From time to time, all of us have been guilty of taking some remarkable things for granted, simply because they have become familiar to us. Take, for instance, the ancient and honorable game of golf. Most of us understand the basic principles of golf. Some of us play golf. Some of us play at it. But suppose you had to explain golf to someone who had never seen it before--say an Aborigine from the Australian outback. Don’t you think an Aborigine might find our game of golf rather strange?
"Why is that big man trying to punish that little ball by hitting it with that long stick?" he might ask. "He’s not trying to punish the ball." you explain. "He’s trying to drive it. He wants to put the little white ball in the tiny hole way over there, about 500 yards away." "Why not just walk over and drop the ball in by hand?" It would be a whole lot easier. Trying to hit such a small ball with such a long stick seems like a waste of time."
"Well," you respond, "that’s part of the challenge. Nobody wants to put the ball in the hole the easy way. In fact, we pay an expert a lot of money to make sure the ground around the hole is especially tricky. See the woods over there, and the rough grass and the pond and the sand traps? Those are all places where the little white ball can get caught or lost."
"Oh, now I get it!" says your friendly Aboriginal visitor. "If it takes a long time to put the ball in the hole, everyone is happy." You shake your head. "No, if it takes a long time to put the ball in the hole, someone usually gets angry. See that man over there, throwing his clubs around and cursing? He’s furious because he just hit his ball into the pond for the third time!"
"Then, tell me, "your friend asks, with a puzzled look, "why does he bother to play golf at all, if it only makes him angry?" To which you respond, "That man comes here twice a week to play so he can relax!"
And so it goes. Familiar things, like golf, that we take for granted, can seem strange to others. At the end of the first century, in the time of the early Church, in the days when the Gospel of John was written, about 100 A.D. the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper apparently seemed strange to some. It was even controversial.
The scripture lesson that I read from John, chapter six, reflects the strangeness some found in the idea of the Lord’s Supper--an idea to which we have become accustomed--that we, in some way, take the body and blood of Christ into ourselves. Many of the Jews in the first century apparently rejected that idea outright. And, John’s passage indicates that even some of Jesus’ disciples found the teaching difficult to accept. Take Christ’s body and blood into ourselves? They thought it was just plain strange.
Perhaps we have become so familiar with the Sacrament of our Lord’s supper that we sometimes take it for granted. Our lesson encourages us to consider again what communion with Christ means.
For one thing, Communion is God addressing us through all five of our senses. Communion is God trying to communicate with us in ways that are deeper than words. Every part of us is engaged when we receive the Lord’s Supper.
We hear the words of the Institution of Lord’s Supper as they are spoken. We hear the clank of the communion vessels as they are handled. We smell the unfermented wine as we lift the cup to our lips. We feel the spongy softness of the bread cube or the crispness of the wafer between our fingers. We feel the lightness of the cup. We taste the bread and wine. We see the sunlight reflected off the silver in the communion tray.
In Communion, God is attempting to reach us on the most fundamental level. We take Christ into ourselves not only through taste, but through our eyes, through our ears, through our senses of touch and smell. Communion is God reaching out to us in every way that God possibly can.
So, let’s not take the Sacrament for granted, just because it’s familiar. There’s a beautiful incident recorded by Thomas Pettepiece, a Methodist pastor, who was a political prisoner, a prisoner of conscience. Pettepiece writes of his first Easter Sunday spent in prison. He was among 10,000 prisoners. Most of the men had lost everything: their homes, their jobs, their furniture, their contact with their families. It was Easter Sunday, and they wanted to celebrate Communion. But, they had no cup for Communion. They had no wine for Communion. They didn’t even have water for Communion. Nor did they have any bread for the Sacrament.
So they practiced the Communion of Empty Hands. "This meal in which we take part, "Pettepeice said, "reminds us of the imprisonment, the torture, the death and final victory of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bread is the body which he gave for humanity. The fact that we have none represents very well the lack of bread in the hunger of so many millions of human beings. The wine, which we don’t have today, is his blood, and represents our dream of a united humanity, of a just society, without difference of race of class."
Then Pettepiece, the pastor, held out his empty hand to the next person on his right, and passed on the imaginary loaf. Each one took a piece and passed it on. Then he took the non-existent chalice, each imagining he was drinking from it. Let us give thanks, sure that Christ is here with us, strengthening us. They gave thanks to God and stood up greeting each other. And a while later, one of the non-Christian prisoners came up to them and said, "You people have something special, which I would like to have." A father of a girl who had died came up to the Pastor and said, "this was a real experience. I believe that today I discovered what faith is..."
Communion is Christ coming to us, though our five senses, through our fellowship with each other. It is Christ coming to us that we might take him into ourselves physically and, take him into ourselves spiritually. It’s a great blessing and a great privilege. Let’s not take it for granted. Amen