My last couple of posts have talked about the connection between the offering and Communion, but there’s a further area in which these two pieces of the liturgy overlap. God could have bound His promise of grace to anything He wanted. He binds it to water, which is how we end up with the sacraments of baptism. Now He does so again with bread and wine. Out of everything else in all creation, God chooses these basic food staples of the ancient world.
The themes we use to explain salvation are widely varied, as Scripture describes it many different ways: atonement, redemption, cleansing/purification, and so forth. This is necessary in part because the first sin of Adam and Eve was equally multifaceted. Their sin was idolatrous, a refusal to hold God up as God. It was a failure of discipleship, those called to follow chose to call their own shots. Their sin was a rejection of their status as creatures, as they sought to overcome their creaturely limitations. However, it was also a rejection of God as the source of life.
After Jesus’s baptism, He goes out into the wilderness to fast for forty days. Satan tempts Him with bread and in response Jesus quotes Deuteronomy, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” This was a major undercurrent of the Israelites’ discipleship process in wilderness. It was not the manna that sustained them. It was always the God who had saved them and provided for them. This context continues in John 6 as Jesus confronts those He had fed and reminds them it is not the bread that brings life. Jesus tells them instead, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:53-54). Jesus is reminding them again life does not come from food, but from God. These two statements of Christ overlap, since John tells Jesus is the Word. The Father speaks and the Word He speaks is Christ, carrying the full divine creative and redemptive power within Himself.
Luther comments that meek Mary conceives in her the baby Jesus through the power of the Spirit and the promise conveyed by the angel Gabriel. He notes that this makes her the only woman in history to conceive a child through her ear. It’s a somewhat corny way to think about it, but Luther is exploring how radically different Christ’s birth is from all those that have come before or since. However, it is not so strange to think that we also “eat” through our ear. God’s Word brings life. God brings creates life. God’s Word stands alone in creation as the one thing that can sustain life eternally.
That brings us back to the main topic: offering. As we’ve discussed, the bread and wine used in the sacrament are an offering to God, given that He might take them and make them holy. Their most basic essence, though, is as food. Particularly in the ancient context, these are the two omnipresent elements of the meal, and yet in the context of the liturgy we are taking these basic elements and and giving them away.
In our offering of bread and wine to God, we are acknowledging that these things cannot give or sustain true and eternal life. We give them to God so that He might do something better with them. God realigns our dependence on food. It no longer has to bear the burden of being the source of our life which, as Adam and Eve discovered, was never something it was capable of being.
It is in the context of this offering that we refocus our attention on God, that He takes this physical representation of our faith and dependence on God alone and He brings His Word of grace to bear and marries it to that offering and now it brings life. Not because it is food, but because it is God.