that defines them, that binds them together into a community. Their very identity is bound up in what they don’t eat, what they don’t do, what lines they don’t cross. One of the things they don’t eat is blood, and certainly not the flesh of a man. Nevertheless, Jesus, a religious Jew himself, is saying that if they don’t eat his flesh and drink his blood, they have no life in them. He is the bread, he is the blood. He’s saying that the very thing that they had been taught would make them most unclean, most sinful, in their own eyes, and God’s, that this is the thing they must do if they are to have true Life. This very strange, very strange indeed.

The response of the people hearing it attests to that: “This is a hard saying, a difficult teaching, and who can hear it?” How can we make any sense out of this? What does he want us to do? Have you ever been here with Jesus? Have you ever found yourself in a situation you never thought Jesus would let you get to? A low you never thought you could reach? How can we make sense out of this? What are we supposed to do?

Now, we can look back on this passage and many of us read our own faith back into it. “He’s talking about the Lord’s supper,” we tell ourselves, “He never really expected them to drink blood.” That’s all well and good for us now, 2000 years later with decades between us and this “hard saying.” But that’s cheating. These people were there in the middle of it, trying to figure out how to deal with what they’d just heard; the paradox of having life from eating someone else’s flesh and drinking someone else’s blood; from taking someone else’s life. Just like them, all of you here are in the middle of your own struggles to make sense out of the events that have ransacked your life and broken every rule you thought would keep you safe or separate from the kinds of suffering you now face. The reality is that sometimes Jesus is hard to understand.

Many of you, as you live through days and weeks, months even in this strange purgatory of the hospital; in the dark, timeless cave of the intensive care waiting-room; many of you begin to see truth in the contradictions.
  • In giving up control of the care of our loved ones we find the peace to think more clearly about the choices we have to make for them.
  • When with great sorrow and pain we take the patient off the ventilator machine because they’ve told us they don’t want to live like that, only to discover that they go on breathing on their own.
  • For some, the truest healing comes from death. For some in the hope for resurrection and new life, and for others in that new life that springs from the word that: yes, we have a new heart to put in your chest.
  • Or maybe in that holy sacrament that takes place every time a nurse in the ER hangs a unit of “O-negative” and that bag of blood squeezed from some stranger’s arm courses into the flesh of a trauma victim. Each thirsty cell drinks it in, and they have a chance again to have life within them.
Yes, if you spend enough time in the hospital, in this world of people wrestling meaning out of their pain, you begin to see past the strangeness of what Jesus says sometimes, past the incongruity between the circumstance to what you thought you knew about God; you begin to understand one of Jesus’ other that deeper paradoxical truths: that

Matt 16.25 "whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

Join me in prayer.

1 comment:

ange said...

i like the devotions too. :)