by Rev. Fr. John Brian, Wisconsin
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy living Spirit - one True God:
"Lord, evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34)
My beloved ones, I am honored to address you during this week following what is rightly called the Church's birthday, Pentecost. For it is on Pentecost that the one Holy Spirit was spread to all the Apostles, comforting them and granting them spiritual to fulfill their purposes in Christ Jesus - a unity and a diversity - one church.
Today, we are living proof of that comfort and power. We must never lose sight of this reality. That God-the-Father sent His Only-Begotten, God-the-Son, for the redemption of us and all creation AND that this salvation is being worked out to this day, even in this present moment, through the gracious work of God-the-Holy-Spirit. The veil between creator and creation has been rent and a clear path back to the Godhead has been preserved for us in the Apostolic Church, which is the embodiment of Christ's mission of salvation, that is spiritual health and well-being for the eternal life ahead of us.
On this first Sunday after Pentecost, Jesus Christ in John's Gospel lesson (6:26-35) reminds us and clarifies for us as He did for His apostles, that we follow the way of Christ given to us, because (verse 26) "...[we] seek [Christ God], not because [we] saw the miracles, but because [we] did eat of the bread and were filled."
In Holy Orthodoxy, we do not need to be convinced by spectacular incidents nor supernatural occurrences because we have the Bread of life in Holy Communion. We accept that the Holy Spirit was indeed given for the spiritual nourishment and healing of the entire world. So, we acknowledge that many important events, both personal and public, have occurred beyond the normal function and usual protocol of what are called natural laws by science. However, in Holy Orthodoxy, these events are lived in the context that no higher blessing can be given above the fullness of being one in Christ by partaking of Holy Communion.
If Holy Communion was just a communal meal, then I am sure that it would not need the power and sacramental grace of Holy Spirit. It is Communion with Christ, and this creates a special bond of communicants. It is not a communion with other people. How many have been to McDonald's for lunch in a downtown city location? Do you really feel that simply sharing the same space and similar food that you have enjoyed a communion with the other patrons? Not usually. Such an experience could be endowed with the Holy Spirit for the work of salvation, but it is of a different nature than what we have been given by Christ through His Apostles and their successors, until it has been given to us.
What an honor! To realize that the sacrament and the memory has been preserved for us in this present age! Holy Communion is not a gift we have created in memory of a special event for ourselves - like a home-made card that we make then address to ourselves. No, Holy Communion, and all of Holy Qurbana, is a living testament of the powerful descent of the Holy Spirit alive today in the Holy Orthodox and Apostolic Churches. This is why Holy Communion, in its fullness, is not the lowest common denominator of Christianity, rather it is the highest peak to be reached by the faithful.
"Lord, evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34)
Baptism in the name of the Holy Trinity is considered the lowest common denominator of Christians, as Orthodox Churches since the second Ecumenical Council have accepted these baptisms. But such a baptism does not mean one is prepared for Communion with Christ. When does a child first receive communion in Holy Church? That's right - after the anointing with Holy Muron. Then a child is prepared to receive Holy Communion which is the completion, the perfection, the whole of the realization of Holy Baptism. If not, then Holy Baptism is just a bath and Holy Muron is just perfumed oil.
Just as Holy Baptism and Holy Muron prepare us for that first Communion with Christ, so Holy Penance and Absolution, fasting and, if needed, anointing of oil for healing, are efforts to bring us back to the spiritual clean state that immediately followed the gifts of Holy Baptism (the Gift of Illumination) and Holy Muron (the Gift of the Holy Spirit). All of this effort, because we know the preciousness Holy Communion in Christ.
"Lord, evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34)
Dear ones, in light of this understanding, Christ continues to speak to the faithful in verse 27: "Labor not for the meat which perishes, but for that meat which endures unto everlasting life, which the Son of man (Jesus Christ) shall give to you, for him (or her) that God the Father sealed." Our sustenance for eternal life is guaranteed because we have all, as Orthodox Christians, been sealed with the anointing with Holy Muron as a seal. AND OUR ETERNAL LIFE HAS ALREADY BEGUN. I emphasize this because it seems that so many are waiting for eternal life before doing the spiritual right things, as though it was part of a retirement package. I seem to ask many people, "when does eternity begin?" The only answer is "now." The present moment is the axis point in our linear time. But this is another lesson.
