In the Cool of the Day

Truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the Bread of heaven; by Father 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. John 6:32-33

The text touches on Holy Communion, but I’d like to approach it from a little different angle.  I want to first talk about forgiveness, starting with what to me is a wonderful picture painted in Genesis: “And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (3: 8).

It almost sounds as if this was a normal practice of God, to come down in the early evening, when the day was cool and the time was for relaxing. He and Adam and Eve might go walking among the trees and the animals, perhaps discussing various happenings of the day, sharing the humorous things, and making plans for the next day. Or else perhaps they would sit together and just enjoy all of God’s creation, smiling as a kangaroo went hopping by.

How close God and man must have been – how peaceful and joyful that must have been, how eagerly that human couple once must have waited for the Lord’s visit each day!  And even now as I describe this scene, doesn’t your heart yearn a little for such a wonderful relationship with God?

But you know as well as I that this kind of relationship did not last.  Man and his wife disobeyed God and suddenly lost all this peace and joy.  Now when they heard the Lord walking in the cool of the day, they were terrified.

Gone was the closeness and the eagerness of their waiting for Him to come.  Now instead they hid themselves.  They didn’t want to meet God, they avoided Him.  They feared His rightful judgment.  On the other hand, notice what God did: as soon as Adam and Eve sinned, He did not come storming out of heaven breathing fire and damnation.  Instead He waited until the usual time of relaxation to go looking for Adam and Eve as if nothing had changed.

Going to where Adam had once eagerly awaited Him, God knew He would find no one, because Adam was hiding.  And knowing just how much His creation had been ruined by Adam’s sin, God still approached these humans with far more gentleness than I would have had.  After all, God knew all the wars, the destruction, the eternal death – all that was in store because their sin; and He knew the terrible cost of His Son’s death that would have to paid.

Meanwhile, man terrified of God hid from Him, willing to blame the woman, willing to blame even God Himself, never stopping long enough to see His love, never asking for forgiveness, seeing only God the Judge, the Terrible One.

Ever since then mankind lived in fear, even in terror, of God.  The signs are seen in every one, even in you and me.  When we feel empty in life, frustrated, a vague impatience and tension, an inner restlessness; when we try to defend ourselves from even the slightest possible hint that we may have done something wrong; when we rehearse again and again stupid little things of the past, agonizing over them again and again; when we are afraid of tomorrow, instead of confidently marching into the future – this is the terror of God showing through.

How all this can be traced to being afraid of God?  because all these things boil down to a fear inside all of us – the fear of making mistakes, the fear of not being perfect, the fear of not being adequate enough, strong enough, mentally quick enough.  There are places in ourselves of which we are ashamed – those areas which remind us too much of our failures and our mistakes; those times when we haven’t even had control over ourselves the way we ought to.  Depression often hurts so much because something has made us see ourselves with sharp reality rather than with the slightly fuzzy picture we prefer – and we don’t like what we see, because we know we can’t escape it.

This fear of mistakes, this fear of the truth inside, this fear of failure, this fear of not being good at what you so desperately wish you were good at all boils down to the fear of judgment, and God is the One who stands behind all judgment.  This then is the fear of God.  Even though a person may not grasp that his relationship to God is involved at all, yet this spiritual element stands at the heart of every such instance.

Realize, however, that this is not “the fear of the Lord” mentioned so often in the King James Version, because the word translated there as “fear” really means “profound reverence and awe.”  The fear that I’m talking about here is dread, terror, alarm.  It is something that we all experience at one time or another, times of depression, of vague uneasiness, of a restless conscience.

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Martin Luther was a product of that day, so terrified of God that he spent hours in the confessional. Often, no sooner did he leave his “father-confessor” when he came running back with yet another sin he had forgotten to mention. When he celebrated his first Mass, he could not finish but ran away, because he couldn’t stand being so close to such a terrifying Judge. Truly, Luther was the very image of Adam and Eve as they cowered in terror.

Only after a number of years did that young monk discover the reality of the forgiveness of God – a forgiveness full and complete and totally accomplished on the cross of Calvary. The penalty for each and every sin has been paid in full – and with God there is no double-jeopardy: once the payment for all sin has been made, He will not resurrect it and demand further payment.  If God did require further payment, then Jesus’ sacrifice was not enough, and we would never escape eternal death, since death is the ONLY penalty God’s law identifies for our rebellion.

What impact this has for us and our lives!  Imagine: the sins of not just yesterday and today have been forgiven – 2,000 years ago, Jesus had already died for the sins that I will do tomorrow, next week, next month, next year.  Immediately we realize just how dangerous forgiveness of such extent is – why, anyone could sin deliberately within the knowledge that Jesus died even for that sin.  How easily such love from God could be abused – in fact, just as abused as Jesus being cursed and slapped and crucified by human beings.

Yet that is the very risk that the powerful love of God was willing to take.  It was the only way that we could be fully released from the penalty of death.  God was willing to open wide the door to all who are willing to hand their sins and their lives over to Jesus.  Many refuse such an offer by the Lord, but for those who receive such a gift, they discover that relationship with God which been lost so many thousands of years ago.

What a change that meant for Luther.  Now instead of a God of Whom he lived in terror, his relationship with God now reflected that closeness with his Creator which Adam and Eve had turned away from.  In fact, one person who overheard Luther in his private prayers remarked how it was like a dear child talking with his dear Father.  What a neat thing it is to be able to “walk with God in the cool of the day”!

This then sets the basis for the relationship that Jesus talks about in the Gospel.  Too often we have neglected this aspect of what Holy Communion is about.  So often one hears preachers talking about this Sacrament in regard to the forgiveness that it brings, and yet what is so sad is that this is merely the side benefit of the Lord’s Supper!

What is so essential in Holy Communion is that this is communion with the Lord Jesus as well as with His Body which stretches around the world and down through the ages.  Imagine, before the Fall into sin, that first eagerness of Adam and Eve when “the cool of the day” approached.  This eagerness surrounds the service of Holy Communion!

The Worship Service has an undercurrent of the excitement of the idea that “Jesus is coming!”  Throughout the service we hear snatches of the angels’ songs.  Like the aromas that lead us to the kitchen, the smells that get our appetites working, so also the Old Testament and the Epistle increases in us the need for Jesus, making us anticipate the good things that we can look for in Him.  Now the Gospel comes and we get to hear the voice of Jesus Himself, or get to see Him in action.  The sermon is to only increase our hunger for His presence.

And finally now, rather than fleeing in terror when Jesus comes, we rush to the front of the Church, when in Communion Jesus has come in a very real and powerful way:  “This is My Body, This is My Blood” — “This is Me,. here in flesh and Blood; here for you.”  Oh, what a taste of heaven is to be found here!  Oh, what an outpouring and onrushing of gifts and blessings are to be found here!

The moment of Communion is brief and yet is so full.  It is over so quickly that sometimes it is hard to realize just what has happened.  But that doesn’t distress the Lord, because now you have something to think about, to review in your mind – time to realize all the ins-and-outs and ramifications of what it meant when Jesus came “in the cool of the day,” so to speak, to walk with us and share Himself with us.

And now you have the opportunity to anticipate the next visit by our Lord in such a special and wonderful way.  Just like with Adam and Eve, when they had at first said “Good night!” to the Lord, I imagine it was with the eager anticipation of realizing His presence throughout the coming day only to be capped by the visit they would have the next evening.  So also with us: Jesus, the Bread of Life, is coming.  He will be here in minutes.  Isn’t that neat!

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