TThe first Sunday of the month means many believers will observe Jesus’ command to partake of his body and blood to commemorate his suffering and sacrifice.
After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” 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” (Luke 22:17-20).
I have one question. How many of you shared the same elements? Churches have gone from the communal partaking of the bread and cup in the same manner it has adopted the individualistic values of Western culture. Prepackaged synthetic wafers and a shot of diluted grape drink have replaced the loaf and chalice. What’s really being celebrated?
This realization did not strike me until my first experience of the Eucharist by intinction as a seminarian. The celebrant held a whole loaf high, broke it, and served each participant a piece. Another celebrant held a chalice of wine in which each participant dipped their portion. For the first time, I truly felt part of something not only immensely beyond my comprehension, but also in solidarity with those engaging the observance with me. True to form, I cried like a baby and was in good company of others who shared those feelings.
It was a wonderful way to initiate those of us who were entering a new phase of life filled with mystery of how God would form us anew and use us to advance the redemption of the world. The broken bread was a stark reminder that Jesus gave himself to be persecuted and killed at the hands of men. What sacrifices would we endure? The potency of the wine conveyed the power of his blood to forgive sin—ours as well as those of the world. The wine itself was a surprise because quite some time had passed since churches in my denomination at the time had replaced it with grape juice. Now it’s been reduced to Kool-Aid in the same manner the gospel has been watered-down.
I left the service realizing “it’s not about me and I’m not in this alone.” God certainly requires us to become broken bread and poured-out wine for the world and the gift keeps on giving. But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you (Philippians 2:17).
Upon graduation, I had an even higher experience with the Lord’s Supper during a Benedictine Experience in which participants submit themselves to monastic order for a period of time. We lived communally, worshipped seven times a day, and celebrated the Eucharist daily. The difference was we actually drank from the same cup, which my mother locked in my brain at an early age never to do with anyone. I found myself thinking of creative ways to avoid partaking in this part of the rite. The first time the chalice was passed to me, a calm came over my spirit and I sipped. Immediately, I felt closer to my brothers and sisters sharing the experience. The rest of the week was nothing short of transformative and nobody caught typhoid fever.
Self-reflection is another important component of approaching the extension of this grace. The Apostle Paul warned the church at Corinth
So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink from the cup. For those who eat and drink without discerning the body of Christ eat and drink judgment on themselves. (I Corinthians 11:27-29).
To the credit of my upbringing, we had love feasts the day before the first Sunday to reflect on our sins, repent, and restore relationships. They took the form of conversations over a shared meal with all of the candor of a family reunion. Surely, some things are better confessed to God privately, but we could at least approach the chancel rail with a clear conscience as the pastor issued the collect:
Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith, and make your humble confession to Almighty God, meekly kneeling.
The General Confession helped us to acknowledge that we do not merit the sacrifice or sacrament in Wayne and Garth fashion. “We’re not worthy, we’re not worthy! We’re scum!” Wholesaling of the gospel has resulted in mechanical routinization of what should be a personalized and reflective moment.
Preparing and providing the elements was also once a ministry unto itself in mainline churches. Members baked bread, carefully selected the wine, and dressed the table with expert care and reverence. Self-service Communion instills a sense of entitlement to the grace being offered. Christ gave his life; they didn’t take it.
Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above (John 19:10b-11a).
As you partake of what has been broken for you, receive the power that transforms you into the sacrifice that breeds new life.