Children - Talk about bread and share bread. Tell the story of John 6.
Communion: Id like to ask a question that I asked the children. We need to think about this question every time we gather for this Supper. Where does this bread come from?
Where does this bread come from?
Listen to what Jesus says [John 6]:
47 I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life. 48 Yes, I am the bread of life! 49 Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness, but they all died. 50 Anyone who eats the bread from heaven, however, will never die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will live forever; and this bread, which I will offer so the world may live, is my flesh.
52 Then the people began arguing with each other about what he meant. How can this man give us his flesh to eat? they asked.
53 So Jesus said again, I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you cannot have eternal life within you. 54 But anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise that person at the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 Anyone who eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 I live because of the living Father who sent me; in the same way, anyone who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 I am the true bread that came down from heaven. Anyone who eats this bread will not die as your ancestors did (even though they ate the manna) but will live forever.
There is life in bread, but not the kind of life that will enable us to live forever. Bread is a sign and it points to Jesus, the bread of life. Bread of Heaven. Bread is a sign and it points to Jesus.
So here are these crowds following Jesus around after the miracle of the bread and fish. They want more miracles. They want Jesus to supply them with endless bread. They want to see him do the manna trick all over again. Jesus has a following. A crowd. That seems to be the goal. Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was sent to teach and preach the kingdom. But notice that Jesus is strangely dismayed by the attention of the crowd [John 6]:
26 Jesus replied, I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But dont be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.
28 They replied, We want to perform Gods works, too. What should we do?
29 Jesus told them, This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.
30 They answered, Show us a miraculous sign if you want us to believe in you. What can you do? 31 After all, our ancestors ate manna while they journeyed through the wilderness! The Scriptures say, Moses gave them bread from heaven to eat.
32 Jesus said, I tell you the truth, Moses didnt give you bread from heaven. My Father did. And now he offers you the true bread from heaven. 33 The true bread of God is the one who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
34 Sir, they said, give us that bread every day.
Jesus scolds the crowds for paying too much attention to the bread rather than the sign of the bread and what it indicates. Even though they have been recipients of miracle bread, they are caught up in the wrong things. They see the sign but not what it points to.
And then they finally ask for the true bread of heaven. Like the Samaritan woman who asked for the living water so she wouldnt have to draw water from the well, these folks want miracle bread so that they can quit working in the fields and kitchen.
And Jesus confuses them yet again. Jesus has to tell them to stop grumbling (v. 43) about bread and the meaning of eating his flesh and blood. Jesus teaching actually gets offensive (v. 61) and some of his disciples leave him at that point. Before we say, Well they were just there for the bread. It was more than that. People actually lost their belief in Jesus because he was downplaying the miracles and signs and trying to focus attention on what is behind the sign. His talk of eating flesh and drinking blood just didnt seem appropriate to some of his followers.
We need this corrective word from Jesus. You cannot get any plainer than this text. Jesus is telling us to pay attention to the real food and drink and not get distracted by perishable stuff.
The followers of Christ, including us, have sometimes been like the crowds and put too much attention on the wrong things.
