I have always believed that communion should inspire life and hope. After all, Christ encouraged us to break bread ‘in remembrance of ME’ (1 Cor. 11:23ff), i.e. in remembrance not only of his dying but his PERSON. This is good news! This good news (1 Cor. 15:13ff) embodies Christ’s death for our sins, his burial, resurrection on the third day, post-resurrection ‘bodily’ appearances to Peter plus the apostles plus a crowd of 500 plus Paul himself, and the promise of resurrection beyond the grave for all ‘in Christ!’ (1 Cor. 15:20b, NLT, ‘He has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again’).
Contemporary Anglican theologian Tom Wright in Surprised by Hope points out how, in between the quasi-magic ritual of the eucharist (e.g. the Roman Catholic mass – my example) and the bare memory on the other (e.g. the Swiss Reformers) there is a more historically grounded view. The latter would remind us of how Jewish sacred meals, not least the Passover from which the eucharist takes its point of origin, were thought to function. To this day, when Jews celebrate Passover, they repeat ‘This is the night when God brought us out of Egypt.’ Within the sacramental world, time and space telescope together.
What happens in the eucharist (communion) is that, through the death and resurrection of Jesus, the future dimension is brought more sharply into play. For a moment we as modern-day believers become one with the disciples around the table at the Lord’s Supper. But we also celebrate ‘the arrival of God’s future in the present.’ I.o.w. we do not remember a long-since-dead Jesus; we celebrate the presence of the living Lord! The Jesus Who gives Himself to us as food and drink is Himself the beginning of God’s new creation. At communion we are like the children of Israel in the desert, tasting fruit plucked from the promised land.
Wright then points us to Rom. 8, where creation is groaning as it awaits redemption. But one part of the old creation has already been transformed, has been liberated from decay viz the body of Christ, the body which was crucified and is now alive with a life death can’t touch. In the communion this Jesus comes to meet us through the symbols of creation, the bread and the wine, which are caught up into the Christ-story, the event of new creation itself. Thus, ‘every eucharist is a little Christmas as well as a little Easter.’
Don’t know about you, but Wright’s perspective inspires me amid the nitty-gritty and the wear-and-tear of life. It also emboldens me as a herald of the Kingdom. I’m reminded of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread…’ (Mt. 6:9ff, NASB).
My seminary principal insisted that any worthwhile truth had to work on a cold winter’s morning, having to shave, etc. Here’s the story of a couple for whom communion worked.Brennan Manning includes their letter in his autobiography, All Is Grace (the author is a recovering alcoholic and former Franciscan priest – need a tonic? dip into ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ and his other books). John writes to thank Brennan for his near-miraculous help to him and his wife Lolly, a chronic alcoholic. Brennan had been kicked out of a Catholic speaking venue in Providence and on the spur of the moment went to spend the weekend with John and Lolly. They would never forget Brennan’s celebrating communion at their home. Lolly had been drinking for over 25 years, had been in and out of ‘rehab,’ seemingly destined to die of the disease. They got her into an institution for ‘detox.’ Just before admission she had asked Brennan, who had made a huge impact on her, to ‘consecrate’ 30 tiny pieces of bagel for her to celebrate Holy Communion in her room each day of her treatment. They couldn’t forget the miracle God had performed when the left-over bagel in John’s box filled with green mould, while Lolly’s 30 pieces remained soft and fresh for a month. More than 25 years on, Lolly was still sober – in John’s words, they had been ‘years of heaven for them as a couple and for their children!’
Makes you hungry and thirsty, doesn’t it?