The Strange and Otherworldly Rite of Communion: Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11 and John 6

The Strange and Otherworldly Rite of Communion: Thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11 and John 6 September 6, 2009

communionFrom 1 Corinthians 11:23-26–

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.

This passage struck me this morning as I ate the Lord’s supper.  It’s one of those passages that Christians know pretty well, and that makes it possible to miss the obvious significance of it.  Paul likens Christ’s body and blood to bread and wine. (Image: SundaySchoolCourses)

Jesus does this elsewhere.  In John 6:35, He calls Himself “the bread of life.”  Needless to say, this is not the typical designation leaders take upon themselves–“I AM BREAD!  Hear me roar”–but it is evocative.  I would love to look more into the cultural and historical significance of this statement, but at just the plainest level, it tells us something huge.  Jesus is the bread we need.  He is the wine we must have.

Perhaps this sounds obvious.  It is obvious.  I’m not telling you I have some massive insight here.  I don’t.  I have merely the plain truth in mind: Jesus is of such basic importance to our lives that He is bread.  He is drink.  He is the fullness of the sustenance we need.  To have Him is to have nourishment.  To not have Him is not merely to not have bread, but to have no food at all.

So this illuminates what communion is.  If we’re honest, we modern evangelicals, mostly severed in our religious lives from rituals and traditions, can admit that the Lord’s Supper can be a slightly odd experience.  We’re not always exactly sure how to feel about it.  Because we’re used to informal services largely devoid of the formal style so common to the Christian heritage, the sacred rite can feel strange. 

Track with me–we’re in the middle of the service, trying to calm our kids down or take notes or ignore our hungry stomachs.  Suddenly, this rite pops up and we’re supposed to suddenly feel really spiritual, really connected to Christ.  We look around and other people are praying and crying and generally seeming to be very close to God.  We, on the other hand, are trying not to think about movies or basketball or paninis.  As the ceremony unfolds, we eat little crackers and drink grape juice and sometimes, if we’re honest, feel disconnected from the symbolism of the event.  We’re supposed to be thinking about Christ’s death, but instead we’re drawn to wonder why communion crackers are always so weird.

There’s much more we could say about all of this–about how we and our churches could prepare us better for communion, about how we could better approach the Sunday service itself, about whether we low-churchers may have lost something in stripping our services of all trace of formalism.  We could think more about all of this stuff, and we probably should.  But for now, the point of the matter is this: communion is not, most fundamentally, about achieving an evangelical high.  It is not necessarily about tears on your face.  It is not about spiritual levitation away from the realities of life.  It is about receiving Jesus Christ of Nazareth as the bread of life.  It is acknowledging in the midst of life’s realities–as the kids wiggle or the neighbors distract us–that Jesus is Savior and Lord.

If this is true, then communion is most fundamentally not spiritual levitation.  Communion is fundamentally an acknowledgement to God, the church, the world, and ourselves that we take Jesus Christ as the bread of life.  While the world starves itself, choosing to wander through life without food or drink, we are those whom God has chosen to feed on Christ.  We live–literally, we survive–and we experience fullness and nourishment because of the God-man.  That’s what we do in communion.

Communion, then, is a confession.  It is a remembrance, but it is an ongoing confession to the principalities and powers that we are Christ’s.  It is not merely a personal zen moment in the midst of the corporate gathering, but is a gathered confession by 10 or 25 or 100 or 500 or 1000 or 5000 or 10000 people that they eat the bread of life.  It is a galactic press release to the watching angels and the lurking demons that we love and live by Jesus the Messiah.  This is what communion is; this is what we do in taking it.

I’ve been a little punchy here in trying to think this all through.  The Lord’s Supper often draws tears from my own eyes; I often perceive the grace of God mediated through remembrance of the broken body of Christ in powerful ways during the sacred rite.  I have absolutely no problem with those who do the same and in fact hope that my fellow believers do experience special closeness to God in taking communion. 

But I am aware that the Supper shows two key things that I often forget or just don’t think about: 1) that I feed on Jesus Christ as bread every day that I live, and 2) that communion is fundamentally a corporate confession of the called-out saints of God that they have been bought with a price. 

 Every time we take communion, whether in an old run-down church building in the country, a high school gymnasium, or a slick and sparkling building in the middle of the city, we are together proclaiming to the powers and principalities of darkness and light that we no longer starve in the desert, but now feed on the body and blood of Jesus Christ the Lord.

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  • thomas

    if this is so, why in the book of Romans, Paul says that we should be very careful while going to partake in the breaking of bread, we should test ourselves and only after due preparation we should partake in the communion. please answer immediately.