Friday, January 29, 2016

A lesson on the Holy Communion of Our Lord Jesus Christ


Jesus took the seven loaves of bread, He gave thanks, and broke them and gave them to His disciples to place before the people; and they set them before the crowd. Mark 8:6

There should be no question that for Christians the Flesh of Jesus is the center of our universe, the rising sun of our salvation. Why do we state the obvious? Because we know from the church’s long history that men all too often abused, or ignored the Sacrament and the vital benefits it imparts. There were times when people used this Holy Gift for base purposes such as generating revenue, or to threaten and control other people. At other times people stripped the Sacrament of its meaning, dispensed with it entirely or restricted it to occasional use only, as if we could survive a single day without it, but as we cannot live on the memory of yesterday’s food, neither can we long endure without the “never-failing providence” that God supplies for us in this Blessed Meal.

What we need to learn again today, besides the power and compassion of Jesus that this miracle teaches, is its spiritual lesson: that Jesus is the Bread of Life, and that the Sacrament is God’s chosen vehicle to deliver the Life of Jesus to us. Anything less is to miss the point.

Let us remember again today, that the bread which we break is the Lord’s Supper; the Lord’s, not man’s. Jesus instituted it, empowers it and blesses it. This Sacrament is not the possession of any man or group of men, so we are not free to handle it as we like, but must be careful to administer it as Scripture teaches. This means we may not open the Table up to everyone, but only to those who are first baptized, catechized, absolved, and who confess the same Christian faith we confess. Neither are we at liberty to use elements other than those prescribed by Jesus, natural bread, and natural wine. Nor can we allow those who live in open sin, and will not repent, to come to the table. Above all only those who believe that the flesh and blood of Jesus are truly here given may come, for this is not mere bread and wine, or just a symbol, or reminder of Calvary, but rather when we receive Holy Communion, we receive Jesus, who is here present, for us and in us, to do what no one else can, to free us from death and the devil, and to satisfy us as nothing else can. We must come with faith, believing that the Eucharist remits our sins, cleanses our minds, brings us closer to Jesus, and moves us farther and farther away from the sins that so easily beset us. Though we have a sense of this wondrous gift, our humanity weighs too heavily upon us, and it remains just beyond our grasp. None the less, based on our Lord’s great love, and because of His gracious command, we sing with Charlotte Elliott: O Lamb of God I come, I come.

There is another thing we should remember today; that contrary to wide spread opinion, we are not free to tinker with the church’s long established rites and rituals. We learn from this miracle that there are two important elements to the church worship: the Service of the Word and the Service of the Sacrament. First Jesus taught, and then He fed His people. The church has followed this order ever since, and there is no reason to change it. By first teaching and preaching God’s Word we hear about our sins, learn that we live in a spiritual desert, in a world of need, and that there are no provisions capable of sustaining us. There is only Jesus who stands between us, and death. Not being limited to teaching the law alone, the church centers on the Gospel which tells us that Jesus is powerful and compassionate, that He will feed our hungry souls now and always. With both words and the Service of the Sacrament, with all its attendant ceremony and celebration, she feeds us with the actual Bread of Life from the hand of her ministers.

That’s another important lesson we learn from this miracle. Do you recall the five step sequence that took place at the First Holy Communion? Scripture tells us that Jesus: took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, gave it to His disciples and said, "Take eat…" Notice the sequence in St. Mark’s gospel: Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to His disciples. This time He did not say “take eat,” but rather “take distribute!” Lay it before the people. And this is what the church has done ever since, because you see, Dear Christians, this Holy Sacrament was not a one time gift for the benefit of the disciples, but an ever present bounty that God provides, in order to transmit the Life of Jesus to us. Without the Lord’s death, the Sacrament is empty. It is nothing more than the coffee klatch, and cozy encounter, that many think it to be. Without the Sacrament how could we understand what the Lord’s death was about, or have any palpable connection to it? On that Holy Thursday we learned that what Jesus was about to suffer was accomplished in order to put sin into remission. We learn from the words of institution that He was giving His body for ours, His blood for ours, His life for ours, and now His Life is ours. Now, instead of amassing the wages we have well earned for the steady stream of our transgressions, we get something else; a gift -- the best gift -- the superlative gift of unending Life with God in Christ.

Starting at baptism, and continuing throughout our lives, as we live in the life of Jesus each day, and as He lives in us by His Word and Sacrament, is a new and better life than any other we might choose. The world yields its members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, but in Christ we are empowered, called and even ordained to yield our members to righteousness for sanctification. May God continue, by the Word and Sacraments, to call us away from the world, and to Himself. Amen

~ Rev. Dean Kavouras

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