If we had an open forum with Jewish posters willing to participate on this issue, it would be clear that this is not possible without God himself abrogating his own word, but I do understand that this is essential doctrine for Christians and that it is a core belief which cannot be compromised, or else the whole thing falls apart.
But its wrong to think He was being symbolic, when He specifically said, My flesh is real meat, and My blood is true drink. Followers left Him at that point, driven away by the forbidden cannibalistic implications. He did not call them back and say, Hey, I was only kidding, it was symbolic.
You are thinking logically and clearly, JA. No one walked away when he said he was the vine and they were the branches, or when he said he was the light, and the way, just as no one walks away when we speak of the "Christian heart" for that matter, because no one takes these expressions literally.
His followers left him, as you say, because they understood his words as literal cannibalistic implications and Jesus made no effor to dispel their impression.
Except He did explain it to the Apostles.
60 Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, "This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?"
61* But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, "Do you take offense at this?
62* Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? 63* It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.