Holy Communion… One of the definitions of communion is “the sharing or exchanging of intimate thoughts and feelings, especially when the exchange is on a mental or spiritual level.” How much thought do you put into this tradition? More specifically, what do you think Jesus was trying to say during this dinner where he offered his bread and wine to his community?
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25
When I read these verses and think about the frame of mind Jesus had to be in, and what he must have been trying to say and teach in this experience, I believe that he had to be doing more than giving a ritual to remember him by. While we cannot, of course, understand fully any aspect of God, we can understand from scripture what Jesus must have been feeling in that moment.
Now one of the scribes had come up and heard their debate. Noticing how well Jesus had answered them, he asked Him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus replied, “This is the most important: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is One Lord, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31
Because of these verses, I have to believe that Jesus does these things primarily for love of God and love of humanity rather than pure obedience to the Father. In his actions, he demonstrates the love for both. First, he gathers around him his disciples, the people whom he taught and loved during their time together. Here we remember that he is using the bread as a symbol for his body, and the wine as a symbol for his blood, the source of life for all living things.
First he thanks God for his “body” and then he breaks his “body” and gives it to them. He says, “Take it, this is my body.” He is figuratively breaking his body for his community, but soon it will literal. Then he thanks God for his “blood” and gives it to all of them to drink. He tells them that his blood will be poured out for many, but the life that blood represents? He again shares it with his community. He is symbolically showing them what will come pass… that out of love, he breaks his body and pours his blood out for others.
Of course, this has great implications for us. He does this for us, for his community. But what are we to understand from the ways in which he sacrificially loves us?
Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” Luke 9:23
Jesus didn’t come here just to die and be resurrected (although it’s a big deal and I am forever grateful for that). However, if such were the case, he could have done so without the teaching, the miracles, the lifetime of being fully human. The prophets foresaw what they did and Jesus fulfilled it so that he could show us how to live. To demonstrate that those who follow him do not put themselves first but rather, prioritize others. They deny themselves and carry the cross daily, a necessary attribute to follow him. This call isn’t new; we are to do what was at the heart of our covenant from the beginning. Jesus reminds us of this when he says:
Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matthew 5:17
Jesus lives a life that fulfills both the prophecies as well as the Law: a law of love. A law that is a call to mercy, forgiveness, repentance, relationship, and hope. A law that is good news for the poor. To be a person of humility and justice. Because we could not figure out what that looked like, he came to show us in person.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8
I certainly do not want to discourage people from communion. I think it is a great tradition that is meant to recall to us not just the sacrifice made by Jesus but also to remind us of the life to which we have been called as followers of Christ. Instead of empty ritual I want to see people experience communion in such a way that their hearts are set on fire for God; that they are inspired by his example and moved to carry their cross daily.
Jean Vanier, an extraordinary man moved by God to have relationships with people who are outcasts in our time, reflects the character of Jesus who also came alongside those who were rejected by the rich, powerful and religious. Vanier created communities where people with various disabilities could live with one another while experiencing love, reedom and hope. Here is how he describes communion:
To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together. Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside of all the pain. To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.” Pg. 16, From Brokenness to Community