The words of Jesus in John 6:53-63 illustrate a dynamic of Christian experience. Actually two dynamics are identifiable, one from the Lord and the one we accept. Christ tells the disciples they must eat and drink Him. I identify this as the core dynamic of the Christian experience. The disciples respond in a predictable manner with some measure of incredulity. These are "hard words." This is the dynamic we often walk in. We hear and want to believe, but we struggle to embrace the fullness of the meaning.
Considering the text again: Is Christ suggesting cannibalism? It is not indicated by the words the disciples thought such, but it can certainly be inferred they worked with little success to give the assertion of Jesus a measure of meaning they could embrace. Jesus challenges that if they cannot grasp the spiritual meaning of His words, what will they do with the physical reality of His departure, which will be fully "spiritual" but occurring in their physical vision.
Of course, this moment in the lives of the disciples is prior to the Last Supper and the Crucifixion, which for us reading after the fact, enables us to ascribe a particular meaning to the text. Herein, is the paradigm shift I believe will benefit understanding the Christian experience more fully. We interpret this moment in Jesus' ministry as a reference to the symbolic meal of communion, now practiced usually with a bit of bread and a sip of juice or wine. By reading this meaning into the text, we move in the same physical understanding of life which was the basis for the misunderstanding of the disciples. We ascribe a physical meaning and fail to grasp the spiritual reality. I believe this event in John 6 tells us more than a symbol of spiritual reality is soon to be instituted. Jesus is instructing on His whole purpose, the redemption of fallen man and the new life of the spiritual man which Adam knew and lost.
Our problem as modern Christians, and perhaps this has been true across the ages, is that we attempt to take the teachings of Jesus as being Truth about our physical lives. What is needed is an understanding that the Truth of Jesus always addresses our whole human experience and this is fully a spiritual reality. We react with little understanding, even incredulity at the supernatural aspects of Christianity. Yet, the scriptural evidence of a supernatural union between a spiritual Being and the simple human existing within the physical realm of the earth is incontrovertible.
Jesus is telling His disciples then and us now that we are to consume Him as the very food of our life. Man does not live by bread alone (physical paradigm), but by the Word, the bread of heaven, which is Himself. This is a supernatural or beyond physical experience, which the Crucifixion/Resurrection restores to fallen man. How often do we eat physical food? Is a symbolic act with a wafer every so often what Jesus means by calling disciples to eat and drink Him? No. In fact, if held up to critical scrutiny, the act of the official Communion service is for too many, little more than a form that denies the power which the symbol represents.
It is not my goal here to question the authenticity of anyone's experience of abiding in Christ. That is beyond me. However, I know I have seen the failure of my heart to embrace the fullness of the in-dwelling Christ. Knowing His Spirit alive in me is the paradigm shift. Specifically, though we live in physical bodies, the spiritual work of Jesus on the Cross and the continuing ministry of the Holy Spirit is to establish the spiritual state of being alive to and through spirit. God is not in communion with our corrupted and mortal flesh, the tent that will pass to dust. Communion with God the Father is only supernatural or beyond the material body.
For me "authentic" abiding in Christ is when I actively involve myself in the union with God for which the symbol of a piece of bread and sip of wine stand; and from this union speak and act. Authenticity is when a harmony exists between the character of Christ, my submission to His Presence and the words and actions coming out of me. This is not hard to understand, but man's Christian religion lacks this reality. Will we consume the Bread of Heaven and know the life He establishes or abide in physical forms?