Summary: The Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord’s Table -- whatever we name it -- is, by the Lord’s teaching in John 6, the seat and center of our existential experience of intimacy with Christ.
Fourth Sunday in Lent
Exodus 16:9-15, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, John 6:10-58
“Eating the Bread of Heaven”
Jesus’ feeding the 5,000 is understandably one of the most preached passages from John’s gospel. I am sure you have heard a great many sermons on it. I know I have. I’ve even preached a few of them. I would guess, however, that you have heard far FEWER sermons on the rest of John chapter six. This is the gospel which you heard read a short while ago. It is, for many Protestants, one of the most difficult portions of the Bible, for in ordinary Protestant ears – at least in American Protestant ears – it sounds so very Roman Catholic.
There is a huge irony in this state of affairs, especially for evangelical Protestants. By and large, evangelicals have championed idea that teaching the Bible is an avenue superior to all others for attaining salvation and fellowship with Christ. And, yet, this passage – which contains the express teaching of our Savior Himself, teaching that is manifestly about salvation and a believer’s fellowship with God in Christ – this passage is, as I have said, a portion of Scripture which Protestant teachers and preachers tend to shy away from. And, when they do engage this passage in the ordinary Protestant pulpit, the sermon often becomes an exercise in what I call “unpreaching” the Bible – that is, explaining why the passage under consideration is NOT ACTUALLY saying what is so obviously plain and simple on its surface.
What, then, is so simple and obvious on the surface of Jesus teaching here? It is simply this: Jesus offers himself to us as food, and that by receiving him in this way, we attain a communion with Him and through Him with God the Father that amounts to eternal life.
“54Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” If that is not talking about eternal salvation, what is it talking about? “56He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him.” If that is not talking about communion with Christ, what is it talking about?
Many found these words hard to hear. John tells us that they grumbled and disputed. And in verse 66 John notes that “66From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more.” What an irony, and what a tragedy – it is those who called themselves Jesus’ disciples who walk away, and they stayed away.
There is, in our day, a well-settled walking away from Christ among American Protestant communions. It was recently described by Dr. S. M. Hutchens in an analysis of the current worship wars coursing through evangelicalism today. [http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-09-018-v]. I want to quote a few points from Dr. Hutchens’ analysis and expand on them briefly.
Dr. Hutchens first noted a classical New Testament text for what it is that the Church is supposed to be doing when it gathers together, and that text is Acts 2:42, where we read that the church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers. Dr. Hutchens then writes this: