by Anita Wansley
August 23, 2009
Growing up in my home church in PA communion was a great event. Not so much in the religious sense but for the bread. Katherine Lauver, the pastor’s wife made the bread. She made the best homemade bread and then she cut off the crust and cut it into these strips that the pastors tore off pieces for us to take. Oh, the bread! It just melted in your mouth as you gracefully chewed it at the same time as 150 other people did. Then there was the grape juice. We all stood in line to drink from the same cup. I thought nothing of the hygienic ramifications at the time. I was actually informed of those when I suggested we do that here at Jubilee when I first came!
I have experienced communion or the Lord’s supper in many different churches and places. Some have been meaningful, but to be honest most have been exercises in taking in my surroundings such as the church, the type of bread, would it be grape juice or would I be lucky enough to get real wine. These days I am distracted worrying about getting my children to get in the line, telling them “no you can’t have more crackers”..you might know what I am talking about.
Here is this sacrament that the church holds as holy and it is one specific thing that Jesus asks us to do in order to remember Him and I fail miserably in the meaningful department.
In looking at the passage for today and in thinking about this being a communion Sunday I went digging for some nuggets of meaning that I could hold on to when I take communion. I looked in the four gospels and found some glimpses of what I think Jesus wants us to remember when we participate in this our Lord’s Supper:
The first scene that struck me was Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Here in the first 3 gospels we find the same scene of Jesus taking his disciples and going to pray in the garden. He says the prayer to His Father, “Father if you are willing to take this cup from me..yet not my will but yours be done” In the Luke account Jesus prayed this prayer and an angel came and comforted him. He went on praying and prayed so hard that he sweat like drops of blood.
This is an image of a man who knew what was before him. It was weighing so heavy on him. He asked His heavenly Father if it was possible to take this away and yet he surrendered totally to God’s will. As Rick Warren in his book, The Purpose Driven Life states:
“Jesus didn’t pray, ‘God, if you are able to take away this pain, please do so.’ He had already affirmed that God can do anything! Instead he prayed, ‘God, if it is in your best interest to remove this suffering, please do so. But if it fulfills your purpose that’s what I want, too.'”
He goes on to say that genuine surrender says, “Father, if this problem, pain, or circumstance is needed to fulfill your purpose and glory in my life or in another’s please don’t take it away! Surrender is hard work. In our case, it is intense warfare against our self-centered nature.”
This surrender is not a giving up or giving in but rather it is a giving over. Jesus didn’t just throw up his hands and say “Alright, I lose. God, you win.” No, he handed his will over to the one who always wins for us.
Do this in remembrance of me: Let us remember Jesus’s example of total surrender to the will of God!
Grace and Access
In Matthew 27:50, 51 “And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to the bottom.”
Jesus gave up his life according to God’s will to be the final sacrifice. In doing this He made a way for us to have immediate access to the God of the universe.
This may not have had such an impact on me without the Sunday school lessons we have had the last several weeks. We have been looking at Numbers and Leviticus. Here we saw the rules and the regulations of the tabernacle in relation to offerings and sacrifices. There were chapters listing what sacrifice had to be brought for what sin, what offering had to be made to make things right before God. But it would have been brought to the priest and only the priest could intercede for the person.
Okay, I am grateful we all didn’t have to bring the female goat, the male ox, the young sheep or whatever the sacrifice that was required for our sins this week to this place. I am grateful that I didn’t have to go to all that bother (and mess) to just hope the priest did his job and cleared me so to speak.
No, I am grateful for Jesus being the final sacrifice. In his gift of grace he offered himself up, being blameless, yet loving us so much, to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins and failures. He made a way for us to have a living relationship with our creator. He made a way for us to have access to the power, forgiveness, and love that God freely pours out on those who choose him.
That curtain being torn in two at the moment of Jesus’s death symbolized immediate access to God. No more high priest. No more animal sacrifice. No more just hoping for forgiveness. No more distance. By the amazing grace of God we can stand in His presence every day, ask for forgiveness, and feel God’s mercy pour over us.
