Some commentators claim that John 6 cannot be talking about the Lord’s Supper because the verbs (in vv. 52-59) are aorist. This is very implausible to me. John recorded a discourse of Jesus in which he speaks of eating flesh, drinking blood – both resonant with Eucharistic associations, and he wrote this discourse to churches that commemorated Jesus with a meal of Jesus’ flesh and blood. And yet, we know that John didn’t intend to talk about the Eucharist because of the verb tense! If John didn’t intend his readers to think of the Eucharist, he’s chosen a singularly odd way to do his business. It almost seems like a trick: Everything in the chapter SOUNDS like Eucharist, but John leaves us the subtle clue of the verb tense to let us know it’s not. A wider point about grammatical-historical exegesis: This is an example of grammar trumping the text; the verb tense controls what the passage means, rather than the whole passage controlling what the passage means. This is not the way we normally use language; when we use rich and resonant imagery, we expect our readers to notice it, and not to focus on verb tenses and not to let the verb tenses control (or cancel out) the imagery. (This is not to say that the verb tenses of Scripture are irrelevant or unimportant. They are, as is every jot and tittle. But there is not reason to make the verb tenses controlling.)
I am increasingly persuaded that those who focus on reading the Bible solely through the lenses provided by grammatical-historical exegesis habitually miss the point of many biblical passages. Reading the Bible through the lenses provided by the worship and life of the Church (not to the exclusion of grammatical-historical exegesis) gives us a very different message. The evocative language of Scripture demands to be read with something other than the emaciated imagination of the scientific exegete. The consciousness that has been drenched in the rich symbolism of the liturgy will be attuned to such things; the consciousness that see symbols merely as secondary appendages to the clear literal message of the text will not. It will fail to appreciate the weight of allusions that constitute most of the text’s message.
The weave of most of the passages in Scripture is formed primarily of the threads furnished by the liturgically-trained memory. To the mind of the exegete that is not steeped in the narratives of Scripture and the worship of the Church the Scripture will always begin to take on a threadbare appearance. This is not the fault of the Scriptures. It is the fault of the unimaginative reader who has to have everything spelt out for him.
Leithart has argued that many Protestants can’t write because they don’t have a robust sacramental theology. One could equally argue that they can’t read for the same reason (as James Jordan points out in his article ‘Apologia on Reading the Bible’). The Scriptures and the sacramental life of the Church are mutually interpretative. Abandon one and you will gradually lose the other.