Managing expectations #3: the promise of communion

In previous posts I introduced the challenge of managing expectations within the life of a church. We saw that the story told in John 21:1-14 promises fruit from Christ. Now we see that it also promises communion with Christ.

Look at verse 9: ‘When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread.’ Jesus is one step ahead of them. He’s already organised bread, fish, fire. Breakfast is cooking and Jesus is the cook. They’ve spent all night fishing and now Jesus invites them to sit and eat. Jesus is the host, inviting them to eat with him. Look at verses 12 and 13: ‘Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” … Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’

We’ve already been alerted to the symbolic nature of this event. Jesus is going to turn these disciples into fishers of people.

Now the symbolism continues. Jesus provides for his people. As we cast our nets by proclaiming his name, he provides the harvest. As we step out in mission, Jesus meets our needs.

But more than that, he provides himself. This is the promise of communion, of relationship. A meal – then and now – is a powerful sign of welcome and friendship. Jesus is promising his presence, his comfort, himself.

The language here echoes John 6. In John 6 Jesus feeds 5,000 people with just five loaves and two fish. John 6:11 says: ‘Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.’ Now verse 13 says: ‘Jesus came, took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish.’ ‘Took the loaves’, ‘took the bread’, ‘did the same with the fish’.

In chapter 6 the disciples learnt that Jesus provides for his people. Now he echoes that event as a reminder of that lesson. As they proclaim his name, he will meet their needs.

But it’s not just that he provides for them. Back in chapter 6 Jesus explains the sign of the bread by saying, ‘I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry.’ (6:35)

Jesus himself is the bread. He is what is provided. God himself in the person of Jesus will satisfy our hunger. He doesn’t just send an angel. He himself comes to us. In the end what he offers is himself. He offers communion. He offers his presence.

This is so important. We don’t know what this year will bring. I can’t tell you how many people will be saved in the coming year. Maybe it will be none. Maybe one. Maybe ten. Maybe more. Maybe it will be a year of great fruitfulness. Maybe it won’t. But whatever happens, we can always fall back on the communion that we have with God. Whatever happens we can be satisfied because we have Christ.

God’s favour, God’s friendship, God’s presence does not depend on our success. It depends on the kindness of the Father, the work of the Son and the presence of the Spirit. And nothing can remove or undo those things.

Even when we see no fruit, we can still be content because we have Jesus. Jesus gives us himself. He’s the bread which satisfies our souls.

And so today Jesus still invites us to a meal in the form of the bread and wine. It’s food which he has provided through his death. He invites us to the communion meal. And it is an act of communion. He is present with us by the Holy Spirit. The people that pass the bread to are just Jesus’ way of getting the bread off the table and into your hands. It’s Jesus who’s giving you the bread. He’s inviting you to eat with him.

This is what enables us to keep going when the work is hard and we see little fruit. Each week we come back to the gospel. We come back to the Father’s love, to Christ’s grace, to the Spirit’s presence.

Our identity and our status is not dependant on the numbers of people in our church or the number of baptisms we chalk up. Our identity rests on Jesus.

Remember verse 1 is literally ‘Jesus revealed himself’. He is the sign. And Jesus is the sign of God’s love and welcome. We are children of God. Whether we face times of growth or times of frustration, we can be content in Christ.

My hope and prayer is that we will keep at the task: we will proclaim Christ. And there will be many precious moment in which we enjoy Christ.

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