Friday, August 13 2021
Last week, I helped us understand part of the meaning of “the bread of life” through Winnie the Pooh. Communion with Jesus Christ teaches us to love others as we have been loved by God. God loves us unconditionally and sent Jesus Christ that we might know how to be in communion with one another and with Christ. As a boy loves his bear or his pets, God loves us. There is an innocence of a child loving his stuffed animal that parallels Gods love for all of us. Maybe you have this same relationship with your spouse, partner, friends, or pets. At St. John’s we believe that Jesus is the son of the living God. The bread of life brings us in communion with Jesus and through following the Gospel, we learn how to love others and do the will of God. We struggle to understand something that is so basic to our happiness.
Today’s lesson from John’s Gospel has certainly been difficult to understand throughout history. The idea of bread coming down from heaven was probably not hard for Jews in Jesus' time because they had the stories of manna coming from God during the exodus. The idea that second century Christians ate the body and blood of Jesus would have been very difficult to grasp. As you are probably aware, the very idea of drinking blood runs contrary to Jewish law. The derivation of the Eucharist does come in part from the Jewish family meal. Before the meal, a loaf of bread was blessed, prayers were spoken and the bread was shared. After the meal, a cup of wine was blessed, more elaborate prayers were spoken and the cup was passed. The Jewish service at the temple included one reading from Moses and one from the Hebrew Bible. Psalms were read, the shema would be sung, prayers were then given and the teaching of scripture would follow. The shema was prayed numerous times each day:
She-ma yisrael, adonai eloheinu, adonai echad
Hear O’ Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One
This verse is followed by one line of text that is traditionally recited in an undertone:
Baruch shem kavod malchuto l’olam va-ed
Blessed is the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever
The remainder of the Shema prayer is taken from three biblical sources:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead, inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates (Deuteronomy 6:5-9).
At the Last Supper, Jesus teaches the disciples a new understanding of this ritual. Jesus was Jewish and therefore would have celebrated the Passover. Jesus simplifies the law in two commandments. Love the Lord with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself. You all know the words of institution from the Eucharist. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to the disciples, “Take, eat, This is my body which is given for you.” Jesus blood and body are given for our sins. In Jesus suffering, death and resurrection we are offered new life in him. The wine and bread become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. The early Christians shared a meal at their first services and eventually shared just bread and wine. Jesus simplified our understanding of complicated Jewish law to just two commandments. Love God and love one another. At times religion can make very simple concepts hard to understand, but communion is simply relationship with God and one other.