For some time now, I have wanted to unpack my thoughts on the celebration of communion. This past Saturday as I sat in a Catholic funeral mass, I watched and wondered at the ritual built around this ancient sacrament. My friends believe in Transubstantiation, the change by which the bread and the wine offered in the celebration of the sacrament of the Eucharist become, in reality, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ.
I realize that theologically I am well above my pay grade and will try to stay out of the weeds and avoid sacrilege. However, based on our actions of late as Christians in America, having now celebrated communion well over 200 years, somewhere we have missed the message in our consumption of both wafers and wine!
The word communion is from the Latin, communio, obviously related to community, its closest alignment with the Greek being, koinoni. Both words labor to communicate fellowship, intimacy and unity. Yet, the sheer number of versions of Christianity that dot our globe scream otherwise.
This morning before beginning this post, I made it my task to read exhaustively from the gospels and even Paul’s writings regarding the Last Supper or final Passover meal with Jesus and his disciples. My heart grieved for mankind as I read the comments made by such disciples as John, Peter, Phillip and of course Judas. These men had spent over three years with this God in the flesh, and still yet were struggling to hear his heart. This certainly gives me hope.
The story begins with Jesus instructing his disciples to prepare for the Passover. This was nothing new and perhaps for some, just one more religious celebration repeated every year of their life. The uniqueness of the story is that Jesus tells them to go into the city, where they will find a man bearing a pitcher of water. They should then follow him into his master’s house, where they would ask the homeowner for a room. They of course find the man with the vessel of water (tremendous preach-able moment but I will move on) and the Passover is set up in an “upper room”. I suspect a room they will use again on the day of Pentecost! You gotta love the way Jesus works!
One need only read the Gospel of John with its layers of conversation from chapters 13-17 to know that this was no brief moment of celebration. Not only did he clarify the “why” of the Passover, His body and His blood but the “how” of Kingdom ministry, that we simply love one another! In fact, somewhere in the middle of a time that included a rich demonstration of servant leadership (Peter’s foot washing) as well as a prophetic declaration of a new Pentecost, redefining the role of the Holy Spirit, Jesus reaches for the cup and the matza.
For the disciples to make this critical connection between the traditional Egypt Passover moment and what lie ahead for the early Church, everything done in that room had to be strategic!
With our thin sterile wafers and efficient Sunday morning programing, it strikes me as a missed message when we “celebrate” communion. Perhaps in reducing the moment to a sacrament we have failed to integrate it as a life style? There was much more involved that evening than a cup and a piece of bread!
His disciples were rattled by His “going away” talk, the fact that some would deny and even betray him. Every word uttered built intensity in the room, confronting the challenges that awaited them in the next few days. They would surely need each other more than ever and to understand true community. One purpose certainly was to provide a reference point for this transformative moment between a religion of sacrifices and the cross’s total fulfilment of the Law. However, the process used to get them there was also the message, authentic community.
In this brief window, He sat up a display of community and a demand for unity that would become the branding for His Kingdom. Once the final sacrifice had been made, we would be One with Him; He in us and we in the Father. The world would then know us by our love. The vast prescription of Jewish Law would now be condensed to only two, that we love God and one another!
Paul writes in I Corinthians 11:24, “Take, eat; this is my body, which is broken for you; this do in remembrance of me.” Perhaps when Jesus uttered these words, he stood to his feet, opening His arms as if to accent not only the cup and the bread, but also what was happening in the room!
Could it be that the “this” intended was not the Eucharist alone, but the rich, authentic community that these same few would experience in that upper room not many days hence?
This powerful moment was never designed for demonstration in the sanctuary alone, nor to be constrained by a religious sacrament. Rather, a lifestyle of love, exuded by every Christ follower, through every pit and peril , until every tribe and tongue has tasted of His love.