Friday, February 19, 2016

Feasting on the Bread of Life

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” 
John 6:35

I don’t come from a liturgical background, but in recent years, I’ve become more interested in celebrating the seasons of the church year. Our Baptist congregation shares space with a Lutheran church, and I anticipate with curiosity and delight the changing of their liturgical paraments. They have turned to purple now for Lent. On one banner is an image of the Lamb of God, on another a chalice and broken bread.  Whether we celebrate Lent officially or not, these weeks leading up to Easter can become a time of preparation and reorientation of our hearts and affections.

Most Sundays at the conclusion of our worship service, as we file out of our pews to collect the communion elements, our congregation sings Zac Hicks’ contemporary rendering of the hymn, Bread of the World, In Mercy Broken. The original, penned in the early 1800s by Anglican clergyman, Reginald Heber, was inspired by Jesus’ words in John.

Bread of the world in mercy broken,
Wine of the soul in mercy shed,
by whom the words of life were spoken,
and in whose death our sins are dead:
look on the heart by sorrow broken;
look on the tears by sinners shed;
so may your feast become the token
that by your grace our souls are fed.

It’s first a song of remembrance. It’s a weekly celebration of the Easter story—Christ’s death and resurrection for our redemption. Through communion and as we sing, we preach the gospel to each other and to our own hearts. It’s a prayer as well—a cry of believers’ hearts at the communion table for Jesus, the Bread of Life, to extend grace to his people as they come with examined hearts broken by sin, and with the weight of life, offering them to the one who bears our burdens, and calls us to eat and be filled with him.

In the sixth chapter of John, Jesus first revealed himself as this life-giving, soul-satisfying Bread, and invited the crowd following him to feast on him and receive eternal life. But the miracle he performed the previous day--of multiplying loaves and fishes to satisfy their physical hunger--had them clamoring for more. It was an offering of genuine compassion and concern, Jesus’ typical response to suffering and need, yet the event also served to provoke a response from the people that revealed their hearts. They wanted a manna-making prophet—bread from heaven—yet they failed to recognize the Bread of Life come down from heaven standing before them. The crowd turned away, rejecting the true bread and the answer to their true hunger. They couldn’t see him, and repulsed by the suggestion that they eat his flesh and drink his blood, they failed to understand that true life comes through believing on him. But the disciples heard him that day: “Lord … you have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” 

As believers, this is our confession as well. We know Christ as savior, and understand him to be the one who heals the brokenness of our souls and brings us into relationship with the Father. Yet we, too, struggle to see these truths—to see him—under the press of the urgency of our felt needs. Particularly as special needs parents and caregivers, the demands of disability caregiving can become so overwhelming as to even dictate the ways we relate to God and communicate with him. Petitions for developmental gains, healing, provision, physical help, and protection, consume our prayers. There’s nothing like crisis to keep us seeking him, and for some of us, raising a child with a disability provides a constant supply. He is our provider, and he asks us to come and to seek, but disability can also easily keep us earthbound in our longings, and can skew our understanding of our greatest need. He is still our greatest need and in him is our greatest rest.

“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” John 6:56

How does one feed/feast on Jesus daily in the context of very challenging demands? First, he gives the grace to feast. Feasting consists of coming and believing. There is no coming to him, and there is no believing without grace. Similarly, there is no abiding without his grace. So ask for it—ask for the very desire to know him more intimately. Additionally, we intentionally practice returning our thoughts to what we know to be true of him. We abide in him when we meditate on the word and the truth we know. And we ask again for the grace to remember, especially when our hearts despair. JI Packer says in his book, Knowing God:
Meditation is the activity of calling to mind, and thinking over, and dwelling on, and applying to oneself, the various things that one knows about the works and ways and purposes and promises of God. It is an activity of holy thought, consciously performed in the presence of God, under the eye of God, by the help of God, as a means of communion with God. (p. 23) 
May we in these weeks leading up to Easter, reorient our hearts and affections to reencounter the all-satisfying Bread of Life. He calls us to feast on his word, feast by his grace, and so feast on his goodness and on the hope only he supplies.

“We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread,
And long to feast upon Thee still:
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.”
Bernard of Clairvaux

(Packer, J. I. Knowing God. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973.) 

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