Nourished in God's Spirit
November 12, 2002
When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?"
Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"
Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God: that you believe in him whom he has sent."
So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'"
Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."
They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always."
Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst." (John 6:25-35)
Reading from Swedenborg
The Holy Supper
The Lord set up the holy supper so that through it, religion could be united with heaven, and in this way with the Lord. So it is the most sacred act of worship.
But we cannot know how this union takes place through the holy supper unless we know something about the Bible's inner, spiritual meaning. Otherwise, our thinking will not get beyond the outer, literal meaning. From the Bible's inner, spiritual meaning, we can understand the meaning of body and blood, of bread and wine, and of eating them.
In that meaning, the Lord's body, or flesh, symbolizes the goodness that comes from love. Bread means the same thing. The Lord's blood is the goodness that comes from faith. Wine means the same thing. Eating them is making them a part of ourselves and uniting them with ourselves.
This is how the angels who are with us when we go to the holy supper understand it, since they understand everything spiritually. So the sacredness of love and faith flow into us from these angels, which means it is flowing through heaven from the Lord. This is how the union takes place.
From this you can see that when we eat the bread, which is the body, we are united with the Lord through the goodness in our love for him, which comes from him. When we drink the wine, which is the blood, we are united with the Lord through our faith in him, which also comes from him.
You should realize, though, that the holy supper unites us with the Lord only when we have in us the goodness of loving and believing in the Lord, which comes from him. When we have this, the holy supper does unite us with him. When we do not, he is there with us, but we are not united with him.
The holy supper also includes and embodies all the divine worship set up in the Israelite religion. The burnt offerings and sacrifices that made up most of that religion were all summed up in the single word "bread." So the holy supper accomplishes what all those burnt offerings and sacrifices used to accomplish. (The Heavenly City #210-214)
One of the after-effects of the tragedy of September 11th was a yearning for spiritual nourishment, spiritual food, a communion with God and others to help people deal with this event, which has so touched each and every one of us. People continue to be spiritually hungry, looking for guidance and direction in making sense of things. As a church, as individuals, and as God's people, we are searching for ways to fulfill those needs.
We are about to partake in the sacrament of communion, known as the Holy Supper--an act of direct personal communion with the Lord, and with each other. What is it about this sacrament that has such deep symbolic meaning? Some churches will serve a little food and drink, and call it a sacrament because Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." Some serve the food and drink with very strict rules about who gets it and who doesn't. Some have beliefs that are very difficult to swallow about what the food and drink mean. And then we come to the question, why we are doing this? Why do we serve a little bread and wine (or grape juice) and treat it as something meaningful and important? It obviously does not fill us up. I'm still hungry if that's all I've had to eat. Does it make me any different spiritually?
Perhaps we can find the answer in considering what you and I hunger for in our hearts and minds. Could our hunger be for having our lives mean something, or having someone to love us, or freedom, trust, and appreciation, or a place to belong? Have you ever hungered or thirsted for any of these things?
Swedenborg came to a view of God that continually unfolds for me as I consider it. He wrote that God's substance is divine love, and God's form is divine wisdom. Love is substance. Food. And we hunger for affection. Its form is light. Truth. Drink. And we thirst for knowledge. So what do the symbols of the bread or flesh, and wine or blood mean? Bread sustains life; without it, life cannot go on. Thus the words of Jesus in our reading, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never hunger." The internal or symbolic meaning of bread and flesh is accepting what is good and loving into ourselves--what is positive, creative, compassionate, and loving towards God and others. As for the wine and blood, our Scripture reading tells us that those who believe in the Lord will never thirst. Symbolically, it speaks of the challenge to continually seek the truth in life--in curiosity, growth, understanding, wisdom, and openness.
What is special about this is that each of us is invited to take, eat, and drink, not the stuff that perishes and comes to nothing, but what that satisfies, lasts, gives life. Real spiritual food. Knowing the truth. If what you and I believe isn't real, we're wasting our time, and feeding on something with no life in it. And knowing love. Pretended love is nothing. Only the real thing counts. And the truth is, your life matters. Your life and the lives of others have meaning. Your life is precious because you were made out of love. And love, true love, is the substance of God--the Bread of Life.
Many people still ask the question about what Jesus meant when he said we must drink his blood and eat his flesh to possess eternal life. What does it mean? How is it meaningful to me?
Think of it this way. In a bookcase is a book we have never read. It may be a book that has been closed for decades. As long as it remains unread on our bookshelves, it is external to us. One day we take it down and read it. We are thrilled, fascinated, moved! The story sticks to us; the great lines remain in our memory. Now, when we want to, we can take that wonder out from inside ourselves and remember it, think about it, and feed our mind and heart upon it. Before, the book was outside us. Now it is inside us, and we can feed upon it. It is that way with any great experience in life. It remains external until we take it within ourselves.
So it is with God. As long as God remains a figure in a book, he is external to us. But when he enters into our hearts, we can feed upon the life, strength, and vitality that he gives us. When he told us to eat his flesh and blood, God was telling us to feed our hearts and souls and minds with life, so that we are so filled with this life-sustaining force that we will be nourished and well fed with his love and wisdom.
Let's look at communion and how it relates to our lives and those around us. I see communion as means of accessibility that goes with God's providence and his influx, which is continually reaching out to us and inviting our cooperation. Communion can reinforce our living in community with the Lord and each other. Communion deals with the basic necessities of our physical and spiritual life. George Dole put this into perspective: "If you eat," he said, "you are nourished. We don't even have to say, 'If you don't eat, you won't be nourished' for it is the Lord's will that we eat. To not eat is our own invention."
How do we respond to the Lord's offer of eating and drinking at his table? The Lord is continually present and reaching out in communion. There is no one answer, for there are many different responses. We can respond by simply being present or by being full participants. One attractive thing about Swedenborgian theology is its interfaith nature; it invites others to the Holy Supper, knowing that people from other faith traditions may also be in the good of truth and love. And even those who are not can still be graced with a presence. Children and teens should also be welcome, even if their level of understanding of communion is minimal, because what they can get out of it is a sense of community. The invitation to communion is for all who are in the goodness of love and faith. Communion is a mutual sharing of the Lord's love for us, and of our love for God and each other.
How many of you here today have ever gone home after communion and truly reflected on the experience? How has it impacted your life? Communion can take on many meanings. It can be a way of initiating change in a person who is seeking ways to grow in God's love. It can strengthen the connection between the sacred and a life of charity. The good of love and truth that we receive through communion can become the good that we receive from others, sometimes primarily from their love, and sometimes from their understanding. Without that kind of giving and receiving, we do starve spiritually. We all have our times of spiritual need. And it is in these times that we need to ask this question: What do I need to give in order to make room for what I need?
In a moment, we will join with those who were at that table and heard those words for the first time. The words are spoken to us as well. Then we are given the chance to choose to believe them, and take them into ourselves. We are offered what truly satisfies. To never hunger or thirst again for meaning in our lives. How nourishing! Amen!
Dear Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, thank you for feeding us from your very substance. Thank you for giving us the true food: the divine flesh of your love, and the true drink: the divine blood of your truth. As we gather together at your table and open our hearts and minds to your presence among us, we pray that you will feed us evermore with this bread of life, and forever satisfy our thirst from your Holy Word. For the food and drink of this world satisfy only for a moment, and then we are hungry again. But the heavenly food that you give us multiplies a thousandfold each time we share in it, and the spiritual drink of your truth becomes a spring of water within us, welling up to eternal life. Amen.