Welcome back to the Sunday Mass notes for 6-22-2014. The focus of the readings this week is on the background and importance of communion. We open with a reading from Exodus in which Moses recounted God’s provision of manna to the Hebrew people during their desert wanderings. Then we move to Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians with some teaching on the communion meal and then conclude with the Gospel lesson from John in which Jesus taught the people that He was the “bread that came down from heaven” (John 6:51). As you study this week keep in mind Saint Paul’s admonition to examine ourselves before we partake of communion that will be covered in the reflection questions.
The first reading is from Deuteronomy 8. The context is God’s giving of the Law to Moses after they had escaped from the wrath of the Pharaoh and struggled for forty years in the desert. The main audience whom Moses addressed were those who were either born during this 40-year period or those who were under twenty when it began. This was because all of the adults where were 20 years and older at the time of the Exodus perished except for Moses, Joshua, and Caleb (Numbers 14:29). The context of the reading today is Moses final address to the people about to enter the Promised Land. “Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: ‘Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully’” (Deuteronomy 5:1). He continued in the next chapter, “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it (Deuteronomy 6:1). He then proceed to recount the main points of the Law.
The reading that follows includes all of the verses that were skipped in order to provide the full context and to illuminate the complete meaning of the text.
2You shall remember all the way which the LORD your God has led you in the wilderness these forty years, that He might humble you, testing you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not. 3 He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that He might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD. 4 Your clothing did not wear out on you, nor did your foot swell these forty years. 5 Thus you are to know in your heart that the LORD your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. 6 Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the LORD your God, to walk in His ways and to fear Him. 7 For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing forth in valleys and hills; 8 a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive oil and honey; 9 a land where you will eat food without scarcity, in which you will not lack anything; a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper. 10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, you shall bless the LORD your God for the good land which He has given you. 11 Beware that you do not forget the LORD your God by not keeping His commandments and His ordinances and His statutes which I am commanding you today; 12 otherwise, when you have eaten and are satisfied, and have built good houses and lived in them, 13 and when your herds and your flocks multiply, and your silver and gold multiply, and all that you have multiplies, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God who brought you out from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. 15 He led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water; He brought water for you out of the rock of flint. 16 “In the wilderness He fed you manna which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do good for you in the end. (Deuteronomy 8:2-16)
Moses purpose of this address was to remind the people of God’s miraculous provision and protection of them during their desert wanderings (v. 2). First, Moses recounted God’s provision of clothing that did not wear out (v. 4a) as well as protection from injury (v. 4b). Second, Moses reminded the people that they were disciplined by a loving God in the same way that a father disciplines his child (v. 5). He reminded them of the manna that God provided (v. 2) a food that pointed to God’s supernatural provision as well as to looking forward to His coming Son the Lord Jesus who called Himself the “Bread of Life” (John 6:35) that we will talk about later in this study. Next, Moses gave the people some insights into the nature of the Promised Land that they were about to enter (vv. 7-9) and warned them about the dangers of forgetting the Lord and His commandments (v.11). He said that if they forget the Lord by not keeping His commandments their hearts would become proud in spite of His supernatural provision (v. 14). Finally, he reminded them of how God had delivered them from the fiery serpents (v. 15) provided water for them in the desert (v. 15), and fed them manna from heaven (v.16). Both the manna and the incident of the people with the fiery serpents prefigured the Lord Jesus Christ. The latter incident was recorded in Numbers 21 in which Moses instructed the people to construct a bronze image of a fiery serpent and place it on a stick. When the people looked in faith to the healing power provided by God through the symbol, they were saved from the danger inflicted by the snakes (Numbers 21:8). Jesus said about Himself, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up” (John 3:14). People who looked at the bronze serpent with faith in God were healed. In a similar way, those who look to Jesus in faith are forgiven of their sin and given eternal life as a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9). In both cases the people were (or are being) saved by God’s grace through faith in God.
