John 6:54 – “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life…”
Eternal life. The one who says, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” promises that those who eat his flesh and drink his blood “have eternal life.” Not “will have,” but “have.” Yet, we tend to think that eternal life is something far off, something conferred after life, after death.
In the words of William Sloan Coffin, chaplain at Yale and then pastor at Riverside Church, New York City, “We are on the road to heaven now if today we walk with God. Eternal life is not a possession conferred at death; it is a present endowment. We live it now and continue it through death.” William Sloan Coffin, Credo, p170
Or, as another theologian puts it, eternal life has nothing to do with “timelessness and death, but is full-filled life here on earth that makes us yearn it will never end. Living life to the fullest as disciples brings great joy in the present and a hope for the future.” Jurgen Moltmann, The Coming of God, p 291
Eternal life is life lived with, in and through God in Christ here and now – this is eternal life. I suspect it comes about only as we savor the meal. I suspect it only comes about if we savor the Word of God. I suspect it only comes about if we take the time to sit down at the table with Him and linger awhile. We need to savor His flesh and savor His blood if He is to live in us and we in Him.
Christian faith would be so much easier if it were a matter of mere belief or intellectual assent. Our rather scandalous, carnal and incarnational gospel reminds us that Jesus intends to have all of us, body and soul. He intends to course through our veins, be digested fully, and nourish every nook and cranny of our hearts, bodies and souls! He wishes to consume us as we consume him. We Christians are a bloody bunch!
He wants all of us. He wants us to have all of him.
Like the manna in the wilderness, those who sit at table with Him, those who linger and savor each moment, there will be enough. For every one there is enough to go around. Everyone gets enough, no one gets too much, if you try to store it up it sours. There is sufficient bread and wine to give eternal life for all of us, with baskets and baskets left over.
We moderns are not usually inclined, says John Booty, to give thanks for that which is sufficient. But this is exactly what Jesus has in mind.This is why we call this Eucharist – literally Greek for Thanksgiving.
The real question for all of us is whether or not we are willing to take time out of our daily lives, even on our Sundays, to linger with the Word of God? To savor the fullness of life He means to give us? Are we ready to accept this eternal life right now? Are we ready to begin here and now to commit to “living life to the fullest as disciples?” Eternal life is a present endowment.
What does this present endowment of eternal life look like? Our Baptismal Covenant gives us a sort of job description as to how we as a community of disciples are to live life to the fullest as we answer five questions.
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers? More simply put, will we read the Bible, get together with others, take communion and pray. Discipleship is not a life for loners – we are companions in the Way – literally “those who share bread.” Jesus does not send his disciples out to do the work he gives us to do on our own – he sends us out in pairs.
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? The Chinese Book of Wisdom, the I Ching, frequently counsels, “Perseverance furthers.” We are to be those people who persevere in resisting evil – which means first we must recognize evil. And, we are to acknowledge our “manifold sins and wickedness” as we used to say, say we are sorry, and move on with our eternal life lived with God in Christ. Not a lot of public role models on this one. We as a people repeatedly are forced to spend millions of dollars to investigate and coerce people to say, “I am sorry, I did it, I won’t do it again.”
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? That is, does everything we say and do proclaim the Good News of God in Christ? What is that Good News anyway? As I read the gospels it is that we are God’s Beloved – each and every one of us. That’s it. God could have said something else: If you’re very very good I will love you. Or, if you are very very sorry for not being very very good I will love you. Or perhaps worst of all, I love you, now get back in line before I change my mind! God says quite plainly, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Once we accept and embrace and embody this news eternal life really begins!
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? This is, believe it or not, the most controversial of our promises we make. Underlying this question is the assumption, the belief, that there is in fact something of Christ in all persons. This should not shock us since the whole story begins by saying male and female we are all made imago Dei – in the image of God. So we are to recognize this and serve this in all persons, not some persons, not most persons, but all persons. All. We truly need to spend time contemplating just what “all persons” really means.
And then comes the real kicker: Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being? There it is again: all people and every human being. Note the verb, to strive: to devote serious effort or energy, to work, to labor, to go all out for justice and peace for all people. If there was ever a time in the world, in our country, in our major cities, in our neighborhoods in need of people who strive for justice and peace the time is now. Now is the time for eternal life lived with God and out of this job description we call our Baptismal Covenant. To this we all say, “I will with God’s help.”
Jesus teaches us to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” – our manna – His flesh and his blood. The daily bread he offers us is the opportunity to strive for justice and peace for all people; to respect the dignity of every human being; to seek and serve Christ in all persons; to make sure that everything we say and do will proclaim the Good News of God in Christ.
It is a tall order, this eternal life we are given. It is a gift for which we give thanks. We need only accept eternal life to have it right here and now. After our prayers will we give God in Christ – the Word of God – the necessary time to give us the daily bread we need to satisfy our deepest hunger and deepest thirst? Will we linger at the table and savor His presence? Will we seek God’s help to fulfill the promises of our discipleship? Not even God knows the answer to this question – only we do.