We continue our discussion of what the death of Jesus means by looking at the profound ways God has given the church to experience his grace through sacraments. The Word “Sacrament” comes from the Latin word sacrementum which means “holy mysteries”. That’s not a terribly helpful definition. Saint Augustine was one of the great theologians of the church and he defined sacraments as, “the outwards signs of an inward grace,” or even more simply, sacraments are, “visible words.”
God not only communicates his grace to us by words we can hear or read, but by things we can touch and taste. The Protestant church recognizes two sacraments instituted by Jesus: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Our focus this week is on the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper is sometimes called the Eucharist (which means “thanksgiving”). More often in the Protestant church we call it Communion. Communion is a helpful word to understand the Lord’s Supper. Communion literally means, “united with”. Christian faith confesses that by way of the “means of grace” (hearing the Word of God and partaking of Baptism and Communion) we are united with Christ. We become one with him.
Listen to what Jesus tells the crowds after one of his most famous miracles: the feeding of the 5000 with loaves and fish. We read in John 6:35-58…
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty…
Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “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. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”
Christian faith teaches that those who trust in Jesus do more than just learn from him , we are spiritually connected to him. We experience union with God through Christ.
The night Jesus was betrayed, Jesus took the symbols of the Jewish celebration of Passover and declared that the broken bread and the cup of wine are like his own body and blood, a body broken and killed on the cross. By his death on the cross, Jesus is making a new covenant with his people. A promise that they will never be separated from the love of God if they would put their faith in him. More than any other teachings or healings or miracles, the purpose of Jesus life was to die. Like we discussed in our last class session, the death of Jesus is more than a sad story: it is the atonement for our sins. It is the solution to our problem.
Christian life is so much more than just learning to do good. It is finding our life within the life of God. It is experiencing God’s intimate love within us, and finding our life in him, through the grace of God poured out in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Last year in between a lot of silly jokes, actor Chris Pratt got up on stage before an audience of millions to have people consider this idea: you have a soul, it can be made alive in God by way of grace, bought with precious blood.
Journaling Questions this Week:
- Why do you think Jesus chose bread and wine for one of our “means of grace”?
- What does it mean for us to be, “Crucified with Christ”?
- When and where do you feel union with Christ?