As we saw in the first reading, the Old Testament provided many important parallels for the disciples and first Christians as they understood Jesus as the fulfillment of God’s predictions concerning Jesus Christ. As we move to the second reading, we will see how Saint Paul spoke against the idolatry that was prevalent among the people of Corinth in the First Century. Paul reminded the people about the curse that was placed on them for grumbling against God as recorded in the Book of Exodus from which we read in the first reading (Exodus 16:2). Paul said, “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction” (1 Corinthians 10:11) and urged the people to flee from idolatry (v. 14), “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” The issue that he was confronting here was the objection that some had to eating food that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Corinthians 10:18-33). The reading today is sandwiched right in the middle of this important discussion.
16 Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ? 17 Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread. (1 Corinthians 10:16-17)
Paul said is that in order to partake of the communion service we must be in unity together and in fellowship with God. Matthew Henry said it this way. “By partaking of one broken loaf, the emblem of our Saviour’s broken body, who is the only true bread that came down from heaven, we coalesce into one body, become members of him and one another.” Unlike the pagan sacrifices which were repeated and never brought and redemption to those participating, Jesus’ single sacrifice resulted in salvation for all those who believe (1 Peter 3:18). Also, unlike the continual sacrifices offered by the Jews that looked forward to Jesus, Jesus can never be sacrificed again because after he made one sacrifice for sins forever He sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12). “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). When we celebrate communion we remember the single, final sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross (Luke 22:19). We celebrate the fact that when we share in the communion cup and the bread we unite in the belief that Jesus poured out His blood and allowed His body to be broken to pay the penalty for our sin.
The Gospel lesson is from John Chapter 6. The context of the reading is after Jesus went from Jerusalem where He had healed a paralyzed man to the “other side of the Sea of Galilee” (John 6:1). It was here on the east coast of the lake that Jesus went up on the mountain near Bethsaida to teach His disciples and was followed by a large crowd (v. 2). He evidently ended up teaching this discourse in the synagogue in Capernaum (John 6:59). Jesus opened this section of teaching with a bold statement regarding His deity. He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47). This is the core of the Gospel message, the Good News, that anyone who believes in Jesus as his or her Savior has eternal life. Next, Jesus made another of His bold statements that He was God in the flesh, the manna sent from heaven when He said, “I am the bread of life” (v. 48). The Jews would have clearly understood His use of the Greek phrase “ego eimi,” translated in English “I am.” Jesus is the eternal God, the preexistent One, the “bread of life” sent from God the Father (John 6:46) as the supreme and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 10:12). Both of these statements resulted in the objection of some of the Jews (John 6:52).
As you read, notice Jesus additional use of the “I am” phrase, and how Jesus used this to confirm His identity as God in the flesh.
51 “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 “For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 “He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 “As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 “This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.” (John 6:51-58)
Jesus again affirmed His divinity when he said, “I am the living bread that came down out of heaven” (v. 51a). Next He said that the way to eternal life was by partaking of His body (v. 51b), something which was a stumbling stone to the religious Jews and Pharisees (v. 52b). Jesus answered their objection by telling them that although their forefathers ate the bread of God (manna, see Exodus 16:1-36) and later died (v. 58b), anyone that partook of belief in Jesus would have eternal life. Jesus said, “he who eats this bread will live forever” (v. 58c). In the Jewish world there was a high emphasis given upon the value of community that occurred around a meal. What Jesus said he was in part that in order to partake of Jesus, the bread of life, you must commune with Him. One of the ways that we as believer commune with Jesus is through the communion meal.
