Wednesday, July 27, 2016

A Communion Inquiry

Every Christian knows (or should know) about Communion. It goes by various names -- Communion, the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. (Why they call it that last is odd since a tiny piece of bread and a thimble of juice hardly qualifies as a "supper". But I digress.) I've always had questions about this, one of the few sacraments common to all Christians.

Paul's explanation is succinct and often quoted at various celebrations of the event:
For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, 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." In the same way also He took the cup, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1 Cor 11:23-26)
You may have heard that word for word at your latest honoring of the Lord's Supper.

I get the part about remembering the Lord's death in the broken bread (representing His broken body) and the cup (representing His shed blood). That's all clear and good. The part I don't really understand is "as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup." To what bread and what cup is He referring? It's interesting to see the wide range of "as often as you" do this in various churches. Some do it weekly. Some monthly. Some quarterly. I think there are some who do it once a year. How often was this to be done? The reference to the bread and the cup would be a clue, I think.

I've heard some argue that it means that any time we eat and drink anything we should remember His death and proclaim it. Okay, I only heard that from one person. The most common view is that the bread and cup to which he refers is simply the elements of the Lord's Supper. But I've also heard from Jewish Christian sources that Jesus was in a specific point in the Passover celebration and that there is significance to the bread and the cup that we Gentiles don't realize. Could he have been referring to the Passover bread and cup? That would put it at once a year ... or never for Gentiles. But that surely can't be right.

For kids like me who grew up in church, the Lord's Supper became somewhat passé. The symbolism was lost on us. Look, there was no "bread broken". It was prefab crackers. And that grape juice we got was not the product of us having "drained the blood of grapes", so to speak. It came from a bottle of juice. Yet, Paul said, "We preach Christ crucified" (1 Cor 1:23) and "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified." (1 Cor 2:2) The sacrifice of Christ on the cross on our behalf is the critical message of the gospel and our sole means of salvation. So how is it that this essential "proclaim the Lord's death until He comes" piece can get so diluted?

I'm asking questions here. I'm not trying to call for change or make a point. It just seems to me that remembering His sacrifice and proclaiming it to others is, well, part of our purpose statement. And it feels like a cracker tab and a thimble of juice is a poor way to do that. We know, for instance, that the early church did much more. Paul's explanation of Communion is in a passage where he is berating the Corinthians for their excess at the Lord's Supper (1 Cor 11:20-30). My history of celebrations of the Eucharist give no reference point for the concept of "excess". We know as well that the early church was "day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes" (Acts 2:46), which sounds a lot like both sharing meals and celebrating the Lord's Supper together. I'm not saying we need to do that. I'm not saying we shouldn't. But I'm wondering if this often quarterly cracker and juice exercise is the best way to remember and proclaim His death. Just wondering.

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