For the next five weeks, we’ll be hearing from the sixth chapter of John’s gospel—the chapter where Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” It begins, as it did today, with the dramatic story of the feeding of the five thousand with nearly nothing, and then it progresses to deeper theological ground. In order to give “The Bread of Life Discourse,” as it’s oftentimes called, its proper due, we’ll spend the next five weeks considering what it means that Jesus calls himself the Bread of Life. More specifically, we’ll be exploring the sacrament of Holy Communion. What does that mean? What does that mean for us? How does communion make a difference in our lives of faith, if at all?
In this series of sermons, we’ll look more closely at what communion is all about broadly, but then we’ll move to considering each of the “actions” of communion specifically—actions being “take,” “give thanks,” “break,” and “give.” Jesus did these things on the night he instituted the sacrament of his body and blood, and he tells us, “do this for the remembrance of me.” What does it mean for us to “do this for the remembrance” of him? It’s more than simply a memory, but an active participation in this mystery, this revelation of God’s grace given us in Jesus. When we are re-membered to God through Jesus, we are made once more one with Christ’s body, with God’s very own self—and with each other as individual parts of such a living body. And so just as Jesus took, gave thanks, broke, and gave his body and blood for our sake, what does it mean for us to take, give thanks, break, and give ourselves for the remembrance of him? To consider that, we must understand what it means to live the Eucharistic Life. And so today we begin that journey.
Let us pray. May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
When I lived at home, in Central PA with Grandma, I had a bad habit. At face value, you might say it wasn’t that bad at all, but let me explain. I loved having folks over to the house to eat. I love sharing fellowship with people and having a good time. But what made that so bad was that sometimes, oftentimes I’d invite folks over without telling Grandma how many people were actually going to be showing up for dinner. I’d invite someone one day and the day they were going to come over for the meal, I’d mention to Grandma that these extra folks were coming. She would often remark that she never knew how many to expect, and she’d playfully go on about how much extra work it was for her.
She’d worry if she was going to have enough food to feed all the folks I’d invite. We wouldn’t want them coming over and thinking that we weren’t hospitable toward them. After all, what’s the Bible say in the Book of Proverbs about someone who’s stingy with food? “Do not eat the bread of the stingy; do not desire their delicacies; for like a hair in the throat, so are they. ‘Eat and drink!’ they say to you; but they do not mean it.” She doesn’t want be the one who says, “Eat and drink,” and then appear to be stingy—and for good reason. First of all, it’s simply not polite, and secondly it’s not what a good Christian does. So I get why Grandma might first be upset that I invite folks over without warning her, but there’s a reason that I’m not too worry.
You see—Grandma never made too little when she’d cook. Even when it was just the two of us to sit down to the table, we could’ve fed a half dozen farmhands or, I kid you not, the whole Red Army with all the food Grandma prepares. Okay—maybe I kid, just a little. Having a shortage of food was not a problem at Grandma’s table, and the reason for that is simple. Hospitality is paramount.
Through hospitality we show people they are welcome, loved, and wanted in our presence. Through hospitality, we show people they belong among us. In many ways, this understanding of hospitality is not far off from the Biblical command to treat foreigners and visitors with dignity and respect. The Jewish law is pretty clear on the matter when it demands, “The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” And before we Christians think we get off easy since that’s an old Jewish law, St. Peter tells us straight up in—“Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” Yes—hospitality is a big thing and by showing it to other folks is, as the Bible tells us again, “pleasing to God.”
So today when I read the story of the feeding of the five thousand, I remembered how I was always inviting folks over to Grandma’s house to share in hospitality—even if, at the end of the day, it was Grandma’s hospitality. But as I consider more about the connection between meals at my childhood home and this passage from today’s gospel, I began to wonder why that connection was made in my head. What is going on in this text that made me think about sharing meals at home, meals where there was always enough to go around. True—the story makes it clear that there was enough for everyone, even enough to fill twelve baskets at the end, but that’s not what it is, I don’t think, that made the connection for me. Then I thought about the story and my own story from a different perspective. I started asking myself what about our life together as a church could help me understand this story from Jesus’ life in relationship to my life.
That’s when it hit me—communion. Communion is the key to unlocking the relationship and understanding this story in our own lives.
Do you like barbeque chicken? I love it, and every year growing up, I had a chance to eat some of the best barbeque chicken at the Klingler family reunion. Over the years, our family has gotten bigger with all the cousins growing up and having their own kids and now some of those kids are having their own kids. It takes a lot of chicken to feed all these people, and people always worry that they’re not going to get their fill of chicken. If for whatever reason you can’t get to the reunion when the chicken comes off the grill, you’re probably not going to get any because it’ll be all eaten up before you get there. My family takes its barbeque chicken seriously!
In today’s gospel, the disciples had more than a single, albeit huge family to feed. This was a crowd of five thousand and Jesus wants them to take care of them all. In 1st-century Palestine, five thousand people would’ve been a huge, absolutely huge crowd, and when Jesus tells his disciples to feed all these people, they rightly are perplexed. Feeding five thousand people with five barley loaves and two fish would’ve seemed just as alarming and crazy to Jesus’ disciples as it would to anyone charged with feeding any kind of crowd. I’m sure it produced an unhealthy level of anxiety for the disciples, to say the least. It’d be like telling the folks making the chicken at my family reunion they’d have to feed everyone the chicken that they love so much—only they’re only getting five chickens to start with and nothing more. You just couldn’t do it.
So what’s that all got to do with communion? When we look at communion, it can seem pretty plain and unassuming, about as impressive as five barley loaves and two fish. There’s not too much too it. Yet we’re told this is God’s great feast of love and mercy, of grace and the forgiveness of sins. When we look at the simple bread, simple wine, they can seem like God is being pretty stingy.
But that’s not really the point of communion. The feast isn’t about the bread or the wine. The feast is about knowing and believing we’re welcome, loved, and wanted in God’s presence because the promise of communion is that God really does show up when we come together to break bread and drink wine and remember Jesus’ greatest act of love. God shows up in the breaking of the bread, the bread that is Jesus’ body sacrificed for us. God shows up in the pouring of the wine, wine that is Jesus’ blood, shed for us. God shows up when everyone, regardless of who they are, are invited to feel welcome, loved, and wanted in the presence of this community. God shows up when we experience the hospitality of communion, a hospitality that is rooted in God’s promise that even when all things point to the contrary, God’s grace is plenty for us. And even then, it’s more than enough.
When it comes to God’s grace, there’s always enough for everyone, each and every one of us, to have our fill and be satisfied.
With God, enough is…enough.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.