In the gospel of John we hear and learn some things about Jesus that we don’t hear in the other gospels. Jesus makes himself known in some very descriptive ways through several statements that begin with, "I am." "I am the good shepherd," he tells us. "I am the true vine." "I am the water of life." "I am the resurrection and the life." In the 6th chapter of John there is a long conversation that takes place between Jesus, his followers, and the traditionally religious people after he tells them, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven."

In the gospel of John we hear and learn some things about Jesus that we don’t hear in the other gospels. Jesus makes himself known in some very descriptive ways through several statements that begin with, "I am." "I am the good shepherd," he tells us. "I am the true vine." "I am the water of life." "I am the resurrection and the life." In the 6th chapter of John there is a long conversation that takes place between Jesus, his followers, and the traditionally religious people after he tells them, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven."


This leads to a pretty significant misunderstanding about what Jesus means, which he doesn’t seem to help by saying, "unless you eat the flesh of the son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you." That sounds pretty graphic. And the people to whom he was speaking thought so, too. "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?" they say. It’s a gruesome image that also violated the sensibilities of the food laws at the time. But, Jesus was talking about something else, of course. He was referring to the bread and wine of the Eucharist, of communion. The people who would hear these stories later were being pointed toward the last supper Jesus had with his disciples. It was the time and place where he gave himself to his disciples, pointing toward his death and being united with him through his resurrection.


There are many different ways of understanding communion – from the very high, mystical understanding that the bread and the wine become the flesh and blood of Jesus once it’s sanctified, that it symbolically is Jesus’ body and blood, to the simple understanding that we participate in the meal given to us by Jesus, which reminds us that he gave himself to us and to the world as a sacrificial gift. They are each good ways of understanding what Jesus meant by these words within your own tradition.


For the one who was the word made flesh, to participate in this good gift, which is what Eucharist means, given to us of bread and the cup is to be made one with God’s word as we ingest it, as we eat the bread of heaven and drink from the cup of salvation. To be made incarnate is to have flesh, to live and breathe. To be carnivorous is to eat flesh. We’re invited, told even, to eat this bread, drink this wine, to taste this incarnation of God. And as we ingest what God has given us we become one with it.


Imagine having God’s word course through your veins, nourish your cells, feed your brain, become a part of your body. When we receive God’s gift of love that way, it might change how we do some things. What happens when you meet a poor person when God’s incarnation is a part of who you are? What do you do when you see something wrong happen when your body is being nourished by God’s word? What choices do you make when the living bread is a part of who you are?


Maybe we would make our own "I am," statements: "I am different now." "I am a part of Jesus’ living bread." "I am called to live an ethical life because of what’s living in me, nourishing me, feeding me."


The life of the world might be different then by what Jesus gives us to eat.


Lander Bethel is the minister of Grand Avenue Presbyterian in Sherman and First Presbyterian Church in Denison. He obtained a degree in psychology from the University of Oklahoma before attending McCormick Theological Seminary. He lives in Sherman with his wife and three sons.