Dear Friends,

Today I have a guest blogger, Mike McNichols, who has an interesting approach to Eucharist, especially for Protestants, who have not taken Eucharist very seriously. I’ve struggled with the meaning of Eucharist and have now come to see it as a unique form of intimacy with Christ. I hope this essay invites you to reflect on Eucharist, no matter what your faith tradition. If you enjoy this, I’d recommend a book Mike has written called Shadow Meal.

Loaves and Fishes, Bread and Wine

 By Michael McNichols

Director, Fuller seminary, California Coast

 

I was raised up, for the most part, in Protestant/Evangelical churches. In those unique religious settings, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we usually called it, was seen as a purely symbolic ritual, serving to remind us of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. We only shared the Lord’s Supper once a month or so, and I could never quite get my mind around the whole thing. If it was only symbolic and just a way to remember something, then why did we really have to do it? Was it really necessary? I can read the Bible and remember about Jesus. I don’t need a tasteless wafer and a shot of grape juice to get me to do that.

It might just be me, but I even translate this thinking to other areas of life where symbols are used. Some of my neighbors fly American flags from the roofs of their houses. I’m fine with that, but I don’t feel the need to tell everyone that I’m an American when I live in California. The connection should be obvious.

So I’ve had to struggle and work through my thinking about Eucharist. And the more I struggle the more deep meaning I find, and the more I catch glimpses of the deeper reality behind it all.

We experience the Eucharist together in a relatively small space, as most churches do. We come, not out of our qualification or self-induced purity, but rather at the invitation of Jesus to come and dine. Our table may be a small table, but it represents the real table that Jesus has prepared—a table that stretches though the ages and across all nations. It is a table with countless seats and place settings, because the invitation to come is broad and sent to all people. It is a table where we receive the true bread of heaven, bread that will always satisfy. As Jesus said,

 

“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)

 

When I think of the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people with just a few fishes and some loaves of bread, I wonder if that isn’t what is happening at a deeper level: The real miracle is not that there is more food, but rather that there are now more people at the table. Jesus often scandalized the religious elite by claiming that the down and out, the outcasts and sinners were loved and valued by God. The religious leaders didn’t want those kinds of seats at their table because they thought it was only for people like themselves. Jesus says otherwise.

If the loaves and fishes are signs that point to Jesus, the bread of heaven, then maybe the receiving of that food is a sign of response to the invitation to Jesus’ table. The multiplication itself appears to be a sign of the limitless nature of God’s love and care and the sheer recklessness of his embrace. I don’t recall any one in the crowd having to be interviewed before eating in order to determine their suitability. Everyone was fed.

This Eucharistic practice of ours is both sign and wonder. It is sign because it points to the deeper reality of God’s broad and expansive love. It is wonder because we can never fathom how we were ever invited in the first place. But Jesus has seen through all of our attempts to hide and disqualify ourselves and has reached across years of pain, loneliness and brokenness to say, “Come.”

 

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