There are two things going on here – the promise of life and the shock of its asking price.
A promise of life – but it’s more than about just being alive – it’s about having life in you. Do you ever feel that, inside? That you are alive, against the odds, breathing, beating, fragile, amazing. ‘Eternal life’ never captures that for me, it suggests life after death, suggests something preserved, suggests living on in some way forever, non-stop, endlessly. It makes me hope it’s not eternally a wet Bank Holiday weekend in Morecambe.
But it’s on offer, eternal life, and the offer makes me question what there is about my life I’d want to see extended and lived out for eternity. It begins to make me wonder about the quality of my life, about what in my life is worth the living, worth the loving.
And that’s what the phrase is really all about – eternal life is translator’s shorthand for the life of the age to come: the life of the age to come, the life of the kingdom, the life of the age of the messiah, the time when all those prophecies we hear in advent are at last here and in place – when justice and mercy met, when the banquet of fine wines is laid, when the lion lies down with the lamb, when there’s no more dying and no more crying. That’s what’s on offer here – not some endless, everlasting life we can have if we are very good and wait patiently – but the life of the kingdom now, here, today. A quality of life. A glorious life to have within you. Now. Alive.
Fancy that? Want it? Where do I sign? Show me the dotted line! Jesus answer is distressingly direct: ‘gnaw on my flesh, chew it, munch it. Here drink my blood, thick, warm, metallic! Draw life from me. Live in me. Let me live in you.’
Yuck! It’s no wonder they all sidle off in disgust. It’s a great offer but the price is altogether too … weird. I’d prefer something harder – give me rules, give me tasks, give me secrets – make me work. Eating you is too easy. And too hard. Creepy, disgusting, sick.
How about this, Jesus, let’s pretend your flesh—your meat—is just bread, just a wafer. Maybe that way we can stomach it. Will that do? What if we closed our eyes to your blood and imagined wine instead, something sweet? Could we get away with it? Would we still have life within us? That real life, throbbing, fizzing, joyful, budding, blooming life. How’s that for a bargain?