I was blessed a couple Sundays ago to celebrate Communion not once, but twice in a Sunday, a delight to someone who is rather miffed that I belong to a church that reserves it for only every third month. I’m a supporter of the old tradition of weekly eucharist, but unfortunately few people in my denomination feel the same way. Perhaps those little cups are too difficult to fill and wash every week. Still, I think we DO need to be reminded, on a regular basis, of what Jesus gave and did for us, and his chosen method was the full-sensory experience, feeding far more than just our bodies, that we know as Communion. Eucharist, which, as I learned from Ann Voskamp, comes from the word eucharisteo, which has to do with giving thanks. I wrote an essay back when we lived in Arizona on Communion and Community -need to clean that up and post it here for future, but one thing I’ve noticed -I never experience Communion the same way twice. One aspect or another comes to the forefront, and I come away having learned something different about Christ and/or myself (or both) every time. And I think that’s the way He meant it to be.
As I alluded to a few days ago, I believe Communion is just that -a communion. A bringing-together. It’s more than a ritual, more than a habit, more than beautiful silver dishes holding the bread and wine (or, in our day, juice) itself. Next time you have the opportunity, open your eyes and ears and heart and see what you perhaps hadn’t noticed before. Communion is a feast that in its essence spans the whole of the story of grace given us in Scripture. To fully see what Jesus was telling the disciples in that upper room, you have to go back to Genesis, chapter 15. The Abrahamic covenant. In the days of Abraham, a covenant was a messy ordeal -the parties involved would typically take an animal, cut it in two, lay out the pieces, and each would take a walk through them, signifying that, should they fail to fulfill their part of the covenant, may it be done to them as it was to the animal laid out on the ground, dead. Hardly the neat legal procedure we perform today, replacing ink for blood, and threats of legal recourse for one’s own life. But, once you consider that scene, you see so much imagery hidden within the eucharist.
Remember that Abraham himself never did walk through the pieces. God (in the flaming firepot) made the covenant, knowing Abraham was incapable of fulfilling the covenant himself. We can see Abraham’s weakness exemplified in what happens in the following chapter, when Abram and Sarai take matters into their own hands and give the Lord a little help, resulting in Ishmael (and, extrapolated out a few thousand years, the unrest that remains in the Middle East). He couldn’t do it alone. Neither can we. Remember the pieces. Remember that God walked through them in our place. Remember that we were unable to be His people, although He has been our faithful God.
“This is My body, broken for you.”
Does it seem different, richer in meaning now? Think of the many, many times you’ve watched your pastor raise that loaf of bread high above his head, ripping it in two. This is a picture of His body, broken… for you. Christ, in this image, is showing His disciples that He is offering his own body, his soul, to be rent in two to fulfill the covenant.
And we have the blood, the Cup. Going back to the Old Testament again, we see that in the blood sacrifice, blood is a symbol of cleansing. After Adam and Eve sinned, they fashioned for themselves aprons of fig leaves to cover themselves. God finds them and replaces the inadequate works of their hands, their attempts to cover themselves, with skin -it took the shedding of blood to cover their nakedness. Hebrews 9:22 tells us that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sin. The animals sacrificed in the temple and the ones who gave their life to cover the nakedness of Adam and Eve were simply a foreshadowing to the One who gave His blood for the forgiveness of sin -Christ.
As I was looking for that verse, I’m finding that Hebrews 9 explains it much better:
11 But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.
16 In the case of a will,it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19 When Moses had proclaimed every command of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20 He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21 In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
Hebrews, here, explains the symbolism and helps us see the meaning behind the Cup, symbolizing the end of insufficient animal sacrifice and the New Covenant in His blood, through which we have forgiveness of our sins. We are cleansed by His blemishless sacrifice, once and for all.
“In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.””
So much to be grateful for, indeed. When you are next called to His table, I challenge you to bring your whole heart and show up to the experience. It’s why he implores us to do this in remembrance of Him. See what He’s longing to share with you. He’s waiting for you to meet him there with the best gift of all. Himself.