I grew up in a religious tradition where we celebrated communion only once a quarter. I think the relative infrequency of this was both a reaction to the sacramental approach which can be weekly or even daily, and as a guard against the ceremony becoming commonplace in the church. Now I’m attending a church where “the Lord’s Supper” occurs every Sunday. What I’ve discovered is, that the repetition has changed it for me – in a good way. I’ve been “reached” by the ceremony on a deeper level than before. (It’s like some worship songs that repeat the same line over and over. Sometimes after I’ve sung the line six times, I find that on the seventh time I actually think about what I’m singing! Something like that.) Here’s how that worked for me just last Sunday.
To the Corinthian church the Apostle Paul wrote these familiar words about the Lord’s Table:
23 For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
What we do “in remembrance of” Jesus at the Lord’s table involves two of the most basic foods in history – bread and wine. Today, as throughout history, incorporating these into one’s daily diet is quite typical. They’re common. If you eat, you’ll probably consume them frequently.
When I hold the bread in one hand and the cup in the other, and I look down at them, I ask myself, “Why these elements?”, and “What is it about these elements that should make me think about Jesus and what he did for me?” Or, “Of what exactly are these elements supposed to make me think?” This is what I was wondering last Sunday. (I know the symbolism of the Lord’s Table is rich and the underlying theology is deep. Most of that is beyond the scope of what I’m writing about now. What I want to try to do is to “read” what happens at the Lord’s table the way one would “read” a passage of Scripture in lectio divina. In other words, on top of any known theology that relates, and without stepping outside of the controls that come with a proper understanding of Scripture study, what I did was attempt to ask myself, “What is God saying to me right now, as I hold the bread in one hand, and the cup in the other?”, “What thoughts will prepare me today to meaningfully remember the Lord at his table?”) Here’s what I felt I received:
I’m about to eat the piece of bread I’m holding. I’m going to chew it until it crumbles into a broken collection of particles that no longer resemble what I started with. In a way I’m going to pummel it, and pulverize it, and destroy its form and shape – and then it’s going to enter my body and nourish, strengthen and sustain me. It’s literally going to give me life. I beat it and destroy it, and then it gives me life.
In Isaiah, the Servant of the Lord “was crushed for our iniquities” and “by his wounds we are healed.” (Isa. 53:5b,d) That’s the correlation I’m talking about. When I look at the bread and wonder, “Why bread?” and “Why eat bread?” the answer is that bread it very common, thus very often eaten, and that perhaps by eating bread in this ritual, I will remember when I’m eating my “daily bread” what exactly Christ, the bread of God, has done for me. He has responded to my crushing of him, the pummeling and pulverizing and destroying of him (my rebellion and my great sin), by bringing me life, health and sustenance through that crushed body of his. “By his wounds we are healed.” (And “healed” in the sense of “saved” or “delivered” or “made well or whole.”)
In the same way he took the cup…. Imagine how many times, since that night when Jesus shared a cup of wine with his beloved friends, that others have lifted the cup together over a meal. Again, perhaps if I can think clearly about the wine in the ceremony, then I will make a mental connection to this “daily wine” that is such a big part of the diet of the human race. Perhaps, “whenever” I lift the cup (not just in church) I will be unable to do so without “remembering” him.
And the question is the same, “Why wine?”, and “Why drink the wine?” In Joel’s O.T. prophecy, the Lord himself offers wine – in addition to two other very common food products (grain and olive oil) – as indicators of his restoration and blessing of his people:
“I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil,
enough to satisfy you fully;
never again will I make you
an object of scorn to the nations.” (Joel 2:19)
And notice how so much of this comes together or is echoed in Psalm 104:
14 [The Lord] makes grass grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to cultivate—
bringing forth food from the earth:
15 wine that gladdens human hearts,
oil to make their faces shine,
and bread that sustains their hearts. (Ps. 104:14,15)
The blood of Jesus will be spilled. It will no longer be in his body – it will make its way to a cup. People will drink it. I will drink it – even though it’s me who caused the spilling of his blood. I caused his blood to be spilled, and now I’m drinking it, and in the process, he brings me gladness and joy – the blood of the killed Savior (the Savior that I killed) that I take into my body by the cup, God gives to me as a means of restoration and promised blessing. It represents one of his most basic and satisfying gifts. (Joel 2:19) It gladdens my heart. (Ps. 104:14) The sadness I caused God brings me joy.
So in every experience of partaking of the “body and the blood of the Lord”, by the bread and the wine, if I’m paying attention, I will remember not only that his death is what has given and continues to give me life (salvation, health, wholeness, wellness, joy), but that I am the cause of his death. His grace his triumphed over my guilt. My very sin towards God the Son, has been used by God the Father to become his instrument of blessing to me. Selah.
To me, this is a little different from remembering that (1) Christ died for sinners and that (2) I am a sinner. It’s more than remembering that (3) his body was broken for me in spite of me being a sinner and that (4) the blessings of the New Covenant are mine through this that he did. It’s all this, but it’s more. It’s reliving and thus remembering each time I chew the bread or sip down the wine that I am at the same time the one who destroyed the Son of God, and the one given new life by him through his destruction. The guilty one partakes and lives. The most unworthy one is blessed.
It’s unheard of good news without precedent. In fact it seems just “too good” to remember only quarterly.
Postscript: The next time at the Table led to another devotional thought: The bread and wine, being the most basic and common food of all, represent all that we eat and drink. As I look down at these symbols, I realize that God must give me what I need to live. I can’t do anything but receive.