Today is World Communion Sunday. That of course means that on this day, regardless of faith tradition, Christians all across the world are gathering around the Lord’s Table, to share in the Eucharist, the Last Supper.
Christians in the Kanton Islands, who are seventeen hours ahead of us, have shared in communion. Christians in Hawaii, who are six hours behind us, will share in communion soon.
All Christians, in all places, today, come together, around one common table, to share in this meal of remembrance, this meal of forgiveness, this meal, of hope, peace, joy, and love—this meal, of new life. And though all the Christians of the world come around this one table, somehow, some way, there is room enough for all. There is room enough for all, because that is what God is able to do.
In a world of division, God unites. In the midst of hate, God loves. In a place saturated with sin, God forgives. In a merciless environment, God offers grace. In the torment of death, especially senseless death, God brings life. And even though that is what God does every day, it is what comes fully alive and into focus on World Communion Sunday.
Today, regardless of our faith tradition, regardless of how we do it, regardless of what kind of bread, what shape it takes, what taste is has—regardless of what kind of drink—whether grape juice, real wine, or even Coca Cola because it’s the cheapest and safest beverage available—Christians are uniting, coming together, gathering, to share in a meal that is all about life.
Think on that. Sit with that. Imagine that. Let this image, let this reality come into view in your mind’s eye, and then let it sift down into your heart…
For in a world that seems so determined to destroy itself…
In a world where heinous violence has become normative…
In a world where death and destruction has become more fascinating that life and creating…
We need a day like today, an intentional day that is World Communion Sunday, to remind us that our God is not a god of hate, not a god of judgement, not a god of death. Our God… Our Creator… Our Savior… Our Sustainer… is a God who is all about life.
In our text for today Jesus asserts, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” The person who eats this bread is promised endless satisfaction— freedom from hunger and thirst— and life everlasting. Consume this bread, and you’re eating for eternal life. But not everyone who is listening to Jesus believes what he says.
Some people listening to him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee are very skeptical. In particular, the Jews are grumbling and wondering about Jesus because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven” yet they are well aware that he’s the son of Joseph and Mary, a couple of regular Galileans that they know personally. With the two of them as his parents, they wonder how he can say, “I have come down from heaven.”
And really, it’s a good question. If the 10-year-old daughter of your next-door neighbor claims, “I have come down from heaven,” you’re going to think she has an active imagination. If the 30-year-old daughter of a neighbor says, “I have come down from heaven,” you’re going to wonder what kind of controlled substance she’s on.
All that is to say is that the Jews in this passage aren’t necessarily opponents of Jesus. There’s no evidence that they’re antagonistic like the religious authorities who plan hand him over to the Romans for crucifixion.
“These Jews”, says Professor Adele Reinhartz of the University of Ottawa, “are not monolithically arrayed against Jesus. They are just confused and concerned.” And who wouldn’t be? Not only is it an odd thing to hear, let alone say, it’s just too good to be true—bread that will give us life…forever. That seems as far-fetched as… oh, I don’t know… all the Christians of the world coming together, around a single table, to share a meal. But yet it’s all true.
And it’s true because…our God is not a god of hate, not a god of judgement, not a god of death. Our God… Our Creator… Our Savior… Our Sustainer… is a God who is all about life.
This past week, our worlds were flooded, once again, with the reports of death. The death of a baby in Cleveland. The death of nine students at an Oregon community college. The death of refugees. More and more death. Again and again…death. Senseless violence, intentional targeting due to judgement, hateful rage—it all happens again and again and again, and each time it does it robs us of security, of peace, of hope, of joy, of life.
We are then left dumbfounded, shaking our heads—even numb as President Obama so accurately said—all with just one lingering thought and question… Why? Why did this happen, again? Why such violence, again? Why such hate and judgement, again? Why do some just want to see the world burn?
All fair and reasonable questions—I ask them myself—but these questions have no answers, and they never will, which means we need to ask a better question. And I believe the better question is not why…its how?
How will we respond? How will we respond to hate, violence, rage, death, and those who just want to watch the world burn?
I believe this is the better question and I further believe that there is only one answer this question. The answer to the question: In the face of violence again, hate filled judgement again, having to watch the world burn again, how do we respond?—The answer must Be: As God responds—with life. It must be this answer because our God… Our Creator… Our Savior… Our Sustainer… is a God who is all about life.
Just a few centuries after Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” Saint Augustine preached about the connection between faith and the bread of life.
In a sermon on Holy Communion, Augustine says, “What you see is the bread and the chalice; that is what your own eyes report to you. But what your faith obliges you to accept is that the bread is the body of Christ and the chalice the blood of Christ. They are life” With our eyes we see bread, of course. But with our faith we receive the body of Christ.
Through this meal, Jesus is inviting us to believe in him and to receive the eternal life that he offers us. “I am the bread of life,” he says to the Jews by the Sea of Galilee. “Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.”
The ancient Israelites ate the bread that God gave them, but it was physical bread—the kind that you can see with your eyes and taste in your mouth. In contrast, Jesus offers the gift of himself—living bread. “This is the bread that comes down from heaven,” he explains, “so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven.”
He does not want the Jews, or anyone, to get stuck on the idea of physical bread, even though they know the amazing story of manna in the wilderness. Don’t get distracted, says Jesus. Remember: Belief is the key, so believe me when I say that I am all about life. And if that is hard to believe, then put a little faith and trust in me, and just see what I am about to do.
And what he did, of course, was conquer death and give eternal life—which he did because our God… Our Creator… Our Savior… Our Sustainer… is a God who is all about life.
Jesus is all about giving, not taking. The bread that he gives for the life of the world is his very own flesh—the body of Christ, broken for us. This is bread that leads to life—again and again and again and again it leads to life. As Disciples of Christ, we can hear this, we can consume this, we can believe it, we can have faith in it. But even more so, as Disciples of Christ we must live it.
We must be the physical, tangible, seeable embodiment that in a world that seems so determined to destroy itself…, in the face of those who just want to see the world burn, we—because of this bread, because of our belief, because of who we put our trust into— we will not permit death to have the last word. We cannot let death have the last word because our God would not, and will not, let death have the last word.
This table, this meal, reminds us that we can trust Jesus to be at work inside us. Through his life, death, and resurrection we have been forgiven, we have been given grace, we have been given life.
And because he has forgiven us, we must therefore forgive. Because he has given us grace, we must therefore give grace. Because he has given us life, we must therefore give life by living as those who know that the powers of hateful judgement, vicious rage, and senseless violence will not ultimately prevail, but that God’s Holy Spirit is still at work, God has not given up despite what we see on the news, that God is still creating. That is the Good News, therefore we must live it, for it will inspire our lives, and the lives of others.
Today is World Communion Sunday. The day when all Christians gather together around one common table to share a meal that is all about life.
In a world where heinous violence has become normative…
In a world where death and destruction has become more fascinating that life and creating… We need a day like today, an intentional day that is World Communion Sunday, to remind us that our God is not a god of hate, not a god of judgement, not a god of death. Our God… Our Creator… Our Savior… Our Sustainer… is a God who is all about life. Amen.