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The Universal Christ
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I know a Methodist minister who had a startling experience during a communion service. He had preached the sermon and he went down to the table. When he uncovered the elements, he was surprised to discover that instead of grape juice, there was orange juice. Apparently the folks in charge had been unable to find any grape juice, so they had made a last-minute substitution. Well, the minister paused to consider whether the spirit of communion was more important than the actual bread and wine involved, decided it was, and said, "Lord, bless this orange juice, " and proceeded with the celebration of the supper.
Imagine that we were attending a communion service where we were unable to obtain the elements for the Lord's supper. Would we have to cancel communion? I agree with my Methodist friend that the spirit is more important than the physical food. In fact there are several substitutions we could make that are most appropriate
When I used to do Youth Retreats at Bonclarken, we celebrated apple communion. We took an apple, and let the pulp represent the bread and the juice the blood.
In a sense perhaps, we could make this whole planet the bread and wine of our communion. The land is the bread, the ocean the blood. The gospel of John describes Jesus as the Word that created all that is. So when we look at the creation, we can see the Word. Therefore, because the world presents Christ to us, we can think of Planet earth as our communion table, and our bread and wine,
We take the world for granted. We think that there is nothing mysterious about it. It is just the same old everyday world. But that is a blindness of which we need to be cured. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore; and preserve for many generations, the remembrance of the city of God which had been shown." If the stars appeared only once in a thousand years, we would treasure that appearance as the greatest thing in the world but because the stars appear every night we think that they are just ordinary stuff.
But the universe is not at all ordinary. The world speaks God to us. I went out this morning as the sun was rising and smelled the freshness and the newness of things. With all the warm weather we have had recently, I could almost feel some plants beginning to grow. I could almost feel the presence of God. I could almost feel purpose in creation. I could feel that the universe is going forward to achieve the purpose of the creator.
That is what we are supposed to see in the sacrament of Holy Communion. We should see God working around us and through us and in us to achieve his holy purpose. In the sacrament, we see God. We also see our part in God's creation. In the Old Testament, it was customary to bring sacrifices to the temple of God--the first fruits of the harvest, the first born of the flock. In the Lord's Supper, we also find an aspect of consecration. We have come to the table of the Lord not only to receive from God but to give of ourselves.
In order for the elements to be on the Lord's table, people did many things. Fields were ploughed. Seeds were sown. The harvest was reaped. the grain was ground into flour, and baked into bread. Vineyards were planted and cultivated. Grapes were picked and crushed for their juice. It would be astonishing if we totaled up the number of human beings who had some share in the placing of the elements of bread and wine on the communion table. And the last part of the task was not the least, members of the congregation bring the elements to the church and place them one the table.
There is a lesson in that for us. The lesson is that God requires our work. We have a part in the purpose of the world. The purpose of God will be accomplished with the cooperation of people. That means that effort is demanded of us. Sacrifice is demanded of us. Love is demanded of us.
In the Lord's prayer, we pray: "Give us this day our daily bread." The Greek word that is translated "daily" is used only once in the NT and we are not exactly certain what it means. It may mean "daily." It may mean "necessary." The verse could be translated, "Give us this day our necessary bread." Give us what we need for life. For years I have taken this verse to be a plea for actual bread, for meat and potatoes. But, as we study the verse new meanings unfold. We discover that bread is often used figuratively as food for the soul.
For example, in chapter 6 of the gospel of John, Jesus said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven; my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." (6:32-33). And later in the same chapter, Jesus says, "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh" ((51).
So primarily in MT6:11 the bread for which we are to pray is not physical bread. It is Christ. We are to pray daily for the power of Christ in our lives because that power is necessary for the life of our soul. We cannot live without Christ. The gospel of John refers to Jesus in several ways: He is, as we have noted, the "Living Bread" He is also the "living water." And in the prologue to the gospel, he is called, as we have already noted, the Word, the Logos. The Gospel of John describes the Logos as the power of God. In the beginning the universe was cold and dark and without form, and the Logos came as light and fire to make all that exists. In Jesus Christ, this same light and fire came into our darkness. We are empty without the light, yet the light has come to us. The blazing fire of the Logos has come down and clothed itself with the physical body of Jesus of Nazareth and has spoken to us and ministered to us.
It should be our prayer in every communion service that we may eat of the bread of life, drink of the living waters and that the Logos of fire will touch us and direct us, and transfigure us.
Christ is the center of creation. He has poured his life into the world. Of every living thing, of every plant and animal, the Logos can say, This is my body, for the Word is the giver of life. Of every dying thing, the Logos can say, this is my blood which is shed for you, for the Word overcame death.
Our religion has its focus on Christ. Not just occasionally, not just now and then, but every day we are to focus on him. He is our daily bread. As we stretch out our hands to take communion, we are saying, we surrender our lives to Christ. We are saying, "Lord, I am willing to be possessed by you, to be bound to you, to be led by your power to heights where I could never go myself."
The purpose of Communion is not just to help us think about Jesus, though it does that, nor is it just to praise Jesus, though it does that also. The real purpose of Communion is to bring us into living fellowship with Jesus.
The bread and the wine represent the body and blood of Jesus Christ. By his body, we mean his spiritual body. God is a spirit that part of Jesus that was God is spiritual.
On the other hand, Blood is an important part of the physical body. The most important part of the spiritual body of Jesus was his love for us. Therefore, the blood of Jesus symbolizes his love for us.
When we partake of actual bread and wine, the physical food is digested by our body and becomes part of our body. It becomes bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh. Even so, when we are united with the Spirit of Christ, we become one with Christ. Our soul and our love becomes to some extent Christ.
Paul describes this condition when he says in GL2:20: "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me." Paul said that in so far as he was capable of becoming Christ, he had become Christ, and he was living Christ. That is life at its noblest and best. That is a sanctified life, a life where God is. That is the kind of life that we want to live.
Therefore we should cling only to that by which we obtain this Christ life, and to nothing else. Everything that leads away from this Christ life should be abandoned and shunned. When we receive the bread and wine of communion, it should be our intent to receive the very life of Christ, and the extent to which we receive his life is the extent to which we truly receive communion. Amen.