Do this in remembrance of Me: Let us remember Jesus being the vessel for God’s amazing grace and making a way for us to have access to his holy presence.
In Luke 24 there is the scene of the women going to the tomb and the angel asking “Why do you look for the living among the dead? His is not here; he is risen!”. In the gospels we have record of the risen Jesus appearing to his followers… he was truly alive!
The power to conquer the grave is the highlight of this story, isn’t it? I have been reminded of this a lot lately. Sam sings Mighty to Save over and over and his favorite phrase to do in his heavy metal voice is “conquered the grave, Jesus conquered the grave”.
This Jesus who died and had the power to rise to life again is our Lord and Savior. He is the one who is mighty to save. He is the one who can move the mountain. We don’t just sing it, we believe it. We live by it. Jesus demonstrated God’s awesome power in conquering the grave.
When life throws us the difficulties we start to doubt God’s power, don’t we. We think our circumstance is too big. We just can’t see around it or over it. We forget the power that God has in our lives. The mountain might not always get moved where we think it should be put, but we can be confident that God will make a path over it or a tunnel through it. Although He may choose to leave the mountain right where it is, he may in His gentle way lead us around it and for some of us that may be the most powerful thing we will ever experience. He has that kind of power.
Do this in remembrance of me: Let us remember that the same power that raised Jesus to life again is available to us.
Our choice to take Christ in
The last point is taken from today’s lectionary text, John 6:56-69.
Here in this scene Jesus is teaching his disciples. Putting this in context the day before Jesus fed the five thousand, that night he walked on the water, and now this day he is teaching. His teaching was focused around the theme that he was the bread of life. Many of the people who heard started to grumble… saying who in the world does he think he is. Jesus went on to say again that he was the bread of life, not like the manna that God sent their forefathers but that he was the living bread. The people started to argue. Then Jesus gives the teaching in our text today.
Re-read from the Message:
What does this mean… this taking in of his flesh and blood? David Ewart explains it this way:
“Since blood is understood to be “the seat of life” and belonging solely to God alone, Jesus is asking us to make him-and the One who abides in him-the seat of our life/the center of life; belonging to God alone”
The bread can mean a reference to Jesus’s complete humanity and also to the nourishment needed to sustain life.
In William Barclay’s commentary he puts it this way:
“So long as Jesus remains a figure in a book he is external to us: but when he enters into our hearts we can feed upon the life and the strength and the dynamic vitality that he gives to us. Jesus said that we must drink his blood. He is saying; you must stop thinking of me as a subject for theological debate; you must take me into you, and you must come into me; and then you will have real life”
Notice that some of the people following him left at this point. Those who did not believe or this was too much for were from among his followers. Those in his circle gave up… it was too much.
Jesus turns to the rest of the disciples and asks them if they want to leave as well. Look at Peter’s response:
“Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy one of God.”
Brian Peterson in his commentary on this passage evaluates Peter’s response:
Peter’s response to Jesus is not a word of despair or a statement that they will have to settle for Jesus because there is nothing else. Peter and the others who remain have been given the gift of knowing that Jesus is the one who can give genuine life.”
Peter chose to stay with Jesus and the community of believers that followed Jesus. No matter how hard the teaching. No matter if it didn’t make sense. No matter what in his old life he had to give up he chose to stay and to follow.
We have that same choice. When we take communion we take in Christ. We proclaim that God is the lifeblood, the center of lives. We accept that the bread of Christ is our complete nourishment. We also commit to belong to the motley community of believers making the same choice to follow.
Do this in remembrance of me: Let us remember that Jesus is the only way to real, genuine life.
As we take the cup and the bread today, may we do this truly remembering Jesus. May this communion be filled with meaning as we remember Christ’s surrender, our immediate access to God, God’s unmatched power. And as we take in Christ may we be nourished to make the daily choice to join with others to follow him.