Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Living Bread that Came Down From Heaven

I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh. The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (John 6:51-59 (ESV)
There is so much here. This is the heart of John 6. What does Jesus mean that the bread that he will give for the life of the world is his flesh. The words hit home. They are highly charged. I don’t know how to read this without thinking of the Lord’s Supper. A person can debate, obviously the Lord’s Supper was not yet instituted when Jesus spoke and taught this in the synagogue at Capernaum. What the people thought he was talking about there is up for grabs. They all thought he was crazy. And most of Protestantism has the same problem today. They ask, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” It’s a bad question because it forgets that this man is God, and God can do what he wants. All things are possible with him. When John wrote this gospel the people who first read it had been celebrating the Lord’s Supper every Sunday for at least twenty years. Given that it seems hard to fathom that John didn’t mean this to be commentary on the Lord’s Supper.
The Jews ask how is it possible, and Jesus answers that not only is it possible, but that it is necessary. “Unless you do this, you have no life in you… Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Abides, lives and remains, it is a favorite word of John has he recounts what Jesus says throughout his gospel. He uses it over and over again to describe what it means to be a Christian. The Lord’s Supper is central to this. If you want to abide in Christ then you partake of the Lord’s Supper, you feed on the flesh and blood of Jesus Christ. To cease this is to lose life, to abandon life. To let your relationship with Christ die, and to be cut off from the source of your life that is Jesus Christ. It is that important.
And this, the Lord’s Supper, keeps Justification and Sanctification by grace through faith, at the center of the Christian’s life in the church. When a church does not see the Lord’s Supper as central to the Christian life, then other things take its place. To be Christian, to abide in Christ, no longer means to feed on his flesh as he says it does. No, then to be Christian means to be forgiven once, or maybe twice, and to make a better start of your life, to follow certain rules. We don’t even bother with God’s rules though. We replace those with the rules and traditions of men, and we become no better than the Pharisees who are haranguing Jesus with this question of how he can offer his flesh as bread from heaven. When the supper is lost, the gospel is lost.
This is true when a church “celebrates the Lord’s Supper” but doesn’t believe the words of Christ, that it is his body and blood. I have reformed friends who would like to become Lutheran for instance, but they are afraid to because it would mean, not communing with their parents anymore. Now, when I hear this I think of some words Jesus had about if you do not hate your mother and father… Things like, let the dead bury the dead. Family is no excuse to not follow Jesus. This is true of your husband and your wife also. No, I mean it. I don’t care if you are a woman who thinks your husband is your spiritual head and you have to go to church where he tells you. It just isn’t true. You have a conscience, and a mind, and if you don’t think that what you are being taught is true where your husband brings you to church, than go somewhere else. It is not an inconsequential thing. Not at all. We must obey God rather than man. And yes, doing that will get us into trouble. It will cause us anguish and pain, it will result in divorce, and estrangement. It will not always look pretty in this world.
But all that is a digression. The fact of the matter is, you aren’t communing at that church. “Communion” in a church that explicitly denies the words of Jesus in the Words of Institution, is nothing more than a wafer and wine. I mean this might be a concern if you are Roman Catholic. It isn’t a concern if you are attending a Baptist or Dutch Reformed, or Presbyterian Church. It just isn’t, what you have going on there is at best a ritualized meal, at worse you have a mockery of God. (I tend to think a mockery of God.) All this to say, you actually have to be communing with Christ, by eating his body and drinking his blood, to be able to be communing with your parents or the rest of your family that you hold so dear. And the only way it is going to come about at all that you commune with them, is that you start communing. That’s right, that you finally find communion important enough for yourself, that you go where the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ can be found for the forgiveness of sins, that your faith may be sustained and grow in the way Christ has given for it to be sustained and grow. Because the Christian lives on the word of God, the word that became flesh and dwelt among us as the bread come down from heaven given for the world for the forgiveness of sins.

1 comment:

compendum said...

Thank you. When I read these verses, I think of the Small Catechism and Martin Luther's explanations, " ...in, with, and under..." as to receiving the Body and Blood of our Lord. They've stuck with me since confirmation class. I love the emphasis on the importance of communion that the Pastors of the LCMS do. It's a joy and a gift that we have this.