Eph. 5: 15-20 Be careful how you live, not as unwise, but wise
John 6: 51-58 Bread From Heaven
“Chewing? Munching? Ew, Yuk”
At Our Saviour’s, we celebrate communion rather regularly. During the year we offer it every Saturday. This summer we offer it every Wed. On Sundays we offer it every 10:35 service and every other Sunday at 8, and 9:15. Do you ever think about the words we use? I know when churches started offering it more frequently, some said, “It will take away the meaning and importance of it.” I hope that’s not the case, I like to look at it as a free gift to be received and welcomed as often as it’s offered, but sometimes, I admit, we shut off the words as kind of like, “it’s something to get through.”
Listen again. “In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to the disciples to eat. ‘Take and eat, this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.’ Again after supper he took the cup, gave thanks and gave it for all to drink saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, given and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sin. Do this for the remembrance of me.’”
Now imagine you hear those words for the first time. I remember years ago when my wife and I were short term missionaries in Japan. We served two very small churches along with a full time missionary. During the week we taught English to various groups and ages, but we also held Bible Studies and on Sundays we helped with the Sunday service.
I remember one Sunday before the service started and I was standing outside greeting the few attendees. There was an unfamiliar face. A young man looking rather apprehensive and nervous was just pacing up and down the sidewalk. Being the good missionary I introduced myself and invited him in. He stepped back. “Oh no, I couldn’t go in there!” “Why not? We’re friendly folks.” “No, No!” He was adamant. We went back and forth and finally after one more invite he said, “I hear they eat bodies and drink blood in that place!”
Ouch. But that is honest. When we read the lesson today it sounds almost like cannibalism. Imagine what it must have sounded like to those folks gathered around Jesus for the day and hearing these words for the first time. ”Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” Yikes.
For those Jewish listeners, this would have been an abomination. There were strict prohibitions against consuming blood or sometimes even touching blood. And if that isn’t enough, for the last several weeks you have heard about Jesus as the Bread of life and we think of eating of bread, but in vs 54 the Greek word changes and it is more literally a crunching or munching. Jesus’ words would have been appalling.
Martin Copenhaver was presiding over communion one day and describes the scene. The communion table was draped and the chalices and plates were out and prepared. The congregation was respectfully silent. He began to share what we call “the words of institution” very solemnly. He repeated the familiar words, “This is my body, broken for you…this is my blood shed for you…” A small girl suddenly said in a loud voice, “Ew, yuk!” And the congregation was horrified at the disruption. But maybe she was just listening closely.
Now David Lose, one of my favorite theologians usually calls it like he sees it. He poses the question that bothers him. “So what!” “What does all this talk about flesh and blood and heavenly bread and even the Lord’s supper have to do with the ins and outs, the ups and downs, of everyday living? What does it have to do with our hopes and fears, loves and hates, our living and our dying? What does it have to do with us 2000 years later, struggling to make ends meet?”
We want more clarity and not abstract promises, and then we realize Jesus is telling the truth. “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life. For my flesh is the real food; my blood is the real drink.” We realize Jesus is serious. In these words we realize just what is at stake for Jesus, just how much we are worth to him. He loves us so much he would give his life for us. In these verses, he offers to us his very own flesh and blood, the flesh which will be stretched on a cross for our sake, the blood which will flow freely from his hands feet and side, also for us.
I read a statistic a few weeks ago, I don’t know when it was from (the article just said “the recent past”) or how accurate it is, or who did the study, but the question posed was, “What do people feel is the most important part of the worship service? In the Lutheran church, 83% rated Holy Communion as the most important part of the worship service. More important than preaching or singing or praying. Why? What makes it so special? Why does it touch people so deeply? I think the Gospel today speaks to these question.
In communion we see in a very concrete way just how much God loves us and cares for us. Enough to die for us.
Pastor Ed Marquart writes of a time he visited a member of his church with communion. Her name was Edie and she was dying of cancer of the esophagus. She had a tracheotomy and could speak only with airy, whispered sounds. He read to her words from today from John 6. “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will never die but live forever.” She shot back at him from her hospital bed, “What did you say?” He said, “I didn’t say it but God’s Word said it, “Whoever eats my body and drinks my blood will live forever.” With her breathy voice, Edie whispered loudly and forcefully to him through her wind pipe and tracheotomy. “Give me some of that bread and wine.” It was as those she heard those words for the first time. The words penetrated her and she knew she was eating soul food and drinking soul wine for all eternity, before her body died.
All of the other Gospels record the last supper. Those are the words we use before communion. Today’s lesson from John is as close as John gets. But as David Lose concludes, “This language is as vivid as we can muster. We celebrate the Last Supper and God comes to us again to offer us a promise made so concrete and solid so that we can touch and feel, taste and eat it.” I love how Martin Luther simply speaks about the mystery of communion. “In communion we receive ‘Forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is also life and salvation.’”
One last story shared by Pastor Ed Marquart but I’m guessing it applies here. He was visiting with a man who was a bit down in the dumps and the man said, “Marquart, I appreciate your sermons. The speak to my life. But to be honest, for me, they are up and down. Good ones, and not so good ones. I’ve found that Holy Communion is one constant in my spiritual life. Forgiveness. Life. Eternal life. That’s what I receive when I take communion.”
Come and eat. Come and drink. Rejoice in the promise. God meets us where we are.
(more of Lose conclusion?)