Today was both the beginning of Holy Week and for many Christians around the globe, a day to celebrate the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist. We did it alone. I used to bristle a little at weddings, when in the context of the body of Christ, we offered communion to the wedding party only – the congregation didn’t participate. I also bristled a little at people who wanted me to baptize them privately, for reasons of public embarrassment. (you don’t expect me to get my hair wet in public, do you?)
By nature and definition, baptism and the Lord’s Supper were occasions for the larger congregation to participate. A personal, tangible expression of faith convened in congregation. Initiation into the body (baptism), affirmation of my place in the body (communion) were essential elements of theological expression as far as I was concerned. I am not a strict legalist, so I didn’t say “no” to these requests but certainly made my case for broader inclusion. One of the weddings I was a part of experienced a whole congregation Eucharist, greeted by the Bride/Groom as we approached the table.
But now, no gathering, and the elements are varied and distant. What should we learn from this time with regard to the Eucharist?
The Eucharist is at its core a symbol of something greater. The elements of the bread and the wine stand for (symbolize) the body and blood of Christ. What we want to guard against is the confusion of the symbol with the thing symbolized.
If you are a married person, you probably wear a wedding ring. The ring is a symbol of your marriage. It isn’t your marriage. If I take my ring off, I am still married. If my wife loses her ring and we buy a replacement, we didn’t lose our marriage. It isn’t a different marriage because we have a different ring. The ring points to a reality that is greater than the symbol, our marriage is greater than the ring – it is actually more real than the ring. I like my ring. She likes her ring. They are meaningful and precious, but they are not the substance of our marriage.
The bread and the cup are the symbols (even if you believe they are transformed into the real thing). The act of taking communion is also part of that symbology.
Here is what the symbol means, stands for, and results in.
- The symbol means that you are in some way identifying with the real person of Jesus.
- The symbol stands for your intention to continue to identify with the values and directives of Jesus.
- The result is that you act out your Jesus identity, primarily in two ways: Loving God and loving neighbor.
Taking communion by necessity leads you to a larger truth and causes you to move towards a higher expression of your faith in Christ. Something magical may happen in the moment of participation, but that is secondary to the result of the taking, a movement toward the image and mind of Christ as you walk away from the table.
I think communion is better done in fellowship, but it is more important that you live out your core identity whether or not you are able to participate in communion at all. When my wife lost her ring, she continued in our married life for a long period of time before we resolved the ring situation.
Some churches insisted on meeting today because many of those traditions celebrate communion on the first of the month. They violated the meaning of communion by putting their neighbors at risk unnecessarily. The violated their love of God by insisting on elevating the symbol – we used to use the word idolatry to describe that behavior.
But today, as Kelly and I took communion with non-traditional elements (we had no wine/grape juice) and many others celebrated Communion in a way that they never have before, we were forced to evaluate the true meaning and value of the practice as a reflection of our commitment to love. And that is the bigger idea.
Instead of bemoaning not being able to take the Lord’s Supper, think afresh about what it looks like to be Jesus in the midst of a global pandemic. That is a true communion with Jesus and a valid reason to give thanks (Eucharist).