The celebration of the Lord’s Supper is a very important ordinance given to us by the Lord Jesus before He returned to heaven. Each time we celebrate communion we commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross for us on which He gave his body and poured His blood for us. Jesus instituted the communion celebration during His Last Supper with the disciples on the eve of the Jewish holiday known as Passover. This important feast commemorated the Jews deliverance from the final plague brought against the Pharaoh as recorded in Exodus 12. On the solemn even many millennium ago, the Hebrew people were instructed to slaughter a lamb and mark their doorway with its blood. On that evening the Death Angel passed through the land and killed the firstborn of every living thing, both humans beings and animals, except those whom had followed God’s commandment in faith by marking their doorways with the symbol of the Lamb of God. The Feast of Unleavened Bread in which the Jews eat bread without the yeast rising agent follows Passover. The absence of leaven is symbolic of the Jew’s rapid flight from Egypt immediately after that Passover evening in which the lamb was slaughtered in obedience to God command for the salvation of each household. The absence of leaven also came to be associated in later Jewish thought with the purification from sin, i.e. leaven is sin, such as Jesus noted when He said to be on watch for the “leaven of the Pharisees” (Matthew 16:6). The symbolism is clear; Jesus is our Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God that takes away our sin. John the Baptist said about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Jesus is the “Lamb slain since before the foundation of the world” (Revelation 13:8).
Saint Paul said about the celebration of communion, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26, emphasis added). This teaching placed a clear time limit on the celebration of this important ordinance. As we look forward to the return of the Lord we, like the Jews on the evening of the Passover, walk in obedience to the Lord’s commandment to celebrate communion until He returns.
What do the teachings from the readings and Gospel lesson mean for our lives? First, God calls us not to forsake the assembly together in the communion service (Hebrews 10:25). As we celebrate communion from now until the day the Lord Jesus returns we look back to the one sacrifice that He made for our sins. Second, we can recognize that we are saved by grace through faith in God (Ephesians 2:8-9) the same as Moses and the other believers in the Old Testament. They looked forward to Jesus through the symbols of God’s supernatural provision through manna and the healing by faith in God by humbly kneeling before the bronze serpent. The elements of communion are the way in which we remember Jesus’ body broken for us and His blood shed to pay the debts for our sin. “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26).
Bottom Line: Questions for Reflection
1. In First Corinthians 11 beyond what we read in the second reading today, Saint Paul called for believers to make a serious self-examination before the partook in communion. “But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup” (1 Corinthians 11:28). He warned, “Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord” (v. 27) and even went so far as to say that “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep” (v. 30).
If you take communion this week, as yourself the following questions.
A. What does it mean to “examine yourself” before communion? List two or three things that you could bring before God in prayer this week prior to communion?
B. Read the following quote from Jesus that He said in the Sermon on the Mount.
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:23-24).
What are some ways in which this verse speaks to the practice of examining ourselves before communion?
2. Saint Paul said the following about the communion meal:
1Co 11:24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
1Co 11:25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.”
Read the following verses and answer the questions that follow. As you read, mark any repeated words since repetition of words, phrases and ideas in a narrow context is important to understand the meaning of the text.
Hebrews 7:26-27 NAS95 26 For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.
Hebrews 9:12 NAS95 12 and not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
Hebrews 9:26 NAS95 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
Hebrews 9:27-28 NAS95 27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.
Hebrews 10:1-4 NAS95 1 For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Hebrews 10:10 NAS95 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:10-12 NAS95 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD,
A. In contrast to the continually repeated sacrifices offered by the Jews according to the Law, how many times did Jesus offer His body as a sacrifice?
B. How many times did you count the repetition of the words “one” or “once” in this section of Hebrews? Why do you think that God placed so much emphasis upon the single sacrifice of Jesus by repeating this concept over and over again in the Book of Hebrews?
C. In light of what you learned from the Book of Hebrews, can Jesus ever be offered as a sacrifice again? How does this impact your understanding of the communion meal?
Note: For a listing of readings for the Roman Catholic Mass visit this web site: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/062214.cfm
First Reading DT 8:2-3, 14B-16A (Plus skipped verses)
Second Reading 1 COR 10:16-17
Gospel Reading JN 6:51-58
Online Scripture verses for most Bible versions can be found at: http://www.biblegateway.com/