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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sermon on John 6:51–58
AUGUST 16, 2009

Why do you want to participate in Holy Communion?

Really, why do you want to participate in Holy Communion?

A half dozen children and parents and grandparents sat in the pews right in front of me. We had spent the last forty five minutes together in one of the First Communion classes that I teach throughout the year. They had watched and listened and at various stopping points tried to remember what I had said. Which can be amazing in and of itself when you think about it since they had already been through worship and Sunday school and were missing coffee hour. But they were troopers: They had jumped up on their feet and went along with me as I taught them the gifts of Holy Communion as a series of gestures that I call “Holy Communion Aerobics.” And now we were at the end. We had practiced kneeling and holding our hands out to receive the bread. We had discussed the choices involved. Wine or grape juice; kneeling or standing; praying at the rail or at your seat; what it means when we say “Amen,” and so on. The clipboard was being passed around for folks to write down their full names for the First Communion Certificates. But one or two adults hesitated. “We don’t think that our child is ready,” they said.

This is where it always gets complicated. A lot of us were brought up that to receive First Communion you had to be a certain age or academic school grade and then you went to class or a series of classes in which you had to demonstrate readiness by being able to parrot back on a test what the teacher told you that Holy Communion meant – what it was all about. Some of us even had to wait for 8th grade and confirmation in order to receive the sacrament - Our catholic neighbors having received it years earlier. “What’s our problem?” we thought. Why do we have to wait until 8th grade and our Catholic friends receive it in first grade? It just wasn’t fair we would moan and complain to our parents. Who would respond with a “There, there” sort of look like the one that they use when they tell you that medicine is supposed to taste bad, that’s how you know that it is working. But in this case they might say: “Well, we’re Lutheran, honey, and that is just how we do it. Holy Communion is special, so you have to wait until you are ready.” “But I’m ready now, a child might say.” And then there’s that look that suggestions that the conversation is over.

Readiness for Holy Communion – that’s always been the sticking point for many folks. When is my child or grandchild, ready? And that’s the question that a couple of folks had on their mind that Sunday afternoon some years ago.

I stood there and sensed their doubt building throughout the class. Some kids just seem to have a hard time paying attention. So when the clipboard was being passed around it stopped with them. “Pastor, I’m not sure that my child is ready.”

I hear them say it as I have heard others say it over the years and all of a sudden this question pops into my mind and without a moment’s hesitation I look at the children and just blurt it out: “Why do you want to receive Holy Communion?“

Why do we want to receive Holy Communion?
Now that’s a good question, don’t you think?
Think hard a second on that – why do you want to receive Holy Communion?
Listen to what Jesus says this morning:

Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Did you hear that?
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

And interestingly enough that is pretty much what one of the children said, it just took him a second to get there:

The questioned lingered in the air: “Why do you want to receive Holy Communion?
One young man was thoughtful for a moment, chewing over my question, then answered: “Because I want the bread and wine.”

And I’m thinking as I watched the faces of the adults present dropping fasting then the price of houses in South Florida over the past year, “Why oh why did I ask that question?”

But, I am addicted to “Why” questions so I asked one more or it was the Holy Spirit or both. You never know with the Holy Spirit – it blows why it wants stirring things up – “So why,” I began, “do you want the bread and the wine?”

“So I will have Jesus with me always,” he said.
So I will have Jesus with me always!

We Lutherans believe, teach, and profess that Christ is present in with and under the bread and wine. How Jesus is present we have no earthly idea – to us it is a mystery – and our faith tradition has room for such mystery. We do not have to have it all figured out. What we do know is that in Holy Communion we receive Christ or as Jesus, himself, puts it in today’s gospel:
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
When we participate in Holy Communion we abide.
We abide in Christ and Christ abides in us.

We may live in our home. We may live in this state. This country. This world. But we abide in Christ and Christ abides in us. Let the intimacy of that notion roll over you a moment. Christ is within you - not as a passenger on the bus that is your life – but abiding within you – in your heart, your soul – your very being.

We receive Holy Communion because we need it – it is our sustenance, our pasture as Luther calls it, our soul food, our nourishment so we may face what we shall and must in this life. That’s why what that young man said that Sunday morning was so profound.
Like him, we want Christ within us always because we need Christ there, whether we are 2 or 100; whether we can explain it or allow the very notion to silence us.

When I was attending seminary and when one of our children was small, four or five, and had by then already begun communing, we attended a nearby church as a family. With a toddler in our hands needing to be rescued from the nursery we arrived nearly late and last at the altar rail. The assisting minister for that day had missed our son’s outstretched hand and instead of bread had placed his hand upon our son’s head for a brief blessing. The man moved on and our son was livid. Before we could get someone’s attention communion was over and the final hymn was bring sung. Right then and there our son marched right up to the pastor and looked him in the eye and demanded communion. Now the line of people stretched on and on, people waiting to greet the pastor and get in their cars and head out for brunch or home or a nice drive on a beautiful afternoon. But here is this kid grabbing the pastor, getting looks from the crowd, and what did the pastor do? He takes that kid by the hand and walks him back into the church, into the sacristy and communes him, the crowd waiting for his return.

He wanted Christ, too, inside of him. Maybe he couldn’t explain it, but he knew it as well as he knew his own name. If only everyone was as hungry for Christ, as he was that day! That is why we surround ourselves with children in this congregation. That’s why they are there kneeling next to you with their tiny hands outstretched waiting for their bread. Because they have something to teach us, if we have hearts willing to learn.

Jesus said: Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.
Come hungry and expectant to the Lord’s Table today. Seek and see the children, see how eager they are to be filled with Christ – to have him abiding in their hearts and souls and very being. Pray for them and give thanks to God for them as you, yourself are nourished Allow them to witness to you even as by your welcome and encouragement and prayer you witness to them.

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