Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost Lectionary Reflection, Year B
August 16, 2015
So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” Mark 6:53
One of my children’s favorite games when they were very young was called “Hungry Hungry Hippos.” The game board featured four colorful plastic marble-gobbling hippopotami. The goal, of course, was to be the hungry hippo that eats the most marbles. It was a quick game accompanied by myriad squeals and jostles, one that begged to be played repeatedly. My daughters never questioned why plastic hippos were hungry for marbles; they just knew their plastic friends should eat them with gusto and gumption and speed in order to be declared the winner.
Fortunately, we hungry hungry humans are not engaged in a marble-eating competition. But have we lost our marbles and instead tried to satiate our longing with whatever the world offers us? Are we in search of real food, of food that will fill not only our bellies? Regardless of how we fill the emptiness, we are designed in this “game of life” to crave the bread of life that Jesus offers freely and graciously to all who hunger. Only Jesus can fill our emptiness and satisfy our longings.
This is our fourth week of John’s bread cycle, and things keep getting stranger. In this peculiar passage Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. He says if we do not chomp on his body and blood, we won’t have life in us, but if we will feast on him, he will raise us up on the last day. This is probably not the gospel lesson one would choose for a seeker’s first worship service!
And there’s that whole “abide in me and I in them” notion that Jesus mentions. This is far more than just a game of Hungry-Hungry-Hippo-gimme-marbles. This is about forming a real relationship with the bread of life come down from heaven. But that’s not all.
What Jesus is talking about is participating in a two way relationship, a relationship that requires one to be “all in.” Imagine the difference between taking dainty bites of a tea biscuit and gnawing on a plate of barbequed ribs. It’s about a life of gusto, a life of focused faith, a life with Jesus at the very core of one’s being.
Yes, this is a tough concept to swallow. Just like the religious folk of Jesus’ day, we today have a hard time “digesting” this teaching. Sure we can comprehend the sacrament. We can accept that somehow, some way our hungry, hungry human selves encounter and consume Jesus in this wafer and sip of wine. We can rationalize that in our head and accept it without fully understanding it.
I suppose a question we might ask is this: Can we chew on the Bread of Life in our heart? Can we be all-in as disciples, like a kid playing that silly Hungry Hungry Hippo game? Can we keep our focus fully on Jesus?
Maybe those of us who live in the U.S. can follow the lead of our African-American sisters and brothers who know what it’s like to be hungry for justice, hungry for hope, hungry for an equal place at the table of opportunity, and hungry for Jesus.
It brings to mind an African-American spiritual, “Give me Jesus.” The singer asks to be given Jesus at all times: in the morning, at darkest midnight, break of day, at death, and in song. The words of the chorus are “Give me Jesus, give me Jesus, you can have all the rest, give me Jesus.”
This beautiful spiritual captures what it means to eat and drink the true food that is Jesus. Yes, give me Jesus for a deep, ongoing, daily relationship, nourished in Word and Sacrament, lived out in community. Jesus is the Bread of Life for hungry, hungry humans. Let’s feast!
Consider interspersing your sermon or a prayer with the verses from “Give Me Jesus.” Here’s Jessye Norman singing a version of this spiritual, and here’s a lovely version sung by the quartet Acappella.
How about a human game of “Hungry Hungry Hippo”? Not only can you illustrate the gospel lesson in a fun and interactive way, you can also teach lessons about teamwork and cooperation. Click here and here for YouTube videos. You’ll need balloons or plastic balls, small laundry baskets, skateboards or other small boards with wheels, helmets, and rope.
“Children, come and listen to me. I will teach you to respect the LORD.” Use the Easy-to-Read Version of Psalm 334:9-14 and talk to the children about what the psalmist has to say about what it means to respect God and how that can help us live a better life. It’s a pretty simple recipe for better living. Invite the children to think of things they would add. Help them write their own version of the psalm. Finish with a simple prayer.
(Photos: Chris and Sharan Mohandoss, Creative Commons License. Thanks!)