Bread of Life (Prayer Devotional for the week of March 6, 2016)

I had a friend in high school who was extraordinarily smart; she earned top grades and went on to receive a full scholarship at a great university. I tried sharing my faith with her once, and I still remember the argument that she used to shoot down my attempt at witnessing. She said that Christians are no better than cannibals, because through communion, we symbolically eat Jesus’ flesh and drink his blood.

 

I didn’t know how to respond to her rebuttal, and that conversation flop has been on my heart for all these years. I knew deep down that Jesus wasn’t condoning cannibalism, but I didn’t have the words to explain it to her. Well, I recently heard a fresh perspective about communion that helped me better understand how to interpret this important symbolism.

 

It’s important to note that my friend’s question was not unique; some of the people listening to Jesus’ teaching had the same confusion! John 6:47-58 tells the story about Jesus describing himself as the bread of life, and that those who eat of that bread will live forever. In verse 52, John records the arguments that arose among the Jews in attendance about eating a man’s flesh. What kind of weirdo rabbi was this Jesus person, talking about eating his body and drinking his blood?!?

 

Let’s start with this question: What is the purpose of eating food? Food is fuel for our bodies, and when we eat, our digestive system consumes the nutrients we need. Consider this: when we “consume” Jesus through faith – his teachings, his miracles, his prophetic fulfillment – we ingest that truth, and it becomes part of us. Our faith then fuels us, spiritually.

 

Jesus used the illustration of Old Testament sacrifice to explain the new covenant that he was establishing through his own sacrifice on the cross. Of course he wasn’t advocating cannibalism; he was using himself as a symbol of faith for us to recognize our need. We need the nutrition from food, just as we need spiritual nutrition. We need our sins to be cleansed, like the Old Testament story of the Passover lamb.

 

Bible scholars much more knowledgeable than me will surely have more to say on the matter, but what it boils down to for me is this: Eat the bread of life! Consume God’s word, and in turn, let the Holy Spirit nourish your spiritual life as you grow in faith.

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Ash Wednesday

Last night before bedtime, I held a family meeting to talk to the boys about some concerns that I have — namely, bad attitudes and tempers. I started by reading the passage from Luke 4 about Jesus being tested (tempted, provoked, antagonized, had his buttons pushed, egged him on … things that I tell them they do to each other frequently). We talked about how Jesus turned Satan’s arguments around with Scripture and how he made the decision not to make the choices that Satan wanted him to.

We talked about verse 13, which says that Satan eventually gave up and went away until a more convenient time. I reminded them that just because they make a good choice one time doesn’t mean that they’ll never face that issue again. Each and every time is a new choice. I reminded them that anger by itself is not a sin. There are plenty of times when it is justifiable to feel angry. What’s not ok is to take out your anger on others.

I confessed that I don’t always make the best choices, either, and they’ve seen me lose my temper more times than I’d like to admit. I told them that I’m sorry and asked them to forgive me for times when I’ve not set a good example with my own anger. I explained that I want us to commit as a family that we will pray together daily (and individually) about anger.

When I described Ash Wednesday, I said that some Christian traditions (mainly Catholics) recognize Ash Wednesday as a day to mourn – or feel sorry for – our sins. It’s a time to get straight with God about our choices and focus on making better choices as we prepare our hearts to celebrate Easter in a few weeks.

Before the meeting, I had one of the boys cut out several Bible verses about anger that I had printed, and we put them in a bowl. I told the boys that each day, we will draw a verse and read it aloud. I told them that if they felt like giving up something for Lent as a way to give a sacrifice to God, then they certainly could, but the thing I want us to focus on together is getting rid of anger. Everyone agreed, so one of them read the day’s verse and prayed before I sent everyone to bed.

An ash cross (albeit smudged) to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust.

An ash cross (albeit smudged) to remind me that I came from dust and will return to dust.

I’ve never attended an Ash Wednesday service before today, but the university where I work offered a program during the lunch hour at the seminary chapel, and I thought it would be a nice time to reflect and experience something new. The service was a nice reminder about the things we discussed last night.

The chaplain reminded us that the symbolism of the day isn’t just to focus on our sin and feel remorseful about it, but to recognize our sin, own up to it, and walk away from it. Therein lies the struggle, and it’s a daily battle.

Lord willing, these baby steps that we’re taking together through our daily readings and prayer will help to instill some Scripture in their minds and hearts to draw from in the future and equip them to defy Satan’s provoking.