I Kings 2:10-12, 3:3-14 Psalms 111 Ephesians 5:15-20
Little Johnny was walking around the sanctuary while his mother was doing her altar guild duties setting up for Sunday. He stopped in front of several plaques on the wall, studying them intensely. The priest came up to talk with him. “These plaques are in remembrance of all those who have died in the service.” Johnny was silent for a moment and then he said, “Which one, the 8 or the 10:30?”
More bread! Really, more bread!! When Jesus talks about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, we think about Holy Communion. In the sacrament, the ordinary elements of bread and wine are transformed by the invocation of the Holy Spirit over the elements into sacred symbols. The words and images used in the communion liturgy teach us that this is no ordinary meal. By linking it with the name and story of Jesus, this meal becomes the Lord’s Supper, the heavenly banquet.
However, this is not the only time we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God. Every time we come with open and humble hearts before Jesus, believing that he is our Lord and Savior, we are eating and drinking. Jesus has given himself to us through his incarnation, his life, and ministry on earth, and his death on the cross. Jesus’ flesh and blood is the spiritual food we need to survive in this world, and it is all we need to live forever in God’s presence.
We receive this spiritual food because of God’s grace, not our own worthiness. No matter what a human institution – churches, schools, families, says about us, each time we come in Jesus’ presence, we eat the flesh and drink the blood of the Son of God. We are spiritually fed. For whoever comes to Jesus will never be hungry, and whoever believes in him will never be thirsty. This is heavenly food, Jesus’ flesh and blood is like the bread and fish Jesus gives the crowd of 5000; it never ends.
If we read these sections of John from verse 22 to 71 in chapter 6, we might think that Jesus’ only mission on earth is to offer people spiritual food that gives eternal life. But the rest of Chapter 6 makes it clear that Jesus is concerned with the physical food people need as well. Jesus’ mission is to feed the people both spiritually and physically. And his message to us is to do the same.
One of the biggest mistakes we make in the church is when we believe that the only bread God commands us to share with people is the spiritual bread from heaven, which we think of as somehow separate from their physical needs. But God cares for our physical needs, and so God has given us enough material resources for all of God’s creation. The problem is that we have not always administered them wisely, according to God’s will. The church’s priority is always to share with people the bread from heaven, the bread that gives eternal life, while at the same time responding to their physical needs. Doing this should not be a burden for us. When we eat from the flesh and drink from the blood of the Son of God, when we abide in him, we are naturally moved to love God and our neighbors in words and deeds.
I had two guys come up to the church on Monday needing some help. They had moved to Florida with a promise of a place to rent. When they got there, the fellow had already rented it. So they were stuck in a place where they knew no one. They had to use the little money they had to stay in a motel. They had nothing but the clothes on their backs as they returned to Waycross. I listened to them and asked how I could help. They didn’t say give us the body and blood of Jesus. But they did say help us to find a place to live. I have known them for a while and know they have a history of not getting along. But, you know God used their situation to get them to talk and listen to each other. I saw a renewed commitment from them for each other’s good. I was able to help them – they were fed with food, and blessed with housing, and clothes and most of all hope that someone cares.
How are we able to share the bread of heaven? How are we empowered? It is in the invoking of the Holy Spirit spoken in the Eucharistic Prayer – the priest asks after offering the gifts – “sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son, the holy food and drink of new and unending life in him.” It is at that moment in time that the food becomes the real presence of Jesus. Then we ask to sanctify us that we may receive – “Sanctify us also that we may faithfully receive this holy sacrament, and serve you in unity, constancy, and peace..”
Dom Gregory Dix spoke of the four-fold action of the Eucharist – offertory, prayer, fraction, communion. It has been described as taken, blessed, broken, given. The bread is taken, blessed, broken and given. Much like Jesus was given to the world to be taken up for our sins, blessed as the Son of God in the Jordan River to begin his ministry here on earth, broken on the cross and given to the world. Much like we are taken as God’s beloved, blessed as children of God, broken so that there is more room for God within in and to help us see the need for God and given out to our friends and family and workplace and community so our gifts may be used for the glory of God in the community of faith. Taken – blessed – broken – given. That is what the living bread is all about.
On our trip to the Holy Land, communion was an important part of processing what we experienced. We had flown into Istanbul and then flew to Tel Aviv. In the Istanbul airport, we saw all kinds of religious dress. In traditional Muslin dress and Jewish prayer shawls. In the airport, there were designated rooms for men and women to pray. We had seen all sorts and condition of religious Jews in Tel Aviv. It was a strong affirmation of God’s hand at work in the world. We had communion on Sunday afternoon in Tel Aviv. We had flown in early for our tour so we had a day to ourselves before meeting up with the tour folks. We spent the day in Joppa. You may recall that Joppa was where Jonah went when he didn’t follow God’s request to go to Nineveh. Joppa is full of tradition and history. So communion encompasses all of those experiences.
The reality here is the incarnation of Jesus in our hearts and in our lives. It is Jesus that we receive. The Word became flesh and moved in with us. Incarnation is so against our natural understanding of spirituality. Jesus reminds us that it is “flesh” – life in this world – and that is where God meets us. Jesus has been gradually raising the bar on incarnation. He is not only a gifted teacher, a compassionate healer, a worker of miraculous signs and wonders. He is also our “bread.” “Bread that came down from heaven.”
Incarnation means we must get up from our seats, come forward, hold out our empty hands, sip wine, and chew bread. We must open ourselves to the life-giving spirit that God is offering us. When we do, we can be Jesus for other people. Yes, more and more bread….more and more Jesus! Amen.