I love communion, bread & wine, the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, whatever you want to call it I mean the symbolic meal taken in remembrance of Jesus as described in Mark 14:22-25, Matthew 26:26-29 and Luke 22:13-20. It wasn’t a big deal for me until a couple of years ago and I don’t suppose I thought much about it when we did it at our church, nor did I particularly miss it when we hadn’t done it for a while. I have always baulked a bit at anything that seemed liturgical or religious especially if it happened on special days and was pre-planned, it didn’t feel authentic to me and I couldn’t see the connection to my life or even to Jesus’. Some people may say “that’s because you don’t understand the Jewish Passover properly” which certainly was true once but I attended a church service that thoroughly explained all the first-century Jewish elements of a Passover meal and put the familiar Protestant communion into that context and while it was very interesting, from a historical perspective, it still didn’t really connect it to my life or my understanding of Jesus.
A few years ago I really started to get to grips with the ‘finished work’ ideas and the focus of my Christian life started turning towards what Jesus has already accomplished for me, and as me, rather than on a frustrated longing for some future blessing or work in my life. Also around that time Mags and I attended a conference where on the last day a huge set of tables was set out in the shape of a cross, decorated with shiny cloths, small lights and candles and then absolutely covered with the most spectacular bread, wine, sweets, chocolate, fruit, cheese and all manner of delicious food, then the attendees were invited to come and feast at the cross. It was a free for all, a delightful messy slightly chaotic jumble of people helping themselves, sharing with friends, bumping into strangers, laughing, meditating, thinking, hugging and generally enjoying themselves. I absolutely loved it and the experience stayed with me for days, if not weeks. It shifted something in my thinking about communion, I suddenly loved that simple symbol. I doubt I’d have had the same reaction if I hadn’t started down the ‘finished works’ route – I would probably have been offended by the lavishness and been justifying my offence by reference to the poor or the homeless or third-world famine vs. western excess! The extravagance of the decoration and the wide range and quality of the food spoke so vividly of the extravagance of the love Jesus and the Father poured out; it brought this symbol to life!
Over the years since I’ve increasingly loved communion, when it’s given the time and space to be savoured; I can’t stand to see it rushed or tacked on as an afterthought! I don’t care if it’s done using artisan bread and £20 red wine or a cheap supermarket loaf and some Ribena, the actual ingredients are now irrelevant so long as we get to linger, focus and savour it.
One other thing that has become increasingly important to me is the absence of a ‘priest’ administering it. For many in non-liturgical or hierarchical church systems it seems this is one sacred cow we are unwilling to shoot, those in Roman Catholicism or the Anglican Church don’t even get this choice (and if they’re happy with that arrangement that’s fine). The fabulous feast on the cross worked as a symbol in part because it was free from control, there was no-one dishing out an allotted portion! You could help yourself, take your time, share with friends, with strangers, mingle happily with others or stand quietly on your own and return time and again. One of the most beautiful truths of the New Covenant is that we no longer need any mediator but Jesus, his life is our life. Symbols are important and they help shape our thinking and our understanding so if one of our key symbolic acts still includes a human mediator between us and Jesus’ body and blood we’re reinforcing a separation that is not true. There may be a genuine desire on the part of those handing out the wafers or bread, and holding on to the cup to give out the sips of wine, to serve the meeting but really it’s not necessary! Embrace the chaos, the wild, the free and the beauty of the direct one-to-one with Jesus that communion can represent. When we are all ministering to each other we really are the body that has one head, Jesus.
So next time you’re planning to include communion in your church, event, house-group why not think outside the usual and really feast on all that the cross has won for you, for me for the whole of humanity! It’s a banquet of blessing!