It’s one of those things that I took for granted – vessels for the Lord’s Supper. We always had them around at the churches I had worshiped at in the past. It never really occurred to me that there was a Sunday when someone said: “What are we going to use for the Lord’s Supper?” and then went out and bought them. I decided that since that task fell to me that I would seek out a local artist to make something for us. If you don’t know, Stanwood and Camano Island are known for the local art community. It just made sense. Here are some pictures of the vessels made for us by Leslie Whaley at Moonswept Studio:
You may be curious about the choice of design for the plate/platter. I’ll tell you about the salmon, but first you need to understand the writing. The Greek is from John 6:51 that is translated: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.” I chose to have it in Greek because for me it adds to the sense of mystery, tradition, and ancient roots of the Lord’s Supper. John 6 has intrigued me for years ever since I discovered the connections in the story. Jesus wants to take his disciples away to be alone for awhile after days of serving and teaching. Instead, crowds follow him into the middle of nowhere. He has compassion, teaches them, and then miraculously feeds them with FISH and broken bread. After that, he sends the disciples across the lake by boat and Jesus goes up the mountain to pray.
The crowds decide that they are going to create a violent uprising against Rome and make Jesus king. Jesus knows their plans and secretly walks across the surface of the lake in the middle of the night. In a dramatic meeting in a storm on the lake the disciples take Jesus into their boat and reach their destination. In the morning the crowds figure out that Jesus has given them the slip, and in need of more food they follow him across the lake. When they find him they try to convince him to give them more food. Jesus does not do it, but instead tells them that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood. He teaches them that he is the bread from heaven and that anyone who eats him will never go hungry again and will have eternal life.The teaching is so hard (should we say “repulsive”) that many of his followers, and presumably the entire hungry crowd, desert him. I could write a lot more here about this, but I think I’ll save it for a future sermon. My main point here is that this passage is where we get the best glimpse into Jesus’ early teaching about what the Lord’s Supper really is all about.
So why the salmon? Well, first of all, fish have always played an important role in Christian symbolism and often in early Christianity it is associated with the eucharist (Lord’s Supper). If you want to to read a good article that explains this connection take a look at “Symbolism of the Fish” from the Catholic Encyclopedia. The one thing that this article doesn’t mention is that many of Jesus’ early disciples were fishermen and they were told by Jesus that they had a greater calling – that they were to “fish for people” (Matt. 4:19).
As for choosing a salmon, I would hope that it would be obvious. We have a lot of salmon around Stanwood and Camano Island! Maybe not as much as there once was, but you will still hear people from all walks of life talking about salmon. Our newspapers always seem to have articles about the connection between salmon and the health of Puget Sound, our rivers, the Native American culture, sport fishing, etc. In the Stanwood/Camano Island area there is some conflict and debate about the “tidelands” and their importance for both the salmon and local agriculture. Since the type of fish has never seemed to be especially important in Christian symbolism it just made sense to have a salmon for Tidelands Church. Beyond that, for me, it will always connect me back to that story from John 6. So many people ate from the miraculous fish, but so few were willing to follow Jesus when his teaching was less palatable.