There is actually a mental health condition called thanatophobia – the fear of death. This phobia drives those who suffer from this malady to be afraid of doing anything. But, in reality, having anxiety about one’s mortality is actually normal in we humans. Why do you think that is?
Could it be that a part of us instinctively understands we weren’t made for mortality. We were made for life and not death. And yet, the fear of death drives much of our disordered passions. We fear not achieving this or that experience. What if I die before I get to (fill in the blank)? The fear of death shows up in our language – If they find this out about me, I’ll just die! The fear of death shows up in big and small ways and all the in between ways. And that fear drives us to a selfishness that forms us into people who are filled with defenses against anything that reminds us of death!
But we weren’t made for death!
Look at our lesson today in John 6:48-54:
The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: “I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
It seems St. John spends a great deal of time sharing with us this significant moment in the ministry of Jesus. And for good reason. This moment when the Lord reveals His wisdom in sharing His life with us SO THAT our sickness of mortality will be cured becomes the central message of Good News for the Christian Faith.
Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus becomes the chief iconic message that both comforts and confronts us with our deepest need and God’s eternal remedy. So much so that St. Ignatius calls the Eucharist “the medicine of immortality!”
And the Lord’s words here to these Jews give us a hint at why God did what He did for the people of Israel so long ago. The Lord brought them from slavery in Egypt as an icon of how God liberates us all from the slavery of the fear of death. The Lord opened the Red Sea so that they crossed on dry ground as an icon of the Baptism of water that all of us pass through to begin our journey in sharing His life. The Lord fed them with miracle bread from heaven as an icon of Him sending His very Son in flesh from heaven to feed us with His life to trample down death by death.
All of this to set all of us free from the fear of death so that we would no longer live shortsighted lives terrified we were going to die!
And how does He give us His flesh and blood? In the bloodless sacrifice of the Holy Eucharist. He enters in to death on the cross. He enters the tomb of the dead. And He resurrects His physical body from the tomb transfigured by His eternal life so that even physical barriers are no longer barriers to Him. And then He takes that very physical body, though changed, into the heavens to sit at the right hand of the Father. All for you!
Today, as we approach another Sunday where we will take the stuff of this creation and labor to form it into bread and wine and we take our labors and pray over these gifts as an offering of thanksgiving to God for His gift, and as God receives our gifts and then fills our gifts with Himself and gives our gifts back to us in the mystery of the Eucharist, we are invited to have our hearts and minds and eyes open to the eternal value of being Orthodox on Purpose!