To continue, John's tells us in his gospel, that the seekers asked about the miraculous and awesome works that Jesus had done. It is hard to tell if they are hiding their greediness for special power or if they are being genuine when they asked: "What shall we do that we might work the works of God?" (verse 28)
Rather than permission or even encouragement to perform miracles, He clarifies our work: "This is the work of God, that you believe on him whom God has sent." (verse 29) Most scholars agree that "him" in this verse refers to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. However, there are some that say "him" refers to the Holy Spirit. Still others, as a foreshadowing of the Apostles who are sent. In Holy Orthodoxy, all these assertions can be correct.
Then, in verse 30, they want to know how to tell if Jesus is really "him whom God has sent." They want a supernatural sign. In a challenging manner, they mention the Old Testament blessing of manna in the wilderness as such a sign, saying in verse 31 "He gave them bread from heaven to eat." Manna, the bread from heaven, was a physical real food that kept the Israelites alive in the desert during their 40 years of wandering. It is also understood to be an allegory as well as a precursor for that which was to come.
All we need to do is partake of Holy Communion in the Orthodox manner, being properly prepared, then it will be our food for the way, the fulfillment of Christ's own words in verses 32-33: "Jesus said to them...it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out from heaven and gives life to the world."
Let us, as the seekers in this gospel lesson, respond with one accord, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." (verse 34)
May we be blessed to hear our Lord's voice of reassurance, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst" ( verse 35).
We need no other spiritual sustenance - all our life, all our forever life, is nurtured by this Holy Body and Blood.
Once we have taken Holy Communion, we are now in Communion with Christ, we are truly "in Christ" and here is where the epistle lesson of Paul gives us further direction (read 2 Corinthians Chapter 5, verses 17-20). Often the Church, in the wisdom of the lectionary (that is the choices of selected passages from the Gospel and Epistles for each day), expresses greater truth when the appointed passages are taken in concord with one another.
Another scripture appointed for the Sunday after Pentecost, is actually one I refer to often. It gives me pleasure to point out that the Bereans, who have no epistle written directly to them, were "more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily, to see whether these things [the fulfillment of messianic prophecy by Jesus Christ] were so." Acts 17:11
Please, my beloved, be as the Bereans, search out the Truth, examine the Scriptures daily, but also be noble-minded, not petty. Let us raise our minds above the mundane things of this life and receive the refined spiritual essence of heavenly manna prepared for us in the traditions given to us from the foundation of Holy Church.
Let us, as those in the gospel lesson, say with one accord, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34)
St. Paul writes so poignantly to our present circumstance. When we are in communion, we are "in Christ." This means by fully and faithfully partaking of the tremendous and hallowed gift of Holy Communion, we can be "new creatures," with special duties in Holy Church for the continuing ministry of reconciliation. Instead of looking for shortcuts to salvation, we will understand the Good News that Christ sent the Apostles to bring to the corners of the world. Not a lowest common denominator, but the gift of the way to attainment of the highest of ideals - complete reconciliation with God. Once we have partaken of the bread that will sustain us through all eternity and attained this reconciliation, if even for a moment, then we go out from the Holy of Holies into the world to share our hope and our love that is Christ, in Him and with Him.
"we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating you through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2Cor. 5:20)
My beloved, come to the table that is fully laden with food for the way. Come to be fully embraced by Christ through His sustaining Body and Blood, so that through us, together all those that have come before us and await our arrival, we may be honored in continuing the Work of God that is the love of God for everyone and everything. Let us not overlook feeding the bodies of the poor, the destitute and the drought stricken, even as we seek to prepare the souls of the spiritually hungry to be filled with the Bread of Life.
Let us say with one accord, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." (John 6:34)
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