Like detectives we will closely examine ancient evidence, and uncover clues to help us figure out the big picture. We are sure to discover that things are often not what they seem. The case is loaded with conflicting opinions, misunderstandings and half-truths. For instance, are the rumors true that Christians eat flesh and drink blood? As we poke around this topic like a sleuth exploring rooms of a mansion we just might find a hidden staircase that leads us to the presence of our Living Lord, Jesus Christ. What could be more thrilling than that?
We will be letting the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John be our guide. On August 16 we will hear the story of how Jesus took the simple lunch of a boy and multiplied the loaves and fish to feed a multitude (John 6:1-21). We will reflect on who was welcomed at this feast of grace, and what it means to be in the presence of the living Lord through our day to day lives.
On August 23 the scriptures will show us that while Holy Communion is mysterious, it is not magic (John 6:24-35). Clergy have no magic powers, yet when a congregation celebrates the Lord’s Supper rightly they will encounter the real presence of Christ. Holy Communion is a sure and certain means of experiencing God’s grace through Christ. We will hear Jesus remind us that he is the bread of life, while the manna God gave to the Israelites and the bread Jesus gave to the multitude were simply signs pointing to him. Holy Communion is a sacrament, the means of grace by which we receive what it signifies – the bread of heaven.
What about the rumor that Christians are cannibals, eating Jesus body and drinking his blood? Some Christians in the early church were persecuted because of such gossip. August 30 offers opportunity to explore more closely what it means to ingest the teachings of Jesus Christ (John 6:41-51). It will become clear why partaking of this meal on a regular basis is just as vital for a Christian’s spiritual well being as eating regular meals is for our physical well being.
This issue of eating Christ can’t be resolved in one week. So on September 6 we will pick up that theme again (John 6:51-58). How could it possibly be true that this bread, which we baked, or bought from the grocery store becomes Christ’s body? Following the lead of Thomas Aquinas, some have adopted a theory of transubstantiation. Others find such philosophical gymnastics ridiculous and flat out reject even the notion that the meal is a sacrament. United Methodists hold fast to the belief that Christ is truly present when we share the Lord’s Supper without needing to explain how.
Finally, on September 13 we will consider further how chewing on Christ can sustain us in and into eternal life. The United Methodist Church believes that receiving the body and blood of Christ is essential to our lives as disciples of Jesus. As we rejoice this day to receive new members into our congregation we will share the heavenly banquet with them and respond to God’s great love for us with love for God, one another and our neighbors. This day will also lead us into the next worship series when we shift from thinking of worship as an event, to worship as a lifestyle that each of us is called to embrace throughout all of our days. Stay tuned for an introduction to the Vertical Habits series in a few weeks.
With such a concentrated focus on Holy Communion the opportunity is ripe to experiment with including the sacrament each week of this series. In 2004 the United Methodist Church officially mandated the local congregations to move toward weekly communion. Now, in 2015 SWUMC is making steps to honor that request. As an experiment we will share Holy Communion each of these five Sundays. Then we will return to our usual pattern of monthly communion while we take some time to prayerfully assess the experience and place of Communion in our lives together going forward.
"Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us. Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."