Lessons from John

…there is a promise in John that we should take firm hold of this particular Maundy Thursday: God will provide.

This is the air I breathe, this is the air I breathe: your holy presence living in me. This is my daily bread, this is my daily bread: your very word spoken to me. And I’m desperate for you. And I’m lost without you…

Michael W. Smith

Several years ago, I had the rare opportunity to study with an expert on one of the gospels. The professor’s name was Gail O’Day and she was one of the world’s foremost experts on the gospel of John. For nearly a week, I and a small room of classmates not only listened to her lecture, but we conversed with her over the gospel she loved. The words of the scriptures opening to us in a new way.

When you start reading the gospels carefully, there is a very strange gap in the gospel of John. All four gospels have records of Jesus’ baptism. But only three have the institution of the Lord’s Supper the way we hear it every time we gather around the table. John is the outlier. For many of us, this is quite a confusing discovery when we finally make it.

That week with Dr. O’Day, I learned the reason behind this omission: they didn’t need it. Because Jesus was physically present with them, the bread of heaven made flesh, there was no need to re-member his body.

Now, this is not to say that we do not need Communion. We likely do need it as much and as often as is humanly possible.

Nevertheless, there is a promise in John that we should take firm hold of this particular Maundy Thursday: God will provide.

In our tradition, we believe that the Lord’s Super is an outward sign of an inward change. That our Lord Christ is tangibly present with us. Knowing that God is able to do anything, there is no reason for us to doubt that God will still lift our hearts even if the physical elements are not present.

Christ is with us. Before us. Behind us. Carrying us. Walking with us. Working within us.

This night, the church I serve will not have physical Communion because we listened to medical experts who advised against distributing elements. Nevertheless, we will be saying the prayer of Great Thanksgiving – that ancient liturgy we speak every time we share Communion. We will hear God’s promises from scripture in the Words of Institution. And we will cling to God’s promise of the Holy Spirit as we pray together for Christ’s presence to appear.

And here is the most important lesson that this night will hold: no matter what may come, or how the church on earth is able to re-member Christ or not, Christ’s promise is that God is alive and working in us through the Holy Spirit even now. The efficacy of the Sacraments relies on God, not on us.

Tonight, our hearts beat as one as we remember our Lord’s last night on earth. Share in the joy that only Communion can bring. And trust that God is filling our need for holy sustenance no matter what.

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