First Mennonite Church
January 14, 2024
Communion: Coming to the Lord’s Table for “Seconds”
Text: John 6:35-51
Today, we are celebrating the Lord’s Supper, once again. We celebrate it, on average, every three months. There are congregations where the Lord’s Supper is celebrated every Sunday. For those of us who have attended church all of our lives or for many years, we have heard over and over again what the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is and why we practice it. In other words, we know a whole lot about Communion, at least that is what we might think. But, do we really know everything there is about this Christian practice? Have we fully embodied the implications this ritual demands in our daily lives? Do we look forward with greater anticipation to this sacred meal than we do with our favorite dish? Are we moved and touched by the One who hosts us around His table, offering us not only the best but His own life in sacrificial love?
We know the warning of not taking things for granted, and we also know the saying “Familiarity breeds contempt.” The moment we think we know everything about something or someone is when complacency, apathy, or contempt begins to close our eyes from perceiving deeper into what or who is before us. When something gets so familiar to us, we begin to run into the danger of shutting our hearts from appreciating what we have or of loving with genuine love those we say we love. It is when we do or hear about something over and over again that we begin to run into the danger of taking it for granted. And the Lord’s Supper is one of those practices we participate in and hear about many times throughout our Christian life. It is not so with baptism in which we participate only once. After participating in the Lord’s Supper so many times we can begin to fail to see beyond what we already know of it.
And that is what was happening to Jesus’ Judean audience in our passage this morning. When Jesus declared that he was the Bread of Life and that he had come from heaven, his Judean audience could not see him nor hear from him any different from what they had already known about him. “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?” The Jews knew where Jesus grew up—in Nazareth. They knew his parents. They had seen him grow, learn a trade, and most likely knew when he left town. Therefore, they were either surprised at Jesus’ claim or even repulsed by what he said.
But Jesus’ audience also knew their history. They knew what God did for his people when he delivered them from the Egyptian bondage.
The Jews knew that bread from heaven was the manna God gave the Israelites during their exodus journey from Egypt. Therefore, they could not conceive in their hearts a different kind of bread God could give and much less through a common person they knew Jesus to be. However, Jesus’ claim about being the Bread from Heaven exceeded the benefits or satisfaction the manna gave the Israelites. They had to gather manna every morning. In contrast, Jesus’ claim of being the Bread and that whoever eats of it will not hunger anymore and whoever believes in him will not thirst anymore, only seemed more difficult for his audience to accept. But that was not all Jesus had to say about himself; he made an even greater claim. He also claimed Yahweh, the God of Israel, to be his own Father. And although they had seen him multiply the bread and the fish, Jesus’ claim of being the bread that came from heaven and that God was his Father, not only offended his audience’s knowledge of their history and intelligence but angered them greatly. They began to murmur against Jesus.
Jesus’ audacious claim that he has the power to satisfy the most urgent need for human life by giving them bread that satisfies forever, and water that quenches thirst indefinitely, sounded preposterous to his audience. “How could such a commoner claim for himself to be the permanent solution for humanity’s immediate, yet ongoing needs?” wondered his audience. Jesus’ claims, certainly, sounded laughable at best and blasphemous at worst.
But that is exactly how Communion might sound to a non-believer. Either under the weight of tradition or under the conviction of faith yet we say that the piece of bread we eat symbolizes Jesus’ holy body offered sacrificially. We say that the sip of grape juice is a reminder of Jesus’ holy blood that stained the rugged cross upon which his body hung. But more audacious is our claim that by participating in this simple yet solemn act we are symbolically eating the Bread of life with the assurance that each of us who do so will never die.
For the non-believer, like the Jews of Jesus’ time, they might ask us, “Are you out of your minds to believe such a thing? Haven’t you had funerals since the church was founded? How can you say you will not die? Indeed, Jesus’ promise that those who eat of him will not die could sound like a slap on our faces when we are burying our loved ones. When our loved ones die or as we grow older and begin to see signs of physical weakness and energy-level decline, we know what awaits us. And these words might seem to taunt us.
But let me read Jesus’ following words: “Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”
First, let me tell you that you are here because God in his prevenient grace led you to his Son. God drew you to this place, gave you the gift of faith, and opened the eyes of your spirit to see beyond the realm of this physical and material world and life, to the realm of eternity. Only God is eternal and only God can give eternal life. The possibility of having eternal life came to the world through Jesus—the Living Bread and that is why he said, “This bread is my flesh, which I give for the life of the world.” Thus, when Jesus instituted Communion during his Last Supper, he took the bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.”
27 Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.
Today, we stand around the Table of the Lord. God the Father drew us to Jesus. Now he feeds us with himself, the Living Bread. So, let us eat, for to us is the promise of life everlasting. And, I pray that just as we desire for seconds when enjoying a delicious meal, we would desire this Bread daily, seeking to be satisfied, strengthened, and healed in our spirit.
I invite each of you to participate in the Lord’s Supper this morning. Amen.