As part of my sermon preparation this week, I spent time rewatching video of Abbot and Costello’s old comedy sketch, “Who’s on First?” (I know, I have a hard job.) I don’t know how many times I have seen this video over the years, but I still find it funny. Part of what makes the whole scene comical is that Abbott and Costello use the same simple words, but they are using them to convey different meanings.
The scene in the middle of John 6, where Jesus and the crowd are talking about the meaning of the miraculous feeding, is like listening to Abbot and Costello. Jesus and the crowd are using the same words, but they keep talking past each other. They are using the same words to mean different things.
Jesus says, “You follow me because I fed you bread.” The crowd says, “Feed us always, like our ancestors who ate the manna from heaven in the wilderness.” Jesus says, “God gives the true bread from heaven, and this bread gives life.” The crowd says, “Yes, give us this bread from heaven always!” Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
The crowd wants to know what this bread is, where it is, how to get it. Jesus says the bread from heaven is not a what but a who, and the way you get the bread from heaven is by accepting it as a gift from God.
We do not always find humor in talking past one another. Sometimes when we use the same words and realize we mean different things with the same words, we get frustrated and angry. Countless divisions and conflicts in the church come about through using the same words to mean different things: salvation, sanctification, communion. Our different understandings of communion have caused some of the worst fights in the church.
This conversation between Jesus and the crowd reminds us that communion exceeds more than we can sometimes put into words. The meaning of the bread we eat and the wine we drink at the Lord’s table is more than our minds can comprehend. It is life-giving. It is a gift from heaven. It is a participation in the bread of life, Jesus Christ