Monday, January 09, 2006

Bread and Wine

In 2004 Touchstone Pictures dumped over $100 million into an epic retelling of the battle of the Alamo. It bombed at the box office. The big mistake the studio made was presuming that the people who went to the movie had a basic understanding of the historical background in which the fight at the Alamo had taken place, and this would make them excited to see the picture. Except for the state of Texas, where the story took place, they found that the average person had no idea about what the battle at the Alamo was all about. The Americans had lost a sense of their history.

The same thing often happens to followers of Christ concerning communion.

We all likely have some communion memories if we’ve been hanging around churches for any length of time. I didn’t grow up in church but after I started following Jesus when I was 21, I quickly experienced the communion culture of my church. Normally happy men would don dark suits to serve the elements. It was as if they were going to a funeral. No one ever said to dress up in a dark suit but everybody did who was serving. They may have been happy one moment but as soon as they went up front their expression become somber and stone faced.

One time while I was a deacon at the church, I showed up for communion not realizing it was on, so I quickly had to borrow a tie. A tie makes you more spiritual you see. You may have your own quirky understanding of communion based on your past experiences, too.

There are three names for communion amongst the various church traditions:

1. The Lord’s Supper
1 Corinthians 11:20
It's not the Lord's Supper you are concerned about when you come together.

2. Communion
1 Corinthians 10:16 KJV
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?

3. Eucharist: Greek word for “giving thanks”.
Luke 22:17
Then he took a cup of wine, and when he had given thanks for it,

1 Corinthians 11:24
“and when he had given thanks”

There are four main meanings of what takes place during communion that are representative of different Christian traditions.

I. Transubstantiation: the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Jesus.

This is the Catholic position. They would say that a metaphysical change in the substance of the bread occurs. The outside may appear the same as before, but inside, the metaphysical nature of the bread has been transformed. They say this because Jesus said,

Luke 22:18
"This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

II. Consubstantiation: the body and blood of Jesus coexist with the bread and wine. Made famous by Martin Luther, held to by Lutherans. The analogy is that just as heat is present in a fire made of hot coals, so Jesus Christ is present in the elements of communion.

III. Symbolic: the elements are primarily a memorial ceremony of Christ’s finished work.

1 Corinthians 11:24, 26
“Do this in remembrance of me."…every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he comes again.

Another of the protestant reformers of the 15th century, Ulrich Zwingli, made this famous.

IV. Dynamic: Christ is spiritually present through the Holy Spirit.

Personally, I believe in a combination of the latter two, where we celebrate a memorial of Christ’s finished work, and that the Holy Spirit is present in some mysterious way. It is a memorial with a spiritual presence.

What you believe is between you and God and is not nearly as important as what the presence of God does in your life as you open up your heart to experience the body and blood of Jesus Christ.

We draw our communion story and meaning from Jesus at the Last Supper. Jesus of course was repositioning communion from the Passover meal.

Exodus 11 & 12
Sign of the cross from the Passover blood.

Communion helps us to connect, or reconnect the past reality of God through the Israelites, the life and death of Jesus, to our present and ultimately future reality with God.

Communion is pregnant with meaning, most notably:

1. A time of remembrance
Exodus 12:26-27
Then your children will ask, `What does all this mean? What is this ceremony about?' And you will reply, `It is the celebration of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the homes of the Israelites in Egypt. And though he killed the Egyptians, he spared our families and did not destroy us.'" Then all the people bowed their heads and worshiped.

Luke 22:19b
"This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

Question: what has God done in your life?

2. A time of spiritual nourishment
John 4:31-32,34
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat. "No," he said, "I have food you don't know about."…. Then Jesus explained: "My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.

It is communal in nature. Recall the importance of the Passover celebration to the Israelites. If they didn’t celebrate it, they were put out of the community. The early church inherited that for communion, we celebrate it together. The Greek word for ‘communion’ is koinonia. It means ‘participation, communion, common union’.

This term gave expression to the type of relationship that Christians experienced with their God as revealed in his son Jesus. Koinonia also expressed the type of relationships the early Christians shared with one another.

1 Corinthians 10:16
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ.

Participation, participation. It’s not mediated by a ‘priest’, but open to all. It’s the difference between watching baseball, and playing soccer!

Question: what does God want to do in your life?

3. A time of anticipation.

1 Corinthians 11:26
Every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord's death until he comes again.

Question: what God is telling you about your own spiritual journey?

The lifetime goal of a Jew was to share the Passover with God in Jerusalem. At the end of the Passover they would lift their cup and say “next time in Jerusalem.”

We say “next time with Christ”. We all have had or will today have a first time of communion. But there will come a time for our last. We never know when that time will come. And so we say, when we conclude communion, “next time with Christ.”

As we move to the Table, let’s examine our hearts, as the Bible asks us to. When Jesus celebrated the Passover at the Last Supper he already knew that Judas would betray Him. There’s a little bit of Judas in all of our hearts.

1 Corinthians 11:27-29
So if anyone eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily, that person is guilty of sinning against the body and the blood of the Lord. That is why you should examine yourself before eating the bread and drinking from the cup. For if you eat the bread or drink the cup unworthily, not honoring the bodyof Christ, you are eating and drinking God's judgment upon yourself.

Reveal the darkness that separates you from Jesus. Your sin, your ’bent’, doesn’t make you worthless, only lost because you’re separated from God. Allow God to carry it away.

1 John 1:9
But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong.

This table is open to all those who follow Jesus as master, the old word ‘Lord’, the CEO, the ‘boss’ if you will. If you’ve said to Jesus that I want you to be in charge of my life, then join in.

Say in the quietness of your own heart to Jesus, “I need you in my life. I give my life completely over to you.

Perhaps you can say like the skeptic of his many years of attending church, "There was only one problem—I had never encountered Jesus up close and personal. Perhaps I had never taken time to get to know him, perhaps I was not ready to meet him, or maybe I was too intoxicated with myself to allow anyone into my life, especially Jesus. In any case, for years I was a distant observer, peering over the fence at him like baseball fans watching their favorite teams during spring training." Get into the game today.

Many people think they know Jesus. Some admire him; some turn away at the mere mention of his name. But few have truly taken the time to sit in his company and bask in his presence. When they do, everything changes.

As I spend time in the company of Jesus I find myself confronted with his words and inspired by his actions.

“What shall I do with Jesus?”

“What will we do with Jesus?” follow and obey.

Obedience is simply the process of aligning oneself with God’s reality. The word literally means, “to listen from below,” implying a humility toward learning.

Jesus never meant for us to gather knowledge to satisfy our curiosity or, worse, harness information to be used as a sword for intellectual jousting matches with friends or critics. He always simply asks us to “follow me.”

Mark Buchanan describes the ultimate effect of doubt. “Here lies the basic flaw of all doubt: it can never really be satisfied. No evidence is ever fully, finally enough. Doubt wants always to consume, never to consummate. It clamors endlessly for an answer and so drowns out any answer that might be given it.”

The Bread

The Cup
The empty cup represent the empty grave.

Next time with Christ.


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