Dear Church Family,
Last Thursday saw the annual celebration of ‘Corpus Christi’ in the church calendar. The English name of this great feast is the ‘Day of Thanksgiving for the Institution of Holy Communion’. Elongated names aside, it is a wonderful opportunity to look The Living Bread, Christ himself, and celebrate the sacrament He has left to His church.
Photo by Kate Remmer on Unsplash
I have encouraged those on the Biblical Foundations course to start connecting the Old Testament stories with passages in the New Testament – and Corpus Christi is a good opportunity to do this. Starting with the Old Testament narrative regarding Israel wandering in the desert in the years following their escape from Egypt, we come across the miraculous feeding that God provides for his people. In Deuteronomy 8:15b-16 Moses reminds the people:
“He made water flow for you from flint rock, 16 and fed you in the wilderness with manna that your ancestors did not know, to humble you and to test you, and in the end to do you good.”
This mysterious substance that fell from the sky each night was to nourish and strengthen Israel on its long sojourn in the wilderness. They stopped eating it as they entered into the Promised Land. Moving into the New Testament, we read John 6 in which Jesus says these words:
48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
Christ is comparing the bread he offers to the Manna eaten by the Israelites in the desert and we are, therefore to understand Holy Communion in light of the Manna in the wilderness. If we expand the picture here, we can see that the people of God were fleeing from Egypt, which represents slavery, sin and oppression. It is not a place God desires us to be as it represents all the ways we are incarcerated by the power of death. We all know what this is like – it is part of the fallen world we live in. But the Israelites are escaping this and heading to the Promised Land, a picture for us of the complete joy and freedom we are promised in the life and love of God. It is our destination, our redemption, our hope. We might want to take a closer look at the place between these two extremes – the desert or wilderness.
Photo by Fares Nimri on Unsplash
As Christians, we have turned away from old lives of sin and selfishness, but we are also painfully aware that we have not yet seen the completeness found in the Promised Land. The world is broken and not as it should be. Life can be difficult and uncomfortable and for those of us who had forgotten that truth, 2020 has proved just how testing things can be for all people, across the world. The temptation for the Israelites was always to go back to the old ways – the place where there was at least a decent meal. The same is true for us as we face the challenge of living out and making sense of our faith in these difficult times, giving in to sin and despair. The desert is hard, but it is transformative.
The answer to both of these situations is sustenance. God provides His people Manna in the book of Exodus. Christ comes and offers his own body and blood to nourish and sustain his people. He even reminds his friends that those who ate manna still died but those who eat the bread He offers will have eternal life. His flesh will sustain us for the journey through the desert we find ourselves in. He alone is what we need – our ‘daily bread’ if you will. It is naïve of us to believe that we can make our way through this life without being fed on what the Lord Himself is offering.