In the history of the church there have been arguments and complaints over how the bread actually becomes the body of Christ. Some believe that the bread is transubstantiated and it actually changes substance and becomes Christs body. Some believe that the bread is consubstantiated and the elements of Christs body and the bread are both present. Others opt for no explanation and just say the real presence of Christ is there, but we cannot explain it. And centuries later in the age of reason, some reasoned that its just bread and its symbolic. But all these debates miss the point. When we try to decide whos right and what category we should be in we are getting hung up on the bread. We are complaining about the wrong thing. The bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
In the history of church there have been arguments and complaints about who is worthy to partake of the bread and the wine. Some churches have practiced closed communion and one has to present a token if he or she has been deemed worthy. Who should and shouldnt have access to the Holy Bread and the Holy Wine has been hotly debated and some say, only those who are baptized and have a clean conscious. Others say, only those who have gone through the teaching, and still others say just leave it to the individual to decide. But all these debates miss the point. When we try to decide whos right and what category we should be in we are getting hung up on the bread. We are complaining about the wrong thing. The bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
One time I visited a congregation and the elders presided over the bread and the cup and the service was so beautiful and the sign pointed to the true bread from heaven. And those elders carried the bread into the assembly as if they were carrying Christ to the people and I watched one of these men hand the tray of bread to a couple in front of me and then for some reason I guess Ill never know, the elder looks carefully at who hes offering this bread to and he jerks it back and will not give it to them. And they seemed so shocked. And instead of the sign pointing to Christ it just pointed to the insecurities and conflicts in the hearts of those people. The bread had become more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
Once working with a large church, some of us noticed that there were college students who not only slipped out of service once they got their dosage of Lords Supper for the week, but they also it timed so that that they could slip in late at the moment just before the trays were passed around. Our concern wasn't that they were missing the sermon and the singing. It wasn't even that we didn't get to fellowship with them. It was the fact that they had been taught that you can reduce your spiritual life to a nip of a cracker and a sip of juice. We were concerned that such anemic faith was giving too much attention to the perishable stuff. The bread had become more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
I once heard of a large church that boasted that they could distribute the communion and complete the communion service in record time. Many people marveled at the efficiency and organization of getting the elements into the hands and mouths of the assembled so quickly. But no one ever thought to ask Why would you want to do that? Why turn the Lords Supper into McDonalds? Is it because we think that the Lords Supper is already so boring and isolated that we want to shorten the agony? Ive heard some worship experts say that we should learn how to shorten the Lords Supper because it is Dead Time in the worship program. Thats an odd description for something thats supposed to be all about life. But this is what happens when the bread becomes more important that the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
I know of a congregation where a woman asked if she could bake the communion bread every Sunday. She wanted to offer this as her gift to the congregation. Her recipe was unique. It wasnt fancy, it was unleavened and yet it had some sort of sweetener in it. After a few Sundays some people wondered if this bread was authorized. They wondered if sugar was a leavening agent. They demanded their old bread back so that they could worship with a clean conscious. When we are that concerned with the chemical analysis and the recipe of the bread, then the bread has become more important than the sign of the bread that points to Jesus!
When our focus is on the bread and not the sign of the bread, then we get preoccupied by our own works. Like the crowds in John 6 we work so hard for food that will spoil. For food that will not keep us from dying. And we get so intense about performing works for God.
But Jesus warns us that the only work God cares for us to do is to believe in the one that God has sent. When we accept the bread as a sign, it leads us to believe in Jesus. And we arent worried how the bread should be baked or in what sense it transfigures into the presence of Christ. When we accept the bread from heaven as sign, then what gets changed and transfigured and transubstantiated is us!
The recent ice storm has brought back a memory for me. When I was in college at the University of Arkansas and living in the dorm, my friends and I were stranded in all the snow and ice. It was a Sunday morning and we had no way to get to church service. But those of us who lived in the dorms said, lets all meet at Pomfret Hall and get together. So we all trudged out into the snow and rolled down the hill from our dorm to visit our friends. Some of us went looking for the means to serve communion. The dining halls were all shut down and I doubt they had matzohs on hand anyway. Someone had a box of saltine crackers. They sort of looked the part we thought. We went to a vending machine and found a can of Bluebird Grape Drink. We werent sure if it was made of grapes or bluebirds but it was purple. We took that little 6 oz can and poured it into Dixie Cups. I got to preside and I cannot remember much from those days anymore, but I do remember this day. I remember the faces and the room and the plate of crackers and the can of juice. And I remember that I said, These arent saltines and grape drink. This is the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. We ate, we sang, we laughed and prayed. And because we didnt get distracted by the bread, we tasted and ate the sign of the bread that pointed to Jesus Christ. And we remained in Him and He remained in us.
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