Today’s Scripture focus: John 6:22-59
Sometimes a pastor needs a place where he/she can go that he/she is not always “on.” For the most part, there is no place that I go on a regular basis that I’m not expected to be a “pastor,” with all the baggage that comes with that. On a certain level, I understand that and embrace that calling, but I have to admit that there are days that I’m weary and in need of a sanctuary – a space where no one is looking to me to minister to needs, a space where someone else can minister to my needs.
Most recently, I have found just such a place on Wednesday mornings at a local Episcopalian Congregation in town. In fact, the Wednesday morning mass has become the “ecumenical pastors” mass as half of the congregants are pastors of other congregations – none of them Episcopalian (it sounds better to say “half” rather than 3-4, but since that really is half of the small group, I guess it’s not stretching the truth or trying to be misleading).
I come from a United Methodist upbringing and serve in a Baptist church, so the chance to enter into a sacramental tradition once a week is very refreshing. Whereas the centerpiece of the services at my congregation is the sermon, sacramental traditions emphasize the sharing of the eucharist (Communion or Lord’s Supper) as the centerpiece of corporate worship. The highlight of the 30-minute service on Wednesday mornings is all of us gathering around the altar on our knees and hearing the priest say, “The Body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The Blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.”
It is interesting that the Gospel of John is the only Gospel that doesn’t include what is commonly known as the “Last Supper.” While it does talk of a meal, the emphasis is placed on Jesus washing the feet of the disciples, not in the meal that they share together. Instead, today’s passage is the closest thing we get in John’s Gospel to some form form of description of the Eucharist.
It is clear from the passage that many of Jesus’ hearers found this teaching to be very difficult to accept. While we take all of this talk metaphorically, it is likely that those first hearers took Jesus very literally. You can imagine the conversations that must have taken place among those in the crowd. “Did he say that he wants us to eat his flesh and drink his blood? Gross! We know that is against the law.”
I can’t help but think about those times that I gather with a community of believers around the table to partake of this holy meal. The amazing thing about that meal is that it is a great equalizer. It doesn’t matter what your status in life – rich, poor, CEO, jobless, gated community, or homeless – you are welcome at God’s table. The features that seem to define you in a social context in the world don’t apply here – race, gender, body type or shape, ability or disability – you are welcome at this meal. We gather because Jesus has called us together into this rich, diverse counter-cultural community of faith. We gather, knowing that we are all sinners in need of grace and nourishment from the broken body and shed blood of Jesus.
This is what draws me into this wonderful mystery. This is what makes remembering the Eucharist so life-giving. First, it is Jesus who is giving this meal. Jesus s the host who has called us to join him at the table. Jesus is the one who has prepared a place for us. Second, it is Jesus who is given in this meal. It is from Jesus that we receive nourishment. It is Jesus that gives life. We are drawn into a deeper, more intimate relationship with Jesus through this remembrance.
If we have any hope for any true healing this Lenten season, it will come only as we deepen on connection to, and dependence on Jesus, the Christ who nourishes us with his body and blood.
Prayer: God, I accept your invitation to the table. I find my nourishment in you. Draw me closer to your heart and bring me healing through your sacrifice and the radical, inclusive community that is formed and nourished as a result.
* Note: This blog post is part of a series of reflections for Lent. The passages are based on a booklet Steven wrote for Ecclesia, the church he pastors in Fairview, NC.