Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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"You Are What You Eat"

John 6: 51-59

Psalm 34: 4-10

      Back in the 19th century, there was a German philosopher by the name of Ludwig Feuerbach

who coined a phrase most of us have heard before:  “We are what we eat.”  Now there’s a scary

image.  In my youth growing up in an Italian household, we had pasta three days a week. As I

grew into adulthood, I still craved my spaghetti, and continued to eat a diet very high in carbs –

bread, pasta, potatoes….. you know, all the good stuff.  Decades later, a blood test revealed that

my triglycerides were very elevated.  Guess what my doctor wanted me to cut out of my diet?

Bread, pasta, potatoes….. you know, all the good stuff.  And I remember like it was yesterday

Doc Lutzke saying to me, “You are what you eat you know.”

      Feuerbach’s point, however, was that the human body is basically organic matter.  Our bodies

incorporate the food that we consume.  And when we die, Feuerbach observed, we are reduced

to our essential elements, and in turn become food for others.  Not a very savory thought, but

perhaps the philosopher spoke more truth than he was aware of.  Long before the time of Feuerbach,

and even longer before the discovery of triglycerides, Jesus also said that we are what we eat. 

But He had in mind a different sort of food; a spiritual food.  He claimed while teaching in

the synagogue at Capernaum, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever

eats of this bread will live forever.” 

      The heart of today’s gospel lesson from John is presented in terms of contrast.  Jesus went on

to say, “This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate,

and they died.  But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”  Jesus is referring to the

ancient wandering Hebrews who ate manna in the wilderness, and eventually passed away.  But

He suggests that there is another food which comes down from heaven, and that those who

eat that food will not pass away.  What is astonishing about this promise is not just the assurance

of eternal life, but the fact that Jesus joins the promise of eternal life to the most mundane and

common of human activities – eating.  On this communion Sunday, I’d like to look at both the

promise [eternal life], and what it means to receive it [eating the bread that came down from

heaven]

    The desire to know that there is life after death seems to be fundamental to our human nature.

Enlightened as we are, and quick as we are to discount ancient beliefs about life and death, there

remains an almost desperate need to believe that there is something beyond the grave.  And our

popular culture has reflected and responded to that need.  Back in the 1940’s, “It’s a Wonderful

Life” gave us our first cinematic glimpse into the possible interaction between life and afterlife. 

More recently, hit films like “Ghost,” Beetlejuice,” “What Dreams May Come,” and “Meet Joe

Black” have tapped into that need to believe.  Television has provided us series such as “Seventh

Heaven,” “Touched by an Angel,” and most recently “Afterlife.”  And PBS has probably broadcast

dozens of documentaries on the subject.  Years ago, there was even this young psychic on TV

named John Edwards who supposedly communicated with deceased relatives of his live audience

members.

      As 18th century philosopher David Hume once stated, eternal life is not an “unreasonable fan-

cy.”  On the contrary, it’s at the very heart of the human psyche, and at the very heart of our

Christian faith.  In fact, to divorce eternal life from the Christian faith is to render our faith anemic

and puny.  In today’s lesson, Jesus reminds us that “the living Father” sent Him down from heaven.

To accept that death has the last word is to accept that the living God’s power is limited. 

But that is not what the gospel teaches.  Jesus promises that He will raise up those who are

nourished by His body and His blood. 

      It is equally true that the Christian faith is about far more than life after death.  The Christian

faith is just as much about life in the here and now.  Indeed, there is continuity between life in

this world and life in the next.  Priest and poet John Donne put it this way in his “Sermon LXVI:”

“….all the way to heaven is heaven….. so that soul that goes to heaven meets heaven here….. the

true joy of a good soul in this world is the very joy of heaven.”

      The promise that eternal life belongs to those who eat and drink Christ’s body and blood

grounds us in this world.  The promise of eternal life is not somehow annexed to a set of elaborate rituals.

  We are not asked to bathe in a sacred river, or to offer upon an altar, or to repeat a magical formula. 

Instead, we are simply invited to a meal.  But I imagine some asking themselves, Can it be that simple? 

Can we really receive eternal life by eating and drinking at the Lords’ table? To answer that question, first imagine

how we come to the Lord’s Table.  In the world in which Jesus walked in His human expression, bathing was relatively

uncommon.  But if one was invited to a dinner party, that was occasion to not only bathe oneself, but to anoint oneself with oil.

  Perhaps the modern equivalent would be men splashing on some Brut after their shower, or women ‘anointing’ themselves

with Oil of Olay.  But humor aside, before we come to the Lord’s Table, we are washed in the waters of baptism, and anointed by God’s Holy Spirit.

      Also, to sit down at table in 1st century Palestine implied that the guests were at peace with

the host, and with one another.  Jesus makes it clear that we are to be reconciled with our sisters

and brothers before offering our gift at the altar.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul urges that we “eat the

bread and drink the cup” only after having examined ourselves, and that would certainly include

dealing with issues of reconciliation and peace with others.  So, can it be that simple? 

      The 16th century Protestant reformers condemned the Roman Catholic mass because the consecrated bread

and wine had become isolated from the other parts of the liturgy.  The elements had become ends in themselves. 

However when we properly celebrate the Sacrament at the Lord’s Table, then we will have met Jesus all along the way.

  We will have been baptized into His death and resurrection.  We will hear Him speak through the voice of Scripture. 

We will be reconciled with those we have sinned against.  We will be truly nourished by His body and blood. 

And finally, we will hear Him command us to go into the world to do His will.  All that being understood, in answer to the question

Can we really receive eternal life by eating and drinking at the Lord’s Table?, the answer is a resounding Yes!

      The late 2nd century theologian Irenaeus of Lyons called the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper

“the medicine of immortality.”  Jesus Himself never used the metaphor of medicine, but He did

promise that if we are nourished on His body and blood, and all that goes with it, we will have

eternal life --- right now, and onward forever. 

      As we gather this morning at the Lord’s Table, let us remember that the meal we share with

believers on earth is the heavenly banquet in earthly guise; a foretaste of Kingdom glory.  Saints

and angels gather around whenever we set the table.  Whether the Sacrament is celebrated with

pomp and ceremony at St. Paul’s Basilica in Rome, or with a loaf of Wonder Bread and a jug of

Welch’s Grape Juice  at summer camp, or somewhere in between, understand that it is an

extension of the celebration of eternal life, and celebration of the food come down from heaven

which makes eternal life accessible.  You are what you eat.  Yes.  So come.  It’s time to eat well.

 

 

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102