In the church I was raised we just didn’t do the Lord’s Supper very often. In fact, there are years where I can’t remember if we did it at all through a particular year. And that didn’t strike me as strange or unusual. After all it was just a “memorial” of a past event. Nothing more.
Imagine my surprise when I learned that this attitude towards the Bread and Wine of the Supper was not just unusual, but downright dangerous! You see, it simply isn’t possible to read the regular practice of the Christian Faith since Pentecost and not notice that, for centuries, Christians practiced the Lord’s Supper every Sunday, and usually several times during the week as well.
Look at our lesson today in John 6:35-39:
The Lord said to the Jews who believed in him: “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me; and him who comes to me I will not cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me; and this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up at the last day.”
Notice who Jesus directs His words “to the Jews who believed in him.” No Jew of Jesus’ day would miss the reference to bread in the Lord’s words. Every pious Jew of the Lord’s day knew the story of God sending “bread from heaven” when the Jews had been delivered from the slavery of Egypt and now they were in “the wilderness” headed to the Promised Land. But they still got hungry and the place where they were was a desolate place and they would have starved to death had God not provided the Manna from heaven to feed them on their journey! The story was both well known and very important for the Lord to tie to His ministry in coming from heaven to satisfy hunger and thirst as well.
Because, just like those Jews after their escape from Egypt, so those who believe in Christ are in a “wilderness” where we still get hungry and thirsty and if we don’t direct our hunger and thirst to the proper Source, we will satisfy our desires with “food” that really doesn’t nourish us. And we won’t survive the journey to the “Promised Land.”
At the very heart of the disciplined life of a Purposeful Orthodoxy is the taming of our hungers and thirsts; our desires. And I want you to notice that these desires aren’t bad in and of themselves. They are normal. And they have been given to us by God for our salvation, but ONLY if we proactively cooperate with God in taming and directing these desires to a healthy fulfillment.
No wonder the central act of Orthodox worship is the Eucharist. The very reason the Lord instituted this “Supper” for we Christians is to direct us to the real food and drink that is our human heart’s deepest desire. And what is that hunger? What is that thirst? It is a hunger, a desire for God Himself. Everybody has a God-shaped hole inside themselves that drives a hunger for a relationship with God. But all too often we try to satisfy that hunger with lesser “foods” that don’t satisfy or quench our thirst.
Today, it’s normal to have desires. To desire is to be human. But left untamed, these desires will become slave masters to our lives, and imprison us to addictions. Jesus is the “Bread of Life” that is the Only satisfaction to your deepest desire. And the Church offers us the path to keep our desires servants to us to direct us to the life of desiring God; to being Orthodox on Purpose!