In the film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Indy is trying to find the Holy Grail. A legend states that the Grail is the cup that Jesus used at the Last Supper. The legend goes on to say that Jesus’ followers collected some of his blood the next day when he was on the cross, saving his blood in the Grail. If anyone would drink the blood, they would be healed to the point of living forever. So when Indy discovers the cave where the Grail is hidden, a centuries old knight from the crusades is there guarding the grail. The knight has stayed alive for hundreds of years by regularly drinking the blood of Jesus. Indy eludes the knight, grabs the grail, and delivers it in the nick of time to his wounded and dying father.
Where would such a legend come from? Does it have any truth to it? It seems that legend comes from the passage we are studying this week, John chapter 6, verses 52-71. In the previous post, we learned how Jesus first said that people should eat his flesh, and with those odd, even disgusting words, Jesus threw them for a loop. Now he takes it one step further. Look at verses 53-58,
“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. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.’ He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”
Jesus says that not only should they eat his flesh, they should also drink his blood! What is Jesus talking about? For Jews, if eating human flesh was unthinkable, drinking blood was possibly worse. They would at least eat some cooked animal flesh, but it could not have any blood. No medium rare or even medium. They ate their beef well done. Now here’s Jesus saying, “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no life in you.”
I wonder if anyone in the crowd said, or thought, “What are you talking about Jesus? I feel like I have plenty of life in me.” I wouldn’t blame anyone in the crowd if they were struggling with Jesus at this point. This passage is one of the strangest passages in all of Jesus’ teaching. In fact, this passage has created some of the deepest controversy in all of church history.
I’m referring to the history of communion. When Christians observe the ritual of communion, what is actually happening? We eat a small piece of bread and drinking a small cup of juice or wine, remembering that Jesus gave his body and blood as a sacrifice on the cross.
There it is. Jesus’ body and blood. That’s exactly what Jesus referred to here in John 6. Eventually Jesus will refer to his body and blood again when he has his last supper with his disciples. Because John doesn’t include that part of the story, we must read it any of the other three Gospel stories, Matthew, Mark or Luke. Here is Luke’s version:
“And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you’.”
Did Jesus take a knife out and cut off parts of his arm for them to eat? Did he have a phlebotomist come draw his blood, and dole it out to the disciples? No, of course not. But sometimes, we hear some ideas like that. Such as in the Indiana Jones movie. And in the church.
Why? Because in John 6, verses 53-58, which we read above, it sure sounds like Jesus is saying that if we drink his blood, we’ll live forever. But Indiana Jones, sorry to say, got it wrong. Please don’t learn your theology from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade. The legend of the Grail is based in a literalistic interpretation of Jesus’ teaching in John 6. But that is an incorrect interpretation. Instead, Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that the bread and cup are symbols.
Sometimes called elements, the bread and cup represent his body and blood, which Jesus said he is giving to them, poured out for them. When Jesus, at the Last Supper, told his disciples that he was giving his body and blood, he was referring to what was going to happen the very next day. He was going to be crucified, literally giving his body and blood as a sacrifice for the sins of the world. But this amazing story of self-sacrificial love got twisted over the centuries that followed. Why? How?
Check back tomorrow as we’ll talk about how Jesus’ words